TRISTIN CLINT WRITES – China is sending Foreign Minister Wang Yi to meet with the Parliament of Nepal on March 26, and the US is sending a bipartisan delegation of Congress (twenty-five members) to Nepal in early April. These are the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal’s two key rival diplomatic suitors.
Nepal, which borders China on the north, has a longstanding relationship of strong diplomatic ties with that country, but so does the United States, for almost 75 years. These countries, with their clashing interests in international affairs, put Nepal in a predicament. Here’s why: Back in 2017, the United States and Nepal came to terms on the Millennium Challenge Compact (MCC), in which the US allocated $500 million to develop projects in Nepal’s energy sector. But the Nepalese parliament couldn’t agree on matters of implementation, so for over four years the MCC remained a dormant project. Finally, on February 27 of this year, the government of Nepal officially ratified the compact.
This move was soon met with criticism from Chinese officials, suggesting that the deal undermines the sovereignty of Nepal. Among the arguments presented: Since the MCC took over four years to ratify, it would not be in the country’s best interest; and many citizens of Nepal were displeased with the proposal, as violent protests occurred. Still, China’s concerns had less to do, specifically, with US funding of the energy project than with US intervention in developing nations and spheres of influence, in general, across the globe.
China has its own project in Nepal, also proposed in 2017-Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI,) aimed at taking Nepal from being a land-locked country to a land-connected country through an infrastructure project stretching from East Asia to Europe. American officials then took a similarly wary approach to their rival’s interests, as former US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for South and Southeast Asia, Joe Felter, stated: “We welcome a constructive relation with China, we welcome the investment by China, but as long as that investment is designed to serve the interest of Nepal and not just China.” US officials also took to referencing past Chinese failures in Nepal, namely the Budhi Gandaki hydro project, which left around 50,000 Nepal citizens negatively impacted.
It will be interesting to see whether China will push for movement on its projects in Nepal given the fact of MCC ratification. While it might be easy to view the happenings of small countries like Nepal through the lens of the geopolitical arena of powerhouses such as the US and China, it must be remembered: Nepal is a nation trying to improve conditions for its people. Will Nepal be able to benefit from the actions of both China and the US-will there be humanitarian improvements-even if that’s not what both countries have in mind?