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Tag: Nepal Foreign Affairs

South Asia Bulletin

SAB Blog – Nepal

Domestic Updates

Nepal held local elections on 13 May. It was the second such election after Nepal went into the federal governance structure. A few results were surprising as independent candidates won top mayoral positions in major cities like Kathmandu metropolitan city (the capital) and Dharan sub-metropolitan city. Nepali Congress topped the charts among the ruling coalition of five parties, and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) did well to come in third. The main opposition party, the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist), came second though most expected the party to perform better. Nepal will also hold its federal elections later this year in November.

A Tara Air flight carrying 22 people crashed into a mountain at an altitude of about 14,500 feet. It was Nepal’s 19th plane crash in 10 years and Tara Air’s 10th fatal one during the same period. The European Union (EU) has barred Nepali airlines from European airspace since 2013 owing to poor safety records. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba inaugurated Nepal’s second international airport in Lumbini, the birthplace of Gautam Buddha.

Regional Engagement

On the occasion of Buddha Jayanti (Buddha’s birth, nirvana, and death all were on the same date), Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha. The visit was Modi’s fifth to Nepal, and he had visited Hindu religious sites in his four previous visits. Nepali Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and Modi witnessed the exchange of six MOUs relating to the power and education sector. One was between India’s Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam Ltd and Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) to develop and implement the Arun IV hydropower project. Additionally, Nepal has signed agreements to sell up to 364 MW of electricity in the open market in India.

Nepal-India relation has been hot and cold during Modi’s reign. In 2014, Modi became the first Indian prime minister to visit Nepal in 17 years and received adulation across the board. However, the Indian blockade of Nepal in 2015 and overlapping territorial claims have tested the relations. Nevertheless, the relationship has recently improved, especially in energy connectivity.

Deuba inaugurated Gautam Buddha International Airport earlier that day, but Modi chose to land on a custom-built helipad 16 kilometers away. Many analysts argue that Modi snubbed the airport because it was built by a Chinese contractor (though financed by the Asian Development Bank). Nepal has the daunting task of balancing Indian and Chinese engagement and interests in Nepal.

At the foreign secretary-level, the 14th meeting of the Nepal-China Diplomatic Consultation Mechanism took place. Both sides talked about cooperation for mutual benefits and the further promotion of bilateral ties. However, China expressed displeasure at the US Undersecretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights, Uzra Zeya’s visit to Tibetan refugee camps in Kathmandu (more on this below).

Global Engagement

Zeya, the United States under secretary for civilian security, democracy, and human rights, visited two Tibetan refugee camps in Nepal. She is also the special coordinator for Tibetan issues. She went forward with visiting refugee camps despite Nepal’s reservations, though Nepal formally feigned ignorance of the visit. Nepal is home to over 13,000 Tibetan refugees and is a sensitive issue in Nepal-China relations. Nepal ascribes to the one-China policy, which states Tibet and Taiwan are integral parts of China, ever since diplomatic relations were established.

To assuage Chinese concerns, Nepal re-expressed its commitment to the One-China policy. However, the amalgamation of geopolitics and human rights principles makes Nepal’s handling of Tibetan refugees tricky. It has also been an arena for Sino-US competition in Nepal.

NIPoRe DatavizNIPoRe Updates

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.


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.


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).


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.

NIPoRe DatavizNIPoRe UpdatesResearch

NDV0004 – President Xi Jinping’s State Visits – SAARC Vs ASEAN

Chinese President Xi Jinping travelled to Nepal for a two-day state visit between October 12 and 13 this year. He became the first Chinese president to visit Nepal since December 1996 when Jiang Zemin visited the Himalayan nation. President Xi’s rare visit to Nepal this year indicates that China – the second largest world economy and one of the major global players in world politics – have Nepal in its foreign policy priority. During his visit, a list of instruments was signed. Later on, Nepal’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs had released the Joint-Statement between Nepal and the People’s Republic of China.

After taking responsibility as the President of the People’s Republic of China, President Xi has had made a series of state visits to countries in South and South East Asia indicating China’s interests in pursuing country’s major foreign policy priorities across countries in South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) regions.

Here, based on information from XINHUANET, we highlight few interesting facts about President Xi’s state visits to SAARC and ASEAN member countries.

9 and 11 Months: Between March 2013 and October 2019, President Xi Jinping has travelled to ASEAN and SAARC member countries for a state visit, on average, every 9 and 11 months respectively.

Minus 1: ASEAN and SAARC have welcomed President Xi for state visits to their members countries for 9 and 7 occasions respectively (Number of associations’ member countries minus 1 times).

