PM ventures aboard
What difference a couple of years make in diplomacy! Two years ago, India had imposed a crippling economic blockade on Nepal to express its dissatisfaction with our new constitution. The understanding in New Delhi was that while its concerns were neglected in the new charter, the statute had the blessings of Beijing. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his henchmen seemed determined to teach a harsh lesson in geopolitics to the ‘China-hugging commies’ of Nepal, with Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli at their vanguard.
Two years later, the same Modi is rolling out the red carpet for Oli as he prepares to welcome perhaps the strongest prime minister in Nepal’s democratic history. Having badly bungled its relations with Nepal—supposedly one of its closest friends in terms of cultural similarities and people-to-people ties—and pushing the Himalayan country into ‘China’s open arms’, New Delhi, we now hear, is in a mood for a ‘course correction’. Hence the lavish reception for Oli and India’s new-found interest in reviewing bilateral relations, including a rewriting of the infamous 1950 treaty.
Oli, with his new-found strength, could arguably have broken the outdated tradition of a Nepali prime minister always making New Delhi his first foreign stop, as if on a solemn pilgrimage to please the holy deities due south. But Oli perhaps thought it unwise to rock the geopolitical boat this early in his tenure. He did however commit not to sign any agreement in India that “goes against national interest and disgraces our country”. We hope the prime minister honors his words.
Reportedly, he will leave for China not long after returning to Nepal on April 8. He is scheduled to meet President Xi Jinping at the sidelines of the Boao Forum in Hainan. After inking multiple pacts with India, PM Oli, in his subsequent visit to China, is expected to sign another slew of agreements to operationalize the landmark trade and transit agreement of 2016. He has to be extremely careful though. His ability (or lack thereof) to balance India and China will define not just his government leadership-Round Two but also his larger political legacy—long after he is gone from the scene.
At this early stage, he deserves our benefit of the doubt, as we have argued before. It would be wise to wait for a while before we judge his tenure, including his foreign policy. A single India or China trip does not a long-term strategic vision make.
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