In the September 2023 issue of the South Asia Bulletin, NIPoRe’s researchers discuss the key events from August 2023 that continue to shape the South Asia region. Read the South Asia Bulletin for more.
In this issue of the South Asia Bulletin, contributors analyze the efforts South Asian countries have made to bring their citizens back from conflict-ridden Sudan. Other national, and transnational issues have been discussed, including Sri Lanka and Nepal’s economic crises, increased terror attacks in Pakistan, and the first Apple store in India. Read the South Asia Bulletin for more.
The devastating earthquake on 25 April 2015, with a magnitude of 7.6 Richter Scale and hundreds of aftershocks, caused a significant impact on the lives of over eight million people across Nepal. The Post Disaster Needs Assessment, 2015, published by the National Planning Commission, reported more than 8,000 deaths and property damage worth approximately USD 7 billion.
Nepal ranks 11th globally in terms of vulnerability to earthquakes. As soon as the news of the Nepal Earthquake broke, there was overwhelming commitment and subsequent support from the neighbouring countries, and India was the first to respond. It was reported that the then Nepali Prime Minister Sushil Koirala, who was in Bangkok, knew of the earthquake through the Indian Prime Minister’s tweet. India dispatched relief materials and rescue teams immediately.
The Indian government initiated Operation Maitri and launched a humanitarian mission, dispatched National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) teams and special aircraft with rescue and relief materials in Nepal. India released INR 96 crores (around 154 crore Nepali rupees) to Nepal for housing and school sector assistance. Under the post-earthquake reconstruction package, India allocated a grant of USD 250 million, including USD 50 million each for the education, cultural heritage, and health sector and USD 100 million for the housing sector.
When a crisis occurs, Nepal looks up to India. India, our closest neighbor, has always helped Nepal in the difficult hours. During this crisis, India provided immediate responses and timely decision-making. Furthermore, a swift emergency response was possible because of connected borders, friendly ties and institutional relations between the two nations. Close bilateral relations, including fraternal relations between the two countries’ militaries, provided the basis for swift support.
India experienced some hiccups during the support. Despite widespread help, Indian media faced a backlash for their insensitive reporting, which made the hashtag #GoHomeIndianMedia trend on Twitter.
The India-imposed economic blockade towards the end of the year escalated the humanitarian crisis, though. Moreover, the blockade un-did the goodwill India had garnered from the support. It has left a long-lasting anti-India sentiment among the general populace.
Disaster response is an additional dimension in Nepal-India relations. Other disasters such as floods affect both countries. They have established common mechanisms to deal with such issues, but their workings are unsatisfactory. It would benefit both countries to strengthen disaster cooperation, for it is less prone to conflict and garners goodwill for each other.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) annually releases the Global Gender Gap Report. WEF, with this report, helps the world leaders to understand better how their governments fare in terms of minimizing existing gender gaps. It published the first report in 2006 using indicators across four subindexes: Economic Participation and Opportunity, Education Attainment, Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment. In 2021, the report highlighted that it would take 135.6 years to close the existing global gender gap. With some improvements, the 2022 report was revised to 132 years. In this blog, I will try to answer questions like: Where does South Asia stand in terms of gender parity? Have we seen growth in our region, or rather, decline?
To begin with, the WEF defines the gender gap as “the difference between women and men as reflected in social, political, intellectual, cultural, or economic attainments and attitudes”. The subindexes receive scores from 0 (which indicates perfect gender imparity) to 1 (which indicates perfect gender parity).
South Asia remains one of the poor performers in the analysis. In 2021, the region ranked second last among the eight regions considered for the analysis, with a parity score of 62.3 percent. The region’s performance further slided in 2022 and ranked the lowest. has become the lowest performer with the same parity score. South Asia, in the Economic Participation and Opportunity subindex, has improved the region’s score from 33.8 percent in 2021 to 35.7 percent in 2022. Still, this is the lowest performance out of all the regions. North America is leading the progress with a parity of 77.4 percent. Afghanistan, one of the major ranked countries from South Asia, has been ranked in the last position (of the total 146 ranked countries) with a score of just 0.176. China, another key rising global economy, on the other hand, ranks in the 37th position (score 0.741).
