Policy Towards Neighbours


Madhavji Shrestha


We are told myriad times that Nepal needs to maintain a balanced neighbourly foreign policy vis-à-vis India and China. Politicians, diplomats and experts appear to have been much accustomed to give their homilies with regard to this much-hyped diplomatic affair. But no one explains what this means in actual action and behaviour. To what extent Nepal should manage to go and to what limit it should be confined to.

Everyone is aware that Nepal is a small country compared to its two big neighbours in terms of territory, population and resources. Hence great care  should be given while conducting diplomatic businesses with them for Nepal’s own security and good relations. Nepal is depicted as vibrant bridge, trade entrepot, land-linkage etc. between the two countries. Only a few weeks ago, at a seminar held in Kathmandu, an important political personality described Nepal as staircase between the two, while another labeled it as a hinge economy.

“For centuries, Nepal skillfully balanced its diplomatic posture between the ruling dynasties in China and India- offering letters and gifts that were interpreted as tribute to China but recorded as evidence of equal exchanges in Nepal, then holding out a special tie with China as a guarantee of Nepal’s independence vis-à-vis India,” Dr. Henry A. Kissinger has written in his book ‘World Order’, with regard to Nepal’s past foreign policy. This observation reflected Nepal’s policy towards the two neighbours during the bygone centuries. But such posture does not work well in the 21st century context.

Today diplomatic and political networks closely connected with the security and economic interests have spread their connections far and wide with their out-reach activities seen or unseen at various levels ranging from the government offices down to the people level through many professional and corporate organisations of different shades and shapes. Overt and covert actions abound across the region and beyond. Subtle understanding of the developed and emerging subterranean situation is of utmost necessity while handling diplomatic affairs of one’s own country and its government. Quick grasping and dexterous handling of any issue would certainly pave the way for what are intended and aspired to achieve.

Amidst the complex situation developing underneath or on the surface as well, Nepal’s current government has to conduct its foreign policy in such a way that should ensure an advantageous stance for the country and its people in the long term. Nepal’s conclusion of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship with India on July 31, 1950 was regarded as controversial and unequal, whereas similar Treaty of Peace and Friendship with China signed on April 28, 1960 was not thought as unfavourable. The Treaty with India was concluded during the time of the autocratic Rana regime even without giving attention to the popular wish, whereas the treaty with China was signed at a time when the popularly elected government was in power.

The treaty of 1950 with India contains 10 articles. At least four, Articles II, V, VI and VII with elaborate explanation given by the Exchange of Letters signed on the same day put restrictions and imposition on Nepal in the matters relating to the sharing of information in case of threat to either of the parties, import of defense materials and equipment by Nepal, equal national treatment to each other’s citizens and equal privilege with regard to ownership of property and trade. Critical observers of Nepal view those four provisions as barriers to the free handling of Nepal’s defense policy, and economic and commercial affairs as an independent and sovereign nation. But the treaty with China which contains only five articles has not put any sort of restriction on Nepal. Hence, no controversy has arisen in respect of the treaty with China.

Now is the high time that the top decision makers and policy executors give serious thought to various aspects of provisions of articles of the 1950 treaty so that the future generation of the Nepali people could make decisions of their free choice without any hindrance and imposition to serve national interests. Such step is pivotal to secure our unfettered freedom to handle our external policy without any barrier. This would make a way out to conduct a fairly balanced policy towards India and China. Unless we do so, no balanced policy could come up. Tilt towards any side would damage the magnitude and vector of Nepal’s foreign policy.

While formulating and implementing a balanced policy, Nepal is under compelling situation to factor in the policies of both India and China. The Modi government in India has pronounced the neighbourhood first policy. Meanwhile, President Xi Jinping of China has enunciated the policy of neighbourhood diplomacy and policy. On our part, Nepal has to meticulously understand what subtle elements of policies pursued by the two neighbours are most likely to affect their stance vis-à-vis Nepal. Understanding of subtleties of their policies would enable Nepal to pave way for a clearer analysis of their impact and to critically vet either windfalls or fallouts.

Their sensitivity and interest of various magnitude and dimensions in respect of national security and economic development would certainly precede all other concerns. Currently, defense of their borders and territories, and the looming threat of subversive sabotage have been haunting their policy makers. Nepal is also facing and grappling with similar concerns. Nepali diplomats need to heed these primary concerns of the two neighbouirng countries as a common ground of national interests to protect and promote for a pretty long time to come. Separatism and terrorism of divisive and devastating activities are also not unseen in our region. These are common foes of mankind, which must not only be tackled but also be nipped before they become deeply entrenched as monstrous threat to the society and civilisation. Action and behaviour to relentlessly fight and defeat the evil forces of separatism and terrorism are the basic tenets to be put in express terms in Nepal’s dealings with both the neighbours.

One more pivotal issue closely connected with Nepal’s socio-economic uplift is the question of economic and trade relations that needs a real balance. Geography has thrust Nepal in a difficult position making the balanced economic trade relations almost insurmountable. This is because of Nepal’s least developed status. Awareness is now running in a great leap to give new impetus to jettison Nepal’s almost total dependence on its south. Nepal’s immediate northern territory Tibetan Autonomous Region of China has achieved rapid development in its economy and infrastructure with modern facilities of road transport and high speed trains with their possible and practicable outreach to Nepal. Nepal should, therefore, make continued endeavours to implement the trade and transit agreements concluded between Nepal and China in March 2016. This is a monumental step towards making a genuine effort to make a balanced relation in the much talked-about economic and trade matters.

All patriotic Nepali citizens feel that Nepal is a squeezed, small country made to pronounce and pursue the policy of not letting its soil to be used against the interests of both big neighbours. This is indeed a sensitive concern why Nepal should keep mum in not asking both neighbours for their promises of not allowing their soil and actions to be used against the interest of the Nepali citizenry. Is this not a pertinent question for seeking reply to make a balanced relation? Correct balance should come from all sides concerned, not only from Nepal alone.

We are living and working in an amazingly wonderful age of liberal cosmopolitanism. Mindset of narrow nationalism and national self interest is fast becoming a matter of the bygone era; if they are pursued blinded-folded now, then that will be self-inflicting in the current context. Broader the vision is accentuated with action, better would be outcome for all the concerned.

Dr. Henry Kissinger’s remark about Nepal’s diplomacy of letters and gifts as practiced in the past centuries would not serve the end purpose of national survival now. What is quintessentially required is the perfect statesmanship and diplomatic ingenuity of high caliber for everlasting survival of Nepal as a free and democratic country. Subtle and high alert of the first order is required for making a better-weighed policy formulation for much- needed balanced relationships with them by paying attention to their sensitivity and concerns but without conceding any of our self esteem and core national interests. 


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