Nepal caught napping

Aditya Man Shrestha

February 25, 2019

10 MIN READ

Nepal caught napping
  • 35
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
    35
    Shares

From what went along the US visit of Nepalese Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali, Nepal was caught off-guard in the so-called Indo-Pacific conundrum. It is well-nigh crystal clear in the global affairs that China is racing to challenge the unilateral domination of the US, enjoying the super-power status since the end of Cold War and disintegration of the unified Soviet Union. It is also well known that China is taking over the status of the biggest economy in the world by 2050, the US lagging behind despite its 24 trillion worth of annual GDP.

On the other hand, China helped the American economy stabilize at times of crisis by buying American treasury bills worth 20 trillion dollars. America could hurt China by closing its market and China could equally harm the US by withdrawing its money from the US.

The eventual changes however do not mean that China will be as strong or superior to the United States in military strength. The starkest symbol of military might is the presence of American warships in the strategic positions on high seas covering every piece of land on the earth. They have been effective in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria on occasional operations in bom-barding and inimical target hitting. The US has that capability in many parts of Asia especially in East Asia, where it has inherited responsibility of guaranteeing security to countries like Ja-pan and South Korea. The US also rushed to protect Taiwan from the mainland Chinese assaults right from the Second World War, by supplying military hardware, not normally and easily available to other states.

It is a matter of great irony that the US and China have been so helpful and yet, at times, dangerously hostile to each other over the history. By letting the American companies to invest in China and opening its large market to Chinese products of every kind of consumer taste, the US did indeed play a great role in boosting up Chinese economy, thereby strengthening its muscles.

It demonstrated a strong U.S. commitment to both economic and security engagement and assistance in the Indo-Pacific region. The US security support would cover projects in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Mongolia, Nepal, the Pacific Islands, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam.

On the other hand, China helped the American economy stabilize at times of crisis by buying American treasury bills worth 20 trillion dollars. America could hurt China by closing its market and China could equally harm the US by withdrawing its money from the US. But none of them did it. However, China is aggressively expanding its influence both in terms of security and economy across the globe while the US is bent on retaining its traditional grip wherever it had laid out.

In this context, the US revived a quad in 2017 along with India, Japan and Australia, which seeks to work for peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific, a region that stretches from the east coast of Japan to the east coast of Africa. They felt the necessity for a stable relationship between key stakeholders in the region, USA, Japan, Australia and India. It was pronounced necessary for a stable Indo-Pacific zone in the face of China’s growing footprint in the region especially, in South China Sea. Following this development, U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo had pledged in Singapore “to provide nearly $300 million in new security funding for the Indo-Pacific region, as China forges ahead with plans to bolster its engagement in the region.”

He had clearly stated, “make no mistake, the Indo-Pacific, which stretches from the United States’ west coast to the west coast of India, is a subject of great importance to American foreign policy…this region is one of the greatest engines of the future global economy, and it already is today. And the American people and the whole world have a stake in the Indo-Pacific’s peace and prosperity.

In other words, this pledge was made as assistance to improve security relationships across the Indo-Pacific region.This funding commitment was announced shortly after Secretary Pompeo announced new economic and development initiatives at the Indo-Pacific Business Forum in Washington DC. It demonstrated a strong U.S. commitment to both economic and security engagement and assistance in the Indo-Pacific region. The US security support would cover projects in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Mongolia, Nepal, the Pacific Islands, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam. It was to be used in the areas of maritime security, humanitarian works, disaster relief, peace-keeping operations and countering transnational crimes.

It was stated that the U.S. engagement has advanced freedom, openness, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region. The US President’s national-security strategy aims at advancing a free and open Indo-Pacific society. Through its Indo-Pacific Strategy, the United States aims to ensure the freedom of the seas and skies, promote market economics, support good governance, and insulate sovereign nations from external coercion, while enabling partners to protect and advance the rule-based order. In Washington, Secretary of State outlined the US policy on security cooperation in the Indo – Pacific region from the American perspective. He had clearly stated, “make no mistake, the Indo-Pacific, which stretches from the United States’ west coast to the west coast of India, is a subject of great importance to American foreign policy…this region is one of the greatest engines of the future global economy, and it already is today. And the American people and the whole world have a stake in the Indo-Pacific’s peace and prosperity. It’s why the Indo-Pacific zone must be free and open…it means we all want all nations, every nation, to be able to protect their sovereignty from coercion by other countries.”

The United States is developing a vision for a “free and open Indo-Pacific” at a time when China is initiating its Belt and Road plan to bolster trade and connectivity ties with nations in Southeast Asia and beyond.

He added, “The Trump administration has a clear vision for the Indo-Pacific region in the 21st century. It is an American vision that is deeply engaged in the region’s economic, political, cultural, and security affairs. Like so many of our Asian allies and friends, our country fought for its own independence from an empire that expected deference. We thus have never and will never seek domination in the Indo-Pacific, and we will oppose any country that does.”

“Rather, we aspire to a regional order, independent nations that can defend their people and compete fairly in the international marketplace. We stand ready to enhance the security of our partners and to assist them in developing their economies and societies in ways that ensure human dignity. We will help them. We will help them keep their people free from coercion or great power domination. While tracing the history of the US engagement in Asia, he mentioned that the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) has granted $2.1 billion since 2004 to promote development and good governance in Indo-Pacific nations. Right now MCC is spending 500 million to build hundreds of kilometres of electricity transmission lines in Nepal and realize that country’s energy potential.”

The Nepal government, and for that matter, the foreign minister has not spoken a word if he had agreed or dis-agreed or stood neutral in regard to the Indo-Pacific strategy.

From this, it is clear what Indo-Pacific strategy constitutes, why it has been enunciated and primarily which countries are to play supporting role. It also means that MCC forms the part of the Indo-Pacific strategy. The United States is developing a vision for a “free and open Indo-Pacific” at a time when China is initiating its Belt and Road plan to bolster trade and connectivity ties with nations in Southeast Asia and beyond.

Nepalese were told that the US had given unusual importance to Nepal by inviting its foreign minister for an official visit. That was indeed true as it unfolded disclosed that Nepal would play a central role in this regional grouping. But it left a bad taste in Nepalese mouth when they learned that they had been caught napping in what could be described as an American trap. That explains why our foreign minister kept absolute mum on this matter even as the Americans had put everything open and clear before him. The Nepal government, and for that matter, the foreign minister has not spoken a word if he had agreed or dis-agreed or stood neutral in regard to the Indo-Pacific strategy. Our foreign minister went to the US with a bang but came back with a whimper. That is a poor diplomacy, to say the least.

Just In