The parliament should ratify the MCC Compact, pronto. Why? It’s in our national interest. How? There are many reasons. One, it’s a well-thought-out, detailed, time-bound roads and transmission lines project, which Nepal selected based on its priorities. If completed within the stipulated five years, it would set a wonderful precedent in a country notorious for time and cost overruns. Few other foreign-funded projects in Nepal are so thorough. And oh, it won’t add a paisa to our debt burden.
Two, we need a level of American presence in Nepal to balance the otherwise overbearing influence of India and China. That was one reason we first reached out to the Americans back in the late 1940s. Without the presence of strong third actors like the US and the EU, Nepal will have no leverage over its two neighbors, and Nepal’s fate could then be settled between them. Already, Nepal’s core concerns have been trampled upon in multiple Indo-China dealings. We can also safely overlook ridiculous concerns like the American army entering Nepal on the back of the MCC compact. That just doesn’t add up.
Three, Sri Lanka’s example is offered to suggest the MCC is somehow an imperialist concept, and that Nepal, following in the island country’s footsteps, should also reject its own MCC compact. The Sri Lankans, under the Beijing-leaning Rajapakshas, had rejected the compact that allegedly impinged on the country’s sovereignty. But Nepal is no Sri Lanka, which has no contiguous neighbors. At its closest, it is nearly 4,000 km from China, and with India, it is separated by a water-work, which, again at its narrowest, is over twice the shortest distance been Nepal and Bangladesh. So Sri Lanka has much more room for geopolitical maneuver than Nepal does. It’s thus a false comparison.
Four, much hoo-hah has been made about the compact’s mandatory parliamentary approval. But what difference does that make? We are already a signatory to the compact and without the clause for parliamentary approval, we would by now have started working on it. Parliamentary approval wasn’t mandatory earlier. The Americans later added the proviso when the compact countries failed to take ownership of the related projects.
Five, isn’t the MCC part of the Indo-Pacific Strategy, and shouldn’t we reject this anti-China project? Again, whether or not it’s (retrospectively) a part of the IPS makes no difference whatsoever. It would be naïve to believe in this day and age that any sovereign country would help any other country selflessly. As they say, there is no free lunch in international dealings. All future American help, in one way or the other, will be aimed at checking China’s military and economic rise. Nepal should be more worried about how best to secure its interests, not what India or China will think.
Six, but seriously, can Nepal overlook Chinese concerns that the Americans are out to encircle them with India’s help? I think one problem is the failure of Nepali interlocutors to convince their Chinese counterparts of the MCC compact’s importance for Nepal and to assure China that the compact would not, in any way, impinge on its core interests. If China is a good neighbor, it will understand our geopolitical compulsions.
Lastly, the dispute over the MCC compact has shown the great power of disinformation. This power will only grow in the coming days. Nepal will have to be vigilant to know the right from the wrong and to safeguard its interests.