KATHMANDU: The United States has been Nepal’s close partner for over 70 years and continues to have a deep relationship with Nepal in almost every sector. Jonathan Henick, US Deputy Assistant Secretary for South Asia Affairs, Public Diplomacy and Press, who is currently in Kathmandu, took time out of his busy schedule to talk exclusively with Ishwar Dev Khanal of Khabarhub to elucidate about the widely-debated Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) in Nepal and the Indo-Pacific Strategy.
As a member of the Senior Foreign Service, Henick is responsible for US public diplomacy in 13 countries, including South Asian countries such as Nepal, Afghanistan, and India.
Dismissing speculations that MCC has links with the military strategy or any other affairs, he clarified that there are no strings attached to this grant. Excerpts:
How do you observe the ongoing debates, confusion, and theories on the MCC in Nepal?
It’s, in fact, disappointing to hear this. What has to be understood is that the MCC is essentially a development program in which the United States is providing $500 million as a grant to Nepal. However, to find out, the issue has become somehow politicized. I want to assure you and the Nepali people that no strings are attached to this grant.
It is purely meant for the development of the Nepali economy, for the benefit of the Nepali people. The US has no expectations that it would receive anything in return for signing on to this program. There is absolutely no connection to any strategy or any other sectors, or military affairs, etc., no connection at all.
As speculated, is there any direct connection between the Indo-Pacific Strategy and the MCC?
Let me clarify that there is no direct relationship between the Indo-Pacific Strategy and MCC. To tell you a little bit about IPS, it is not at all an alliance. It is not a group of countries either. It’s simply an articulation of values that the US government has for this region and a desire to continue to promote those values.
The values are good governance. We expect the governments in the region will pursue policies that are in the interest of their citizens. The US expects there would be transparency in terms of how they give procurement, and we expect that they would work to create economic conditions that allow fair competition between companies they are looking for investments.
So, that’s what the Indo-Pacific Strategy is. If you think of those terms, any number of programs that the US may support around the world could be seen as contributing to those visions, but there is no direct connection between the programs and the visions that we govern.
Talking about MCC or IPS, voices of apprehension are heard whether the United States would look at Nepal through the lens of India. How far is this true?
The US relations with Nepal is dependent on no other countries. The US has been a close partner of Nepal for over 70 years. We have a deep relationship in almost every sector. And certainly, there may be areas where we have an interest in working collectively with Nepal and other countries in the region. But in no way, our relationship with Nepal is dependent or seen through the lens of any other country.
Nepal is currently observing Visit Nepal 2020 with an aim to attract over 2 million tourists. Can Nepal see an increased number of tourists from the United States?
Nepal has already attracted more than US tourists because this country has just incredible, beautiful and natural scenery, and an amazing culture.
I would expect that the number of tourists coming from the US will continue to grow. And that is something that the US would be eager to create better conditions to attract an increased number of tourists to Nepal.