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Paul Staniland: The US wants a growing, democratic Nepal

Paul Staniland: The US wants a growing, democratic Nepal

Paul Staniland is a professor of political science at the University of Chicago. He is non-resident scholar, South Asia Program Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Kamal Dev Bhattarai of ApEx talked with him about US South Asia policy, particularly focusing on Nepal. 

How do you see the broader US South Asia policy?

The US is aiming to align with India, reduce or manage Chinese influence in the smaller states of South Asia, and access the rapidly growing markets in the region. It keeps an eye on Pakistan, which is a source of concern regarding potential escalation from tensions with India and terrorism, but has clearly downgraded that relationship compared to the post-9/11 period.

It has been two years since the Joe Biden administration came up with the Indo-Pacific Strategy, how is it playing out in South Asia?

The Indo-Pacific Strategy seems to have been reasonably well-received in India as a signal of US commitment to competing in Asia. It's less popular and desirable in other states in the region, which are quite worried about getting sucked into US-China rivalry and have interests that often do not tightly align with that competition. 

What are the key US interests in South Asia?

As noted above, the US wants to keep China out, work with India, and have access to markets in the region.

How does the US see China’s growing interests in this region?

Chinese influence is certainly an area of concern as it is seen as rapidly expanding and increasingly able to deploy massive resources, though my sense is that there may be a growing recognition that it has been very difficult for China to convert its economic power into enduring political influence. The CPEC in Pakistan has not been especially successful, BRI is often contested in ‘host’ countries (like Nepal), and Sri Lanka’s economic crisis was not prevented or solved by Chinese involvement.

What are the latest trends in US-Nepal relations?

The US is definitely interested in Nepal as a case where it can provide economic and governance benefits in the context of growing Chinese influence. That said, I don’t think the US public or most of its policy community think about Nepal a lot as a major site of strategic competition—there has been an American presence since the 1950s, so it’s not wholly new. Nevertheless, there is a growing interest and some learning about how to best approach Nepal; for instance, it’s been noticeable that the US has tempered the use of Indo-Pacific Strategy framing around Nepal and is ideally hoping to provide opportunities that complement, rather than necessarily direct take on or denounce, Chinese efforts. 


What are key US interests in Nepal? 


The US wants a growing, democratic Nepal that is on reasonably cordial terms with the US and India.