2 and 1: There are only 2 countries – 1 country each in each region – that have hosted President Xi twice for state visits.

4 and 2: Only 4 countries in these regions – 2 countries each in each region – are yet to welcome the incumbent Chinese leader for a state visit.

Research Commentaries

NRC0015 – Nepali foreign policy and Zone of Peace: an attempt at neutrality?

Santosh Sharma Poudel


In my last Research Commentary, I summarized that Nepali foreign policy moved from ‘special relations’ with India towards diversification in the 1950s and 1960s. This period coincides with the direct rule of King Birendra. In this commentary, I analyze the country’s foreign policy in the 1970s and 1980s via the proposal of Zone of Peace. This period provides a stark reminder of the practical constraints of Nepal’s foreign policy priorities.

Domestic Political Developments

As seen in the previous two decades, domestic politics has been one of the major factors informing Nepal’s foreign policy, if not determining itself. The 1970s and 1980s were relatively stable periods under the then Panchayat System. The Prime Ministers were rotated heavily, but the power always rested with the King. King Birendra ascended the throne in 1972. During his coronation, which was attended by a large number of diplomatic dignitaries, he proposed Nepal to be made a ‘Zone of Peace’. It was a major initiative from the King, and the analysis of the intention and progress of the proposal reflects the foreign policy of Nepal during the period. There was the matter of ‘referendum’ in 1980, but the result was in favor of ‘reformed Panchayat’, and it did not alter the domestic dynamics much. Towards the end of this period, there was ‘Jana Andolan’ in Nepal, led by the Nepali Congress and communist parties, which overthrew the direct rule of the King, established multi-party democracy, and cosigned the King to a constitutional monarchy.

Zone of Peace (ZOP)

King Birendra’s prepared speech during the Non-Aligned Summit in 1973 stated that Nepal ‘wishes to be declared a Zone of Peace’. However, the official announcement of the ZOP by the King was made on 25th February 1975, during the farewell address delivered to the foreign dignitaries present to celebrate his coronation ceremony. His focus was on peace, peace in the country, the region and the world, and believed that ‘Zone of Peace’ will help institutionalize peace. Major points of the proposal included peace, non-alignment and peaceful coexistence, Nepal would not permit any activities on its soil that are hostile to other states supporting the proposal and expect reciprocity, and Nepal will not enter into any military alliance with any other countries among others. Nepal planned to take the proposal to the UN for endorsement.

There were international and domestic reasons for the proposal. Domestically, it was about maintaining stability, as the democratic opposition to the Panchayat regime came from Nepali exiles in India. It was also an opportunity for King Birendra to stamp his authority in Nepal’s foreign policy. Regionally, few issues were of real concern to Nepal. Nepal had a close eye on the political development in Sikkim. Sikkim, an independent state with ethnic Nepali people, was absorbed into the union territory of India in 1975. That was an urgent issue of concern for Nepal, a country that has inferiority complex vis-à-vis India. Many also had concerns that India could attempt a similar policy towards Nepal. Therefore, Nepal needed to ascertain its survival. Similarly, Nepal did not want to insert itself into the regional and global rivalries (such as India-Pakistan, Sino-India, US-USSR), and would rather expend its limited resources for peace and growth. Notwithstanding the justifications of the ZOP, it marked a significant change in the orientation of foreign policy of Nepal compared to a decade earlier.

Neutrality, not ‘balance’

The foreign policy of Nepal in the 1950s and 1960s was marked by movement along with the ‘special relations with India’ to ‘diversification in economic, trade, aid and global engagement’. In saying that, the relations with India was still the most important. ‘Zone of Peace’ was an attempt at ‘neutrality’ or ‘equidistance’, doing away with ‘special relations with India’. ZOP would do away with the concept of Nepal as ‘buffer state’, the strategic view that India held since the time of Jawaharlal Nehru. An agreement on such a proposal would also limit the role of India in Nepal’s domestic politics. Firstly, it would have limited the activities and some freedom enjoyed by exiled political leaders in India. Secondly, requests were made for the withdrawal of Indian intelligence posts in Nepal.

Two regional incidents also heightened the insecurity in Nepal vis-à-vis India. First, India played an active role in the breaking up of East Pakistan to form an independent Bangladesh in 1971. China, Pakistan’s all-weather friend, could not do much to change the scenario in which India got a decisive victory. The second was the dissolution of the Kingdom of Sikkim into the Indian union territory in 1975. Within a span of five years, the political map of South Asia changed significantly, thanks to India. This was bound to have a profound impact on the psyche of another small nation that shared a deeply unequal power relations with India.

