The new communist government in the Himalayan country of Nepal, there are possibilities that it would tilt towards China even as the country has remained a buffer state between India and China.
In a vote that is being marked as a milestone for the shifting of the country from a monarchy to a democracy, the general elections in Nepal saw a communist coalition – each lead by a former prime minister – Pushpa Kamal Dahal and K.P. Sharma Oli, were held victorious earlier this month.
The election will reveal “to what extent China will emerge as a viable alternative to India in Nepal’s foreign policy,” analysts at research firm Stratfor said in a recent note. “One thing, however, is for certain: the rivalry between India and China for influence in Nepal will only ramp up.”
In the traditional rivalry between India and China to gain political and economic supremacy in South China, Nepal has long kept itself neutral. The country is landlocked and amongst the most remote to reach. Particularly during the period when Nepali Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba. Who was considered to be pro-India, New Delhi had been the dominant player primarily given the fact that India was the largest trading partner of Nepal.
However, there can be a change in that equation. Deuba’s successor Oli is being anticipated to lean more towards Beijing instead of New Delhi as he attempts to boost foreign investment.
Nepal is also a part of China’s grand project of Belt and Road Network.
Experts are of the opinion that Oli’s actions clearly indicate his affinity towards China even though he has insisted on maintaining a neutral foreign policy.
“In a surprise move, Oli visited the border with China” and declared that the sole trade and transit point between the two countries “would be upgraded to international standards,” wrote Harsh Pant, distinguished fellow at Indian think tank Observer Research Foundation, in a Wednesday note. “This came days before he blamed sections of the Indian media for creating rift between the coalition and New Delhi.”
“For Kathmandu, there is greater room for maneuverability now between China and India,” said Pant.
A fractured politics and a weak economy has ailed Nepal ever since it emerged form the end of a decade long civil war in 2006. And development has been delayed further by crippling earthquakes in recent years.
There is strategic economic value of Nepal for India and China even though the country plays very little role internationally. The country also has borders with Tibet, the region that was taken over by China in the 1950s.
An opportunity is clearly being seen by Beijing while Kathmandu and New Delhi relations falter.
“While Oli may look like a difficult proposition for India, New Delhi should also be aware that all governments in Nepal have tried to play the China card vis-à-vis India,” Pant said. “Oli will not be unique in that respect, nor will he be the last.”
(Adapted from CNBC.com)