In 2022, South Asia ranks in the second last position under the Educational Attainment subindex with the score from 93.3 percent in 2021 to 93.2 percent in 2022. Under this subindex as well, Afghanistan ranks in the last position further sliding in overall score from 0.514 in 2021 to 0.482 in 2022. China, on the other hand, has here managed to rank in 120th position (score 0.936), thus ranking above Bangladesh, Nepal, and Pakistan.
Likewise, South Asia in the Health and Survival subindex has a parity of 94.2 percent for both the years. The score is still the lowest possible regional score. Under this subindex, India ranks in the last position (among all the ranked countries) with a score of 0.937. However, in 2021, India was just a step ahead of China (ranked last with a score of 0.935).
Finally, under the Political Empowerment subindex, parity score for South Asia has declined from 28.1 percent in 2021 to 26.2 percent in 2022. Despite this decline, the region still remains the fourth best performer in this subindex. Here, China ranks in 120th position (score 0.113), just ahead of Bhutan (score 0.093). Bhutan, as of 2022, remains the lowest performer for this subindex in the region while India is the best performer.
South Asia, overall, has a parity score of 62.3 percent in 2022, which is 5.8 percent less than the global average of 68.1 percent. The parity score of the region was the same in 2021, against the global average score of 67.7 percent. The 2022 Report has highlighted that South Asia requires 197 years to close the gender gap in the region, far more years than that of global average. Hence, being the worst performing region in the world, it is high time that the governments in the region take national and well-coordinated regional approaches to minimize staggering gender-based gaps.
– NISCHAL Dhungel, Non-Resident Fellow
The column originally appeared in The Kathmandu Post on 4 August 2022. Read the original article here.
The geostrategic positioning of Nepal offers a unique opportunity to participate in numerous regional projects. Before engaging in such projects, it is essential to understand where our strengths lie concerning our connectivity, and the reasons holding back our connectivity with South Asian countries. In this regard, improving connectivity through sub-regional cooperation such as the Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Nepal Motor Vehicles Agreement (BBIN MVA) plays a crucial role in pushing forward social and economic development among these South Asian countries.
Following the failure of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) to reach a consensus on a regional motor vehicle accord at the Kathmandu Summit in 2014, primarily due to resistance from Pakistan, the BBIN MVA connectivity project was proposed. The BBIN MVA seeks to build a road-based economic corridor linking Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal. Bhutan has not ratified the agreement but encouraged the other three to approve and engage in the pact. The BBIN MVA aims to promote the smooth movement of passengers, personal and vehicular cargo traffic within and between the BBIN countries.
With only 5 percent of the total trade in the region, intraregional trade in South Asia is among the lowest in the world. Significant challenges lie before implementing massive connectivity projects like the BBIN MVA. Traders usually have to visit more than 10 agencies for documentation clearances. The lack of accredited laboratories to certify export products often delays shipments by weeks. The lengthy border hold-ups add to the enormous trade costs among BBIN member nations. Regarding infrastructure gaps, congested borders, long and diversionary transport routes, and low quality roads increase trade cost and transit time which directly hampers the transport of goods and services. Besides these challenges, the development of inter-modal transhipment facilities, modern warehouse capacities, and gender-friendly infrastructure and trade and transit-related offices should be considered.
As Nepal is a landlocked mountainous nation with poor transportation infrastructure, improving road and railway connectivity is essential for the smooth flow of goods and services. Simplifying paperwork, advancing risk management practices to reduce physical checks, facilitating cross-border transit and modernising sanitary and phytosanitary measures will help streamline trade processes. To enable importers and exporters to submit their paperwork electronically, the World Bank assists Bangladesh and Nepal in building single electronic gateways. These National Single Windows which are anticipated to decrease clearing times require strong implementation support. Upgradation of the roads connecting integrated check posts and inland container depots will help smoothen large volumes of cross-border trade.
