Developing Nepal as a ‘bridge’ between two Asian giants was a promising proposal. The China-India-Nepal trilateral cooperation idea sparked hope that the country of 30 million would prosper side by side with its two neighbors. The two would complement each other in developing critical connectivity infrastructure to turn Nepal not just into a transport corridor but also an urbanizing economic conduit. That boundless potential of Nepal is being eroded by the ruling party’s disoriented foreign policy.
India was never interested in the trilateral idea that could possibly end its hegemony in Nepal. Against this backdrop, rather than trying to keep convincing India to get more interested in the idea, Nepal constantly pushed the southern neighbor away.
Egged on by our own government, China is now interested in all Nepali sectors, from hydropower to military. The military cooperation has not amounted to much except adding India’s suspicion of the trilateral idea—to Nepal’s great loss.
Nepal cannot prosper without a healthy and balanced relationship with both its neighbors. However, India remains a destination of choice for those unfortunate Nepalis who can’t dream of going to Middle East by paying huge sums to state-sponsored ‘man-power’ companies.
India’s public health institutions such as the All India Institutes of Medical Sciences in New Delhi and the Christian Medical College in Vellore still lure Nepalis who cannot get good treatment in their own country whose health sector has been captured by the mafia. Kathmandu’s failure to take New Delhi into confidence could cost those poor Nepali people who rely on India to meet their vital needs like healthcare.
Nepal’s relationship with China is no cushion for poor Nepali people. China only serves the interests of its elite. Moreover, Beijing looks at Nepal from the Tibetan lens. A security-centric approach does Nepal no good at a time it needs unconditional foreign direct investment.
China’s Communist Party (CPC) is enthusiastic about distributing Mao’s red books in Nepal but struggles to define what the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) means for Nepal. Chinese diplomats in Kathmandu openly threaten our constitutionally guaranteed press freedom. Yet they don’t seem to understand the urgent need of the Nepali people to become economically empowered so that they won’t have to wash dishes in the dhabas dotting Indian highways.
Around three million Nepalis work in India to secure two daily meals for their families back home. Nepali unskilled laborers have an open access to India’s vast markets. As India is becoming more competitive and professional, Nepal can benefit more and more from this relationship. Suppose India is tomorrow a global economic superpower and Nepal still has an open border with it—what great opportunities such a scenario bring! But for that Kathmandu has to tame its anti-India ultra-nationalism.
If the future is Asian, as Parag Khanna claims, it is as much of India as it is of China. Nepal can benefit a lot from a balanced foreign policy by pursuing trilateral cooperation rather than stand-alone relationship with neighbors. Even if this is not possible, the goal should be to carefully balance India and China, and surely not to completely throw our lot with the Middle Kingdom.
Please do not destabilize the country with a flawed foreign policy approach at the cost of the poor. India’s treatment of Nepal as just another country may have no implications for Kathmandu’s power elites but will result in devastating consequences for poor Nepalis who can’t ever think of working in Beijing’s restaurants, even as dishwashers.