On August 3, the Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu issued a loaded press statement condemning the Taiwan visit of Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi. Terming the trip “a serious violation of the one-China principle and the political foundation of China-US relations”, China hoped that the government of Nepal “will continue to abide by the one-China principle and understand and support China’s legitimate and justified position”. Not just that. Nepal should “work together with China to defend each other’s sovereignty, security and territorial integrity.” Perhaps the most straightforward interpretation of this statement is that should China take military action against Taiwan, Nepal is expected to support such a move. Or at least not toe the American line on it.
China has already announced military drills inside Taiwan’s territorial waters. Meanwhile, as a signal of intent, American warships are patrolling the Taiwan Strait. As tensions over Taiwan’s fate escalate, Nepal would be under pressure to pick sides. “Nepal should closely follow the developments in Taiwan but we should not be quick to react,” says Shambhu Ram Simkhada, a foreign policy commentator. Although China and the US are on a collision course, he adds, the chances of a war between them is still very slim. We should not panic just yet.
Following Nepal’s decision to opt out of the American State Partnership Program (SPP), Nepal-US ties have been somewhat strained. Nepal-China relations have also cooled after the formation of the Deuba government back in July 2021. Lack of warmth in ties often breeds suspicion. Following Nepal’s rejection of the SPP, the Americans would be ultra-sensitive to any signs of ‘Chinese hands’ in Nepal’s foreign policy decisions. The Chinese too would be watching Deuba closely. This is no time to pick sides. Nepal must resolutely defend its right to stay neutral. If the Americans and the Chinese are our friends, they will let us be.