Therefore, according to S.K. Upadhyaya, Nepal’s former Permanent Representative to the UN, ZOP, was the only way to ensure small nation’s (Nepal’s) survival when large powers commit aggression against small powers.

The ZOP was supported by a large number of countries to varying degrees. Major global and regional powers such as China, Pakistan, the US, the USSR, France, and the UK among others supported the proposal (on various dates and to varying degrees). By the mid-1980s, more than 85 countries around the globe had supported the proposal. However, Nepal’s closest neighbor India had major reservations. While the ZOP was not targeted at India, it could not be denied that India was a major target in terms of why the ZOP was proposed and would require to do the most to ensure the proposal was applied if India accepted given the socio-economic, political and geo-strategic linkages. Accepting the ZOP would mean that India’s ‘special’ position vis-à-vis (Nepal) would be diluted. Similarly, Indira Gandhi could not fathom that Nepal-China relations would be equated with Nepal-India relations. Other governments in India and leaders too had various reservations primarily that India has a special security interest in Nepal and ZOP does not address that.

The Fate of ZOP and Lessons for Nepal’s Foreign Policy

Despite the support of more than six dozen countries including the major powers, the ZOP died its natural death after the demise of Panchayat in 1990, thanks to the Indian reservation. The relations between the King and India also suffered which ultimately culminated in India’s blockade over Nepal in 1989 (though this was not the direct cause). This offers key lessons for Nepal’s foreign policy priorities. Firstly, the geo-economic rationale (in this context, the over-dependence on India) is a severe constraint to Nepal’s foreign policy. India does not hesitate to use such a constraint to undo Nepali strategies that do not address its national interests. Secondly, Nepal can count on the support of other neighbors and major powers. However, they are no substitute for the Indian influence and presence in Nepal. If Nepal aims at the successful implementation of any major foreign policy, it has to assure India that its legitimate security interests will be addressed and brought into confidence. Finally, as the saga unfolded, a foreign policy based on neutrality or equidistance failed to materialize at best, and backfired at worst. Nepal needs to engage with each neighbor and other countries, based on Nepal’s and the other partner’s specific interests. Trying to weigh two different neighbors on the same scale is not prudent as both countries have different interests in Nepal and vice-versa.


  1. Poudel, Santosh Sharma. (2019). RC0011 – Nepalese Foreign Policy Practice in the 1950s and 1960s. Nepal Institute for Policy Research (NIPoRe). Kathmandu, Nepal. retrieved from https://nipore.org/nrc0011-nepalese-foreign-policy-practice-in-the-1950s-and-60s-special-relationship-balance-and-diversification/
  2. Upadhyaya, S. K. (1982). Nepal’s Peace Zone Proposal: Many Voices, One concern. Weekly Mirror, Special Issue.
  3. Muni, S.D. (2016). Foreign Policy of Nepal. Adroit Publishers, New Delhi, India.
Research Commentaries

NRC0011 – Nepalese foreign policy practice in the 1950s and 60s: special relationship, balance and diversification

NRC0011 – Nepalese foreign policy practice in the 1950s and 60s: special relationship, balance and diversification

Santosh Sharma Poudel


In the last Research Commentary, I argued that ‘balancing’ as the framing of Nepal’s foreign policy vis-à-vis China and India is problematic: ill-defined, impossible, undesirable and counter-productive. Instead, I argued that ‘diversification’ is the better way forward. In this commentary, I analyze Nepalese foreign policy during the 1950s and 1960s vis-à-vis China and India through those lenses while also assessing the relative success and/or failure of those policies during this period.

Domestic Political Developments

Nepal went through significant political changes in the 1950s and 1960s. This period was tail ended by autocratic Rana regime and Panchayat system with some democratic practice in between. It started with the first wave of the democratic revolution in Nepal, led by Nepali Congress. It led to the overthrow of 104 years long Rana regime. King Tribhuvan returned to the royal throne after taking refuge in India for a while. This was followed by political instability. In the 1950s, Nepal saw nine governments, twice led by the Kings directly. King Mahendra seized the power in 1960 with a stable regime, but the governments and prime ministers changed frequently.

During this period, the rapid political change was reflected in its foreign policy as well. Given the crucial role India played in the first democratic revolution, India had an outsized and overt presence (and interference) in Nepalese politics, especially in the first decade. Nepalese foreign policy revolved around Nepal-India relations.