Hence, modernising infrastructure and integrated border points, developing and upgrading cross-border and internal roads, and increasing multi-modal transport networks, including road and railways, helps to bridge the infrastructure gaps. Also, local concepts such as border “haat” practised at the India-Bangladesh and India-Myanmar border points should be adopted on the India-Nepal border to provide economic opportunities to small entrepreneurs and women traders.
Looking at the composition of transport connectivity in Nepal, 90 percent of goods and passenger transport services take place via road, 8 percent by air and 2 percent by rail, rope and others. Nepal should prioritise high-quality road infrastructure to increase connectivity in the short term. At present, the upgradation of the east-west highway, which connects significant land ports (Birgunj, Biratnagar and Bhairahawa) is crucial for transport connectivity. High quality road infrastructure could be initially expensive. However, investing in such massive projects is worthwhile in the long term. Several studies in high-, middle- and low-income countries show a positive relationship between transport infrastructure and economic development. Therefore, transport infrastructure becomes extremely important as it is the primary driver of economic growth. Nepal can tap into two huge markets—China and India—if she can develop advanced road and railway systems.
South and Southeast Asia
The Greater Mekong Sub-Region (GMS) in Southeast Asia and the BBIN MVA in South Asia operate under a similar model (project-based). The GMS comprises six countries and is regarded as a successful development story. The GMS countries share the Mekong River in implementing high priority projects to facilitate doing business, accessing markets and engaging in other activities that comprehensively support trade and development in addition to developing infrastructure. Similarly, the BBIN countries can follow in the footsteps of the GMS by leveraging their economic corridors and concentrating on priority sectors to foster regional harmony and integration by cementing strong ties between their peoples.
A recent World Bank report entitled Deepening Linkages between South Asia and Southeast Asia examines new strategies for reviving trade and economic ties between the two regions, concentrating on sectors including digital systems, environmental goods and services. The gross domestic product (GDP) gains would be significant, amounting to about 17.6 percent for South Asia and 15.7 percent for Southeast Asia. Nepal will benefit from such regional South Asia and Southeast Asia cooperation by engaging in high priority projects.
Nepal confronts significant economic development obstacles due to electricity supply. Recently, there has been some positive developments. Nepal and Bangladesh intend to hold meetings about bilateral power trade and Bangladeshi investment in Nepal’s hydropower industry. The positive side of the bilateral power trade is that Nepal can buy power from Bangladesh during the winter and sell its power dominance during the rainy season. This increases the prospect of improving energy trade not only with India but also with Bangladesh. In this regard, The Millennium Challenge Cooperation (MCC) Nepal Compact ushers in a new era in United States-Nepal Partnership, which aims to improve road quality, increase the availability and reliability of electricity, and facilitate cross-border electricity trade between Nepal and India.
The MCC Nepal Compact and bilateral power trade with Bangladesh will be an opportunity for Nepal to improve its connectivity and engage in power trade with India and Bangladesh respectively. Nepal can also benefit from new railway connectivity with another neighbouring country China. The feasibility study for the proposed Kerung-Kathmandu railway project would significantly boost the development of a “cross-Himalayan connectivity network” using transportation, ports for trade, roads and telecommunication. While implementing projects like the BBIN MVA, Nepal should be free from political ties and act in the country’s best interests. Swift implementation of high priority connectivity projects should be first on the agenda, bringing considerable macro economic benefits not limited to generating thousands of jobs for the Nepali people.
For all the Heads of the States around the world, it is a commonplace phenomenon to travel around countries across the continents either for State Visits or Official Visits or attending major meetings. And Nepal’s incumbent Prime Minister, Mr. KP Sharma Oli, is not an exception. In fact, these trips not only help the leaders to make their all possible efforts to have their regional and global influence in highly globalized modern world but also to build better relations with respective countries’ diaspora across the globe through formal and informal gatherings.
