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Editorial: Covid-19 and Nepal’s foreign policy

Editorial: Covid-19 and Nepal’s foreign policy

As the federal government gives final shape to the country’s new foreign policy, it is worth mulling over the link between foreign policy and Covid-19 pandemic. How has the pandemic changed international relations and geopolitics? How is it affecting Nepal’s relations with the outside world, and for how long? And how does Nepal get support from other countries to recover from the pandemic-induced economic devastation?

A few trends are clear. Instead of bringing the world together, as would be expected amid the worst global crisis in a generation, the pandemic seems to be dividing it. American President Donald Trump has politicized the ‘China virus’ to pave his path back to power. Instead of cooperating to develop vaccines, all big countries are competing to be the first to roll one out, sowing doubts about the effectiveness of the vaccines on the pipeline. The Indian government is trying to cover up its failure on corona-control by ramping up anti-China rhetoric, even as the Chinese seem minded to press their territorial claims as other countries have their hands full with the pandemic. 

These animosities among big countries won’t die down soon. Nepal will thus have a tricky time navigating this confusing new world. It may soon face a life-and-death question: if there are options between, say, Chinese, Russian, Indian, and American vaccines, whose vaccine will it choose? Then there are long-term questions: From where and in what form will Nepal get the money to rebuild the corona-ravaged economy? As China’s tensions with the US and India escalate, can Nepal even set its own terms on its external economic engagement without compromising national interests?

Perhaps old concepts like non-alignment and Panchsheel also need to be revisited in the post-Covid world that could throw up new configurations in international relations. Then there is the old Nepali dream of acting as a vibrant economic bridge between India and China. If the task wasn’t already hard, it will get harder. The ties with the Gulf countries may also need to be reconfigured as unprecedented scales of layoffs of Nepali workers loom large. Most of the remaining term of the current federal government will be spent firefighting the blazes set off by the novel coronavirus—provided there won’t be any more of the ‘black swan’ events like the Covid-19 pandemic.