After pushing Nepal to approve the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) economic pact, the US may have also urged the Himalayan country to join its military alliance, the State Partnership Program (SPP), widely believed to be another component of the US' Indo-Pacific Strategy, The Global Times reported.
Observers from both Nepal and China warned against the program's heavy military focus on the containment of China in the region.
Nepalis media reported that the US renewed a push last week on Nepal to participate in the SPP during the visit of Commanding General of the US Army Pacific, Charles Flynn, to Nepal. Flynn called for the signing of the SPP when he met with Nepalese Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and Chief of Staff of the Nepal Army General Prabhu Ram Sharma, the report said.
The disclosed six-page draft US proposal triggered a debate and faced backlash in Nepal for the possible US military presence in Nepal, which, many warned, contradicts Nepal's non-aligned foreign policy.
The SPP, once approved, would draw Nepal one step closer to the US' military alliance, despite Washington's denial and calling it development assistance, said experts.
Under huge pressure from the public and lawmakers, during his meeting with coalition partners on Wednesday, Deuba said that he will not sign any agreement with any country, including the SPP, that could bring harm to Nepal, according to Global Times.
The American embassy called the SPP draft circulating online "fake."
Inspite of this, many suspect the disclosure of the SPP in Nepal could be intended as a tactic to test the waters, as the ambition and intention of the US to strengthen its military presence in Nepal have long been clear under the core purpose of the US' Indo-Pacific Strategy to contain China, according to the Global Times.
Concluding his four-day trip to Nepal, Flynn said on Twitter that "we cherish our decades-long defense partnership and look forward to opportunities for collaboration."
Observers told the Global Times that the US has increased its penetration and interference in Nepalese politics in recent years, and the approval of the US-pushed MCC program in Nepal in February is an example.
If the MCC has supported US control and influence in Nepal economically, the SPP could be used to strengthen the US' military ties in the Asian country, Qian Feng, director of the Research Department of the National Strategy Institute at Tsinghua University, said.
"The US has always valued the geographical importance of Nepal which borders Southwest China's Xizang Autonomous Region. Since the Trump administration, the US has been trying to include Nepal in its Indo-Pacific Strategy to achieve its multiple political and security goals toward China," Zhang Yongpan, a research fellow of the Institute of Chinese Borderland Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, suggested. "In recent years, the political situation in Nepal has been turbulent, and the divided parties are vulnerable to pressures of external forces. The US takes the opportunity to increase influence and infiltrations in Nepal via multiple ways, trying to make it a tool to promote the US' Indo-Pacific Strategy," Zhang told the Global Times.
But such US tactics to contain China are bound to be futile, and Nepal will not easily become the frontline of the US' attempts to suppress China, experts concluded.