In the case of Mr. Oli, who has been serving his second prime ministership since 15th February 2018, he has made foreign trips to ten countries (as of November 04, 2019). In addition to China and India, Nepal’s immediate neighbors, PM Oli has also travelled to four of the world’s major economies – France, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America. In addition, he and his delegation have also travelled to new and rising economies – Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Costa Rica, and Vietnam.
PM KP SHARMA OLI’S FOREIGN TRIPS
Below, we highlight PM Oli’s all foreign trips as the 41st Prime Minister of Nepal. We have discounted PM Oli’s two trips to Singapore (made during August – September, 2019) in this data visualizations as those visits were meant for his personal health check-ups only.
Nepali Prime Minister and his 21-member Nepali delegation travelled to Baku, Azerbaijan and attended the 18th Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) that ran for October 25-26, 2019. Nepal is one of the founding members of NAM and the principles of non-alignment form core strategy of Nepal’s foreign policy practices. While in Baku, PM Oli addressed the leaders of Summit on “Upholding the Bandung Principles to Ensure Concerted and Adequate Response to the Challenges of Contemporary World” topic.
In June, PM Oli and his Nepali delegation went to Paris, France for an Official Visit. During the 3-day Visit (June 12-15) to the Republic, PM Oli attended a programme organized by the Federation of National Chambers of Industries and Commerce of France (MEDEF) at the Federation’s Headquarters. In addition, he also attended few gatherings organized by the Embassy of Nepal in Paris and also by France-Nepal Friendship Society. PM Oli also took his France Visit occasion to make an official announcement of Visit Nepal Year 2020 in the French Republic.
United Kingdom (June)
The Nepali Prime Minister and his official delegation made an Official Trip to Oxford and London in the United Kingdom. During the 3-day long trip (June 10-12), PM Oli addressed at the Oxford Union on ‘Peace, Democracy and Development’. While in London, the Nepali leader also held meetings with the then British Prime Minister, Theresa May, and a key member of the British Royal Family, Prince Harry. In addition, PM Oli also addressed a group of professionals representing the All Party Parliamentary Group for Nepal (APPG) and the British Group on Inter-Parliamentary Union (BGIPU). The Nepali delegation also held formal meetings with officials from the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), Non-Resident Nepalis, and the British Gurkhas. Towards the end of the Trip, a Joint UK-Nepal Communique was released by the Foreign Ministers of both the nations.
To attend the Centenary International Labor Conference, PM Oli and a high-level official Nepali delegation travelled to Geneva, Switzerland. During his stay in Geneva (June June 09-10), PM Oli addressed the Conference participants. In addition, Mr. Oli also met Nepali community and Friends of Nepal in Geneva.
At the invitation of his Indian counterpart Mr. Narendra Modi, the Nepali Prime Minister travelled to India for an official visit. During the visit (May 30-31), PM Oli attended the oath-taking ceremony of Mr. Modi, who was reelected as the Prime Minister of India from country’s 17th Loksabha Elections.
The Nepali Prime Minister and an official delegation visited Cambodia for an official visit. During the 3-day visit (May 13-15), besides holding talks with the key Cambodian leaders, PM Oli and his Cambodian counterpart witnessed the signing of an agreement for Nepal-Cambodia trade and economic cooperation. In addition, the visit also made it possible for the Nepal Chamber of Commerce and Cambodia Chamber of Commerce to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). During the visit, PM Oli also addressed the participants of Nepal – Cambodia Business Forum. While in Phnom Penh, PM Oli and his delegation also met with representatives from Non-Resident Nepali Association (NRNA) Cambodia Chapter. The major accomplishments of this visit and future plans in this regard were later highlighted in a joint-statement.
