Why does China see the US-backed concept of Indo-Pacific as a ‘strategic threat’? For the Chinese, “the term ‘Indo-Pacific’ is less the acknowledgement of an ineluctable political geography than an initial, inchoate move to create a political initiative, one intended to rival China’s Belt and Road,” Bruno Maçães of the Hudson Institute writes in his perceptive new book Belt and Road: A Chinese World Order.
For its part, the US, Maçães writes, wanted to promote the concept of ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy’ as a “push back against the notion that Western values are doomed to lose influence in the core regions of the Belt and Road.” The Americans may deny their recent activism in the Asia-Pacific region is aimed at countering China’s BRI all they like. Yet it has become a truism in this part of the world. With the recent decision of the Indian foreign ministry to set up a separate Indo-Pacific unit, the BJP government has also made its preference for the American Indo-Pacific over China’s Belt and Road crystal clear.
Expect little of substance from President Bidya Devi Bhandari’s visit
India again refused to take part in the high-level BRI Forum in Beijing, the second edition of which is being held in Beijing this month. Representing Nepal at the event will be President Bidya Devi Bhandari. Besides addressing the summit, she could sign agreements with her Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on finalizing the protocol to the 2016 trade and transit agreement and on expediting construction of the Keyrung-Kathmandu rail link. The visit will aim to further integrate Nepal into the BRI framework and to give impetus to long-stalled Chinese projects in Nepal.
PM Oli is sending the president instead of going himself as he wants to dispel the default assumption in New Delhi, and in many western capitals, that he is ‘pro-China’. With Indo-Nepal ties finally back on an even keel and Nepal looking to cultivate the US as a part of its diversification strategy, Oli does not want to be seen as cozying up to Beijing. He knows there is always the danger of his ever-unreliable comrade Pushpa Kamal Dahal using changing geopolitical winds to tack his way back to Singhadurbar. Putting all his eggs in a single basket could be dangerous.
Expect little of substance from President Bhandari’s visit. As the Chinese economy slows, their generosity will have a limit. Nor does China want to buttress the western accusation that it is looking to trap smaller countries in the region under a mountain of debt. Yet it will do just about enough to keep Nepal in the BRI orbit, and at a safe distance from the ‘meddlesome’ Americans. The Indians have never been their real problem.