Foreign Minister Narayan Khadka’s China trip was viewed through two distinct lenses in the country. For some it was a part of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba's ‘fig leaf’ diplomacy with China. In this reading, by sending his foreign minister to China before his own long-desired US trip, Deuba wanted to show that he is keenly aware of Nepal’s need to carefully balance the big powers. But, in reality, he wants to help the Americans fulfill their interests, a suspicion which has been bolstered by the recent appointment of his China-baiting foreign policy advisor.
In the other reading, the trip will really help bolster Nepal-China ties. This will be partly out of compulsion: many of Deuba’s coalition partners are staunchly in favor of a close partnership with China, even at the cost of alienating other powers. On the eve of upcoming elections, this visit will show the government is not beholden to India or the US. Critics point to the government’s recent handover of vital hydro projects to India, often in contravention of established norms. The prime minister’s wife openly hobnobs with the BJP honchos in New Delhi. Deuba has also been traditionally known as the American darling, an image that has only been solidified by his successful pushing of the MCC compact in the parliament (which, by the way, this newspaper endorsed). The same could be said of Deuba’s supposed backing of the Special Partnership Program (SPP)—no, we have not heard the last on this.
These are delicate times. The Russia-Ukraine war shows no sign of abating. The situation on the Taiwan Strait continues to be tense, something that Nepal says it is ‘closely watching’. Whatever the case, as elections have been announced, the government should not sign any agreement with far-reaching consequences for the country with any outside power. Yet the opposite is true: Nepal’s relations with big powers unfortunately become a matter of election-time political grandstanding. That is risky business in these fraught times that call for carefully navigating the tricky geopolitical landscape.