At the invitation of the Prime Minister of Vietnam, Mr. Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Nepali leader and his delegation travelled to Vietnam for a 5-day official visit. During the trip, PM Oli and his team visited few historical and touristic places in the country including Ha Long Bay, one of Vietnam’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites and released a English-Vietnamese translated book “Nepal: Peace is at Hand” to share Nepal’s experiences with the Vietnamese readers. In addition, the Nepali delegation also held a meeting with the representatives of Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI). During the trip, PM Oli addressed a gathering at the Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics. In addition, he also addressed the participants of Vietnam – Nepal Business Forum in Hanoi. Furthermore, PM Oli also attended and made an address at an event organized to mark the 16th UN Day of Vesar (Buddha’s Birthday) in Ha Nam Province. A joint-statement was also released on the occasion of PM Oli’s official visit to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
In January 2019, Nepali Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli became the first sitting leader of the Himalayan nation to attend and speak at an annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. During his visit, PM Oli attended two sessions at the 49th Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) as a panelist, namely Strategic Outlook on South Asia and Shaping the Future of Democracy. Besides regular WEF events, PM Oli also met with the representatives from Non-Resident Nepali Association (NRNA) Switzerland Chapter, Swiss-Nepalese Society. While on his way to Kathmandu, PM Oli also visited Innovation and Entrepreneurship Centre at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich).
Costa Rica (September – October)
At the invitation of the President of the Republic of Costa Rica, Mr. Carlos Alvarado Quesada, the Nepali Prime Minister and his official delegation travelled to San José, the capital city of the Latin American nation. Mr. Oli became the first sitting Nepali Prime Minister to visit Costa Rica. Besides regular political and diplomatic meetings and also visiting a few places in the country, Mr. Oli also addressed a gathering at the University for Peace (UPEACE), the University later awarded Nepali Prime Minister with the Honorary Doctorate.
United States of America (September)
To attend the 73rd Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), leading the Nepali delegation, Mr. KP Sharma Oli visited the United States of America. While in New York, PM Oli addressed the 73rd Session of UNGA, made remarks at the High-Level Event on Action for Peacekeeping (A4P), and delivered a public lecture on “Peace, Democracy and Development” at the Asia Society.
More than two months after his State Visit to country’s immediate southern neighbor, PM Oli and his delegation travelled to China, Nepal’s immediate northern neighbor, for a 6-day long Official Visit (June 19-24). PM Oli made this trip at the invitation of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.
During this visit, PM Oli made series of high-level political and diplomatic meetings. In addition, Mr. Oli also witnessed the signing of an agreement for cooperation between Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) and the State Grid Corporation of China for undertaking a feasibility study of Nepal-China cross-border power grid interconnection project across the Kerung-Rasuwagadhi-Galchhi-Ratmate transmission line (400 kV). Moreover, representatives from Nepali business and tourism communities also signed eight Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) in the areas of hydropower generation, manufacturing, river training, and agriculture. The overall accomplishments of the visit and future course of actions in this regard were highlighted in a joint-statement between Nepal and the People’s Republic of China.
During the trip, PM Oli addressed a reception organized by the Embassy of Nepal in Beijing. In addition, the Nepali leader also inaugurated and addressed at the 2018 Nepal-China Business Forum. To enable Beijing-based Nepali diplomatic mission’s outreach among Chinese audiences, PM Oli also launched the official WeChat account of the Embassy of Nepal in Beijing.
PM Oli made his first foreign trip to India after he assumed his second prime ministership responsibilities. At the invitation of his Indian counterpart, Mr. Narendra Modi, PM Oli and his Nepali delegation travelled to India on a State Visit during April 06-08, 2018.
During this trip, PM Oli and PM Modi inaugurated the Integrated Check Post at Birgunj (Nepal) with an aim to further boost cross-border trade and movement of people across Nepal-India border. The Nepal-India border is one of the oldest open borders in the world and remains one of the modern world’s very few such borders that witnesses flow of thousands of people on a single day.
This visit also witnessed the release of four joint-statements, one on the Nepali Prime Minister’s State Visit and three others on Nepal and India’s three key areas of interest. Three such statements were made, one each on, India-Nepal Statement on New Partnership in Agriculture, Expanding Rail Linkages: Connecting Raxaul in India to Kathmandu in Nepal, and New Connectivity between India and Nepal through Inland Waterways.