Special relationship with India

With the signing of the 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship just before the overthrow of the Rana regime, the Indo-Nepal relations entered a phase of ‘special relationship’. Some of the clauses in the treaty justified the label of ‘special’ relationship, especially in the context of open-border, reciprocal rights to each other’s citizens, and security arrangement for Nepal.

In light of Nepalese foreign policy during Rana regime, which almost exclusively focused on the relationship with the British, and the active role of India in the democratization of Nepal (to bring a compromise between Nepali Congress, the King, and the Rana regime), it was not totally unexpected. At the same time, China, some parts of which were colonized by Western powers and faced a war between the Nationalist and Communist forces until 1949 was preoccupied with internal developments.

The Nepal-India special relationship continued for about a decade, even though some elites in Nepal had (already?) begun to question the 1950 treaty and Indian heavy-handed approach. Anti-India sentiment became a requisite to be a ‘nationalist’ in Nepal. It was not helped by the Indian attitude and behavior whereby India explicitly believed that Nepal was in India’s ‘sphere of influence’. Some leaders such as Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel openly questioned the sovereignty of Nepal and mulled if Nepal should be brought within the fold of India.

Nepal expanded its diplomatic relations with the US and France by 1949. Yet, Nepal was not able to expand diplomatic relations at the insistence of India. There were discussions about having common ‘defense and foreign’ policies. Even the British and the Americans looked to Indians. Nepal actively followed New Delhi’s guidance.

Three developments in different spheres proved vital in the 1950s. Domestically, King Mahendra became the King in 1955. At the international level, Nepal became a member of the UN. At the diplomatic level, Nepal established diplomatic relations with China.


After King Mahendra ascended the throne, he appointed Tanka Prasad Acharya, a leftist with anti-Indian views as the Prime Minister. He put forth the idea of ‘equal relations’ with India and China, changing the narrative of ‘special relations’ with India on its head. He was able to sign a treaty with China with a relationship based on the principles of Panchshila. Similarly, the direct telegraphic service between Lhasa and Kathmandu was to be started, replacing the need for using the Indian mission. Formerly reticent Chinese started to engage with Nepal actively, and Chinese Premier Zhou En-lai visited Nepal in 1957 and emphasized the ‘blood relations’ between people of the two countries. An agreement was made on the construction of a road linking Kathmandu to Kodari (Chinese border). Nepal also voted differently than India at the UN for the first time in 1957.

Delhi was uncomfortable with the pace scope of Nepal’s increasing engagement with China. In an attempt to lure Nepal back, Delhi promised (an) aid of IRs. 110 million. To show its displeasure at Tanka Prasad Acharya, Delhi provided an unusually lavish welcome to Dr. K.I. Singh, a fierce critic of the Acharya government’s pro-China policy. Given increasing Indian reservations about the Acharya government, King Mahendra dismissed the government and appointed Dr. Singh as the next Prime Minister. For a short period of time, ‘special relations’ became the fervor. China and the Soviet Union were not allowed to establish resident embassies, and no further diplomatic relations were established.

Both the governments had been a part of the ploy of King Mahendra to test the waters and keep India on its toes. India could no longer take it for ‘granted’ that Nepal and Nepalese leaders would bow to India. Once this was accomplished, King Mahendra dismissed the Singh government and had a brief period of direct rule. He promoted ‘diversification’ in relations beyond the immediate neighbors. In 1958, an agreement was made with the US and the USSR to establish resident embassies in respective countries. Nepal came out of the shadows of India and engaged with all the permanent members of the UNSC (China would later join the UNSC replacing Taiwan).

The first elected government of Nepal under the premiership of B.P. Koirala brought forth the policy of neutrality, non-alignment in Sino-Indian dispute and ‘equal friendship’. Some progress was made to ‘balance’ the relations with the two. China would establish a resident embassy in Kathmandu in 1960, but the Mustang incident and Chinese claims over Everest had exposed that relations with China would not be as easy. Shortly, the Koirala government was dismissed in a Royal coup before we could see any sustainable impact on Nepal’s foreign policy.


Upon establishing the direct rule of the King, called Panchayat, the relationship with China, and later with East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) gained momentum. This could be seen from King Mahendra’s 17-day visit to China in 1961 and the signing of the Trade and Transit Treaty with Pakistan. India maintained cautious engagement with the King. The monarch also did not criticize India publicly, despite some subtle maneuver from the Chinese during his visit. During the visit, the King was out-maneuvered to sign agreement on construction of the road. Yet, it proved to be a crucial bargaining chip in Nepal’s relations with India. The disillusioned Indian government gave tacit approval, and some support, to Nepal Congress activists in India to organize violent protests in Nepal and levied economic blockade on Nepal to pressure the government to take a more favorable approach towards India.

