07Jul2022

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NDV0008 – Nepali Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s Foreign Trips

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.

2019

Azerbaijan (October)

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.

France (June)

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.

Switzerland (June)

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.

India (May)

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.

Cambodia (May)

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.

Vietnam (May)

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.

Switzerland (January)

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).

2018

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.

China (June)

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.

India (April)

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.

Research Commentaries

NRC0004 – Framing Nepal’s relations with China and India: balance or diversify?

Framing Nepal’s relations with China and India: balance or diversify?

Santosh Sharma Poudel

Synopsis

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.

Or desirable?

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.

References
  1. Investment Promotion Board (2019), Reports, retrieved from: http://www.ibn.gov.np/
  2. Ministry of Finance (2019), Development Cooperation Report, retrieved from: https://mof.gov.np/uploads/document/file/20171231154547.pdf
  3. Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2019), Publications, retrieved from: https://mofa.gov.np/media-centre/publications/
  4. 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
  5. 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
  6. 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
  7. 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