Framing Nepal’s relations with China and India: balance or diversify?
Scholars and political leaders, be it within or out of the government, have used various terms to describe the policies Nepal should adopt vis-à-vis China and India. From the evergreen ‘balance’ to short-lived ‘equi-distance’ to now buzz word ‘equi-proximity’ have been put forth. In essence, all these words convey that Nepal should maintain equal relations with both our giant neighbors. This commentary explains why these concepts (about balance) are problematic and Nepal needs a new ‘frame’ to describe our relations with China and India.
Balance: What do we mean?
In the context of Nepali foreign policy, ‘balance’ is a term that is most frequently used by decision-makers, academicians, journalists and the general public. I once talked to a former Prime Minister and asked him about his views on Nepal’s relations with China and India. His brief response was – “China and India are major powers. We need to have balanced relations with both”. It is so commonly used that many do not even feel the need to explain the term. The need for balance is pronounced even more after the India-imposed blockade along the Southern border in 2015. However, what do they refer to by ‘balance’?
First, most Nepali understand ‘balance’ at a strategic level. They feel that India has undue influence in Nepal and frequently applies bullying tactics to meet its interests. India has extensive access/influence over major political, business, security stakeholders, including academicians. To those, ‘balance’ means seeking the help of another big neighbor, China, as a counterweight to ‘excessive’ Indian influence. In doing so, it will increase the leverage of Nepalese domestic actors and hence reduce Indian high-handedness. This is ironic at best and counterproductive at the worst. Inviting a third country to ‘intervene’ to lower interference from another country simply leads to higher, not lower, interference cumulatively.
Second, ‘balance’ typically refers to a trading relationship. The ratio of Nepal’s export to import is 1:14.8 in the first 11 months of the fiscal year 2075/76. This means, for every dollar of export, we import 15 USD worth of goods. The vast proportion of such trade imbalance is with India. During this period, Nepal exported goods worth NPR 56.59 billion to India and imported goods worth NPR. 841.7 billion. While the export-import ratio is the same [it’s primarily because Nepal’s trade with India accounted for 65%]. It is the absolute amount of trade deficit that is concerning to many Nepalese. Many Nepali understand, and correctly, that this over-dependence on India provides enabling environment for extensive Indian influence. Hence, trade with other countries, especially China, should be increased to reduce such over-dependence. A similar case can be made for investment (China has become the largest investor in Nepal in recent years) or aid. However, the irony is that Nepal’s export-import ratio with China is 1:95. Hence, increased trade with China has furthered the trade deficit, not created ‘balance’.
Third, and related to the second, is ‘balance’ in terms of Nepal’s connectivity. Given the geographic location of Nepal, as of now, our access to the rest of the world is mostly through India and Indian ports. Therefore, India virtually has a monopoly over Nepal’s connectivity and supply of petroleum products. Hence, opening trading and connectivity links though China is understood as a ‘balance’. This intensified after the 2015 Indian blockade and resulted in multiple agreements of trade, transit, and connectivity between Nepal and China. In saying that, the connectivity with China will not come cheap.
Is Balance Possible?
The relation between any two countries is guided by the interests of the thus involved countries. Therefore, the relation between any two pairs of the country is never the same. Nepal has its dynamics concerning India and China.
Geographically, the Southern neighbor is easily accessible. Even the infrastructure along the Southern border is better than along the Himalayas. In line with geography, the population of Nepal is also concentrated along the Southern plain. Culturally, India and Nepal largely share the same civilizational roots, religion, linguistic origins, and social values. Nepal has a ‘roti-beti’ [bread and marriage] relations with India. The close socio-cultural ties along with open-border mean the movement of people across the border is thick. Varanasi was/is a major educational/religious center for the Nepalis and so is Pashupatinath and others for Indians.