The 1962 Sino-Indian border war could not have come at a better time for Nepal. India lifted the economic blockade and advised the rebels to suspend, and eventually terminate, their violent campaign. The King understood that sustained deterioration in relations with India is not a sound policy. So, too realized India. Therefore, the Indian offer of rapprochement was welcomed and promoted, but not at the cost of Sino-Nepal relations. As a result, India maintained some relations with the broad political actors in Nepal, but not at the level that would threaten the Royal regime.

During this period, Nepal sought to diversify its foreign policy, economic relations, aid and defense (all linked for the most part). Nepal started to engage heavily and took some leadership in various international organizations. Nepal became a vocal advocate of land-locked countries. Nepal participated actively in UNCTAD I and II. It culminated in Nepal becoming a member of the United Nations Security Council in 1968, which is probably the highest recognition of Nepalese diplomacy in the international arena so far?.

An agreement was made with India to provide unrestricted transit of Nepalese goods from one part to another via India in 1965. A year later, India agreed to provide separate and self-contained cargo at a port in Calcutta (now Kolkota). Similarly, the emphasis was put on economic expansion and trade with China. Trade agreements were signed with China as well. The trade with East Pakistan did not go as envisaged. Yet, Nepal was able to establish trade relations with Japan, USSR, and Western European countries. In terms of volume, trade with India comprised the lion’s share, yet it was a move in the right direction.

A sense of competition was created among the aid-giving countries. The different approaches the donors followed gave Nepal the flexibility and bite in the formulation of the development budget. Similarly, after the 1962 Sino-India border war, the ability of India to provide adequate defense support to Nepal was limited. Great Britain and the US agreed to provide limited military assistance on a short-term basis, but such support would only be sought if India could not supply the required military equipment.

In this sense, Nepal was able to establish friendly relations with India and China, without altering the essentials of Nepal-India relations. Trade and aid sources were diversified. So was diplomatic relations. Between 1955 and 1969, diplomatic relations were established with an additional 43 countries, both large and small. Nepal had an active presence in the international arena. Nepal exercised more independent foreign policy during this period that it had ever before since the advent of the Rana regime.

What does it mean for now?

Looking back, Nepal experimented with a variety of foreign policy vis-a-vis India and China during the 1950s. None of the ‘special relations’, ‘balance’, or ‘China-card’ tactics became sustainable. Finally, the foreign policy was consolidated and diversification sought in various aspects. That led to the 1960s, which is probably the most successful decade in modern Nepalese foreign policy history. Two major events helped the process. Firstly, it was the stability brought about by the direct rule of the King. Secondly, it was the opportunities brought forth by the rivalry between India and China (who fought a brief border war) and the competition between the USSR and USA globally. Nepal was able to exploit these developments to further its national interests.

These two decades bear some parallels with the situation post-1990 and hence some clear lessons. Firstly, domestic cohesion and a basic understanding of crucial foreign policy issue are must to have a coherent and effective foreign policy. Secondly, active and bold participation in international forums is important, especially for small powers such as Nepal. Thirdly, Nepal should practice broadening its economic, diplomatic, security and aid policy as far as practicable. This does not mean Nepal should ignore the legitimate interests of neighboring countries though. Fourth, foreign countries should be dealt with based on their merit insofar as it helps promote Nepalese national interest. Given that we have not learned most of the lessons, or are unable to practice, the foreign policy of Nepal post-1990s has been a case of failure for the most part.

  1. Ministry of External Affairs, India, Treaty of Peace and Friendship, retrieved from: https://mea.gov.in/bilateral-documents.htm?dtl/6295/Treaty+of+Peace+and+Friendship
  2. Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Nepal, Bilateral Relations, retrieved from: https://mofa.gov.np/foreign-policy/bilateral-relation/
  3. Poudel, Santosh Sharma, RC004 Framing Nepal’s Relations with China and India, Nepal Institute for Policy Research, retrieved from: https://nipore.org/framing-nepals-relations-with-china-and-india-balance-or-diversify/
  4. Rose, Leo E. (1971). Nepal: Strategy for Survival, Berkeley: University of California Press.
Publisher’s Note: This commentary is the second write-up in a series of scholarly pieces. The third write-up will be the analysis of Nepalese foreign policy in the 1970s and 1980s. The case of post-1990s foreign policy will be analyzed on fourth write-up.