Expect stiffer US-China contestation in Nepal

Kamal Dev Bhattarai

Kamal Dev Bhattarai

Expect stiffer US-China contestation in Nepal

US President Joe Biden unveiled a new national security strategy last week. The document talks about closely working with South Asian partners.

It states: “No region will be of more significance to the world and to everyday Americans than the Indo-Pacific. As we work with South Asian regional partners to address climate change, the Covid-19 pandemic, and the PRC’s [People’s Republic of China] coercive behavior, we will promote prosperity and economic connectivity across the Indian Ocean region.”

The strategy further states that competition with China is most pronounced in the Indo-Pacific, but it is also increasingly global.

“Many of our allies and partners, especially in the Indo-Pacific, stand on the frontlines of the PRC’s coercion and are rightly determined to seek to ensure their own autonomy, security, and prosperity.”

So what will be the implications for Nepal as this region is primed to become an epicenter of the US-China contestation?

Sanjaya Upadhya, Washington-based foreign policy expert, says the document describes China as the only competitor with both the intent to reshape the international order and, increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military and technological power to advance that objective.

“Clearly, this assertion takes the US-China rivalry to a new level. As Washington would have the prerogative of defining what behavior on the part of Beijing is ‘coercive’, Nepal could expect further US assertiveness vis-à-vis our general foreign policy in the period ahead,” he says.

The ongoing National People’s Congress of China has indicated how regime security would be an even more categorical concern for Beijing going forward.

“In such a situation,” says Upadhya, “Nepal can be expected to experience a stiffer tug-of-war between the two global powers.”

Don McLain Gill, Manila-based geopolitical analyst, says the new document highlights two important aspects of US foreign policy.

“The first is the realization that China, and no other state, serves as the biggest challenge to the established rules-based order due to its global ambitions and its growing material capacity to back those very ambitions,” he says. “The second realization is the need for the US to pay more attention to the evolving dynamics of the Indo-Pacific region, given its position at the center stage of global geopolitics and geo-economics.”

Within the greater Indo-Pacific, Gill reckons South Asia serves as an important sub-region, given China’s increasing strategic footprints and the consequences that have occurred due to its economic engagements that lack transparency and accountability.

With a desire to promote a rules-based and fair developmental agenda, South Asian states, including Nepal, may be able to benefit from the desire of the US and other key democratic powers like India and Japan to forge an inclusive cooperative framework that will offer them a more sustainable alternative for growth, development and security.

“While similar initiatives have been suggested in the past by the US, the need to effectively coordinate and plan practically based on domestic and external realities is necessary in order to forge a long-term and beneficial roadmap for the region,” adds Gill.