Even in economic terms, Nepal trades five times more with India than with China. If we include the trade via India as well, the ratio will be even higher. Hundreds of thousands of Nepali workers migrate to India for work and education. A similar number of Indians enter Nepal for work and investment opportunities. A significant proportion of Nepalis can speak or understand Hindi/Bhojpuri and watch Indian TV channels.
Even in technical terms, Nepal’s resources are too limited to engage in a ‘balancing’ game or make any major impact on the overall balance of power in the region. Neither is our diplomatic practices sophisticated enough to handle the risks associated with having to balance the two powers.
Both China and India have their interests in Nepal and Nepal has different interests in engaging with the two neighbors. Nepal should engage with them based on the actual premise of the relations, and not compare one to the other. When we frame our foreign policy as ‘balance’, we are weighing the importance/influence of those two countries. The interests of those two powers are different; the socio-cultural, economic, strategic context of Nepal’s relations with the two powers is different. Then, why should we put the relations between those two neighbors on the same scale and try to ‘balance’ them out?
Also, it is equally important in diplomacy how the other partner understands the policy or framing. India is wary of increasing Chinese presence/influence in the South Asian Region. In such a context, India likely understands Nepali ‘balance’ as an attempt to tilt away from India towards China. Hence, it is likely to resist such policies using every means available. This will provide fuel to further skepticism of Nepalis among Indian policy-makers. Increase in distrust with a major partner is not something that is in Nepal’s interest.
Diversification, not balance!
While balance may not be possible or desirable, all three understandings of ‘balance’ are relevant. Nepal cannot simply be passive and accept Indian domination as a ‘revenge of geography’. The common point in all three understandings of ‘balance’ is the need for diversification: diversify engagement of neighbors (and other major powers), trade/aid/investment or connectivity. They are not about reducing/increasing the influence of one neighbor vis-à-vis another but not being over-dependent on anyone so that Nepal retains diplomatic independence as required by the constitution of Nepal. Today, we have trade over-dependence on India. Soon, we might have investment over-dependence on China. Neither of them is healthy for Nepalese diplomacy even though some might suggest that creates balance between China and India.
Unlike in ‘balancing’, which is a zero-sum game, Nepal need not work towards reducing the role or significance of one neighbor against the other if it follows ‘diversification’. Instead, it can improve its trade and strategic relations with other members, as diversification is not a zero-sum game, while keeping the relations with others at the same level.
‘Balancing’ is a term loaded with strategic (and military) connotation, meaning chances of mistrust are higher. Meanwhile, ‘diversification’ has an economic connotation where cooperation is easier to achieve compared to strategic issues. Also, the ‘diversification’ is less threatening to the interest of dominant power than ‘balancing’. This could make India less skeptical about Nepalese intentions. While both may not have major differences in policies, the impact of the change in framing could make it easier for the implementation of the policy and therefore the impact of such framing should not be underestimated.
- Investment Promotion Board (2019), Reports, retrieved from: http://www.ibn.gov.np/
- Ministry of Finance (2019), Development Cooperation Report, retrieved from: https://mof.gov.np/uploads/document/file/20171231154547.pdf
- Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2019), Publications, retrieved from: https://mofa.gov.np/media-centre/publications/
- Ministry of Health and Population (2019), The Constitution of Nepal, retrieved from: https://www.mohp.gov.np/downloads/Constitution%20of%20Nepal%202072_full_english.pdf
- Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies (2019), Transit Treaties Agreements of Nepal, retrieved from: https://www.moc.gov.np/downloadfile/Compendium%20of%20Transit%20Treaties%20and%20Agreements%20of%20Nepal%20Since%201950_1546239430.pdf
- The Kathmandu Post (20th August 2018), Kathmandu-Kerung Railway: Project to cost Rs. 257 bn, retrieved from: https://kathmandupost.com/national/2018/08/20/project-to-cost-rs257-billion
- Trade and Export Promotion Center (2019), Foreign Trade Balance of Nepal, retrieved from: https://www.tepc.gov.np/projects/tepc/assets/upload/fck_upload/First%20Eleven%20Months%202075_76_tables.pdf