Yuba Nath Lamsal
It is increasingly being felt that Nepal’s unique geo-strategic location and its strength have not been duly utilized to promote and enhance our national interest and image in the regional and international arena. But this geo-strategic strength has been dubbed as Nepal’s weakness and vulnerability. Even the interlocutors of formulation and conduct of our foreign policy seem to have subscribed to this view.
Nepal is located in strategically vital position as it is between China and India. China is already a global power. India is a regional power, which has the potential to grow further to become a global power. Despite some history’s baggages of conflict like border disputes, China and India are not in the confrontational mood. Given the magnitude of growth, development and rise of China, Beijing does not view India as its competitor, whereas New Delhi, too, seems to have acknowledged this fact. These two countries are in the mood of enlarging the area and level of cooperation in all levels.
In China, President Xi Xinping rose to power last year and his focus primarily is to keep house in order through delivering clean governance and raising the life standard of Chinese people through more reforms in five key sectors (economic, political, social, cultural and administrative) and establish China’s image as a strong and important soft power in the international arena. President Xi has already taken some measures to realize this dream and vision. To accomplish this goal, President Xi has proposed the Chinese Dream to revive China’s old glory and make the Chinese national stronger through better income of its people. In the international front, President Xi seems to have started from the neighborhood as China may be trying to create a cozy Asian community through mutual cooperation and sharing and exchanging knowledge and expertise for development. Chinese Dream is the vision for national development but Beijing seems to be enlarging the Chinese Dream as the boarder Asian Dream incorporating the values that oriental societies practice and promote. This makes China to cooperate with the neighbors of Asia rather than compete with them. Given the recent developments between China and India, both the countries seem to be desirous to build a meaningful partnership between these two countries, leaving aside their old animosities and disputes especially on border issue.
The developments unfolding in India, too, hint this possibility. Now, BJP is expected to rise to power with its leader Narendra Modi being the prime minister of India. Despite Modi’s communal and fundamentalist image, there is positive side as well in Modi. He has the image of transforming Gujarat into economically better province under his leadership as provincial chief minister. Modi was quite successful in brining good foreign and domestic investment in Gujarat. He also visited China and sought Chinese investment in Gujarat. If Narendra Modi becomes India’s next Prime Minister, there are better possibilities for stronger economic and trade ties between China and India.
Some extra continental powers, too, may be watching and viewing Nepal’s developments with more interest and seriousness because of growing bonhomie between China and India. This makes Nepal’s position more vital from which Nepal can benefit a lot if these two Asian powers are handled carefully in a more balanced way.
The world has changed tremendously due to technological innovation and advancement. What used to be impossible in a few years or a decade ago has now become a reality. The revolution in the information technology has reduced the world into a small global. Accordingly the old concepts in all areas of knowledge and other activities have also taken a paradigm shift and new concepts have evolved. Similar case is with the foreign policy and concept of national interest as well as international security. However, Nepal’s style of conducting its diplomacy and foreign policy is based on the medieval concept of keeping aloof from the world or following the diktats of regional and international powers without taking into account our own national interest. We still do not seem to have come out of this outdated style of functioning and thinking especially when it comes to the formulation and conduct of our foreign policy.
Foreign policy, as it is said, is an extension of domestic policy. A sea change has taken place in the sphere of our domestic policy and politics. But our foreign policy and its conduct are guided by the concepts and conditions of the early 20th century. We have seen systemic changes in our domestic policy and governance with every political change. In terms of policy, too, Nepal has undergone a big change and transformation. During this period, we have overthrown the oligarchic system of Ranas and brought about a new era of liberal democracy for the first time in 1951. When the multi-party system was trampled with the brutal boots of the king, Nepal came under king’s absolute and authoritarian regime for three decades denying the basic political and civil rights of the people. The sustained struggle of the Nepalese people not only put the absolute regime of the king to an end but also finally abolished monarchy thereby declaring Nepal as a federal democratic republic. These changes are epoch-making and phenomenal, which have huge impact not only on Nepal’s internal political life but also have regional influence and impact.
However, these changes have hardly been reflected in our foreign policy. Foreign policy is something that should not remain rigid and the priorities and conduct of foreign policy need change based on the changes in both national and international situation. Continuity and change are the basic features of foreign policy of any country including Nepal which we must realize. In the name of continuity, we should never remain rigid and give continuity to the old concepts that are no longer relevant and valid in the present changed context. We have to adapt change to serve our national interest. Similarly, change should not mean change and compromise in our fundamental interest and strategies. There are certain permanent features in the conduct of foreign policy, which should be given continuity.
So far as relations and policy with our two immediate neighbors are concerned, we are neither pro-Indian nor pro-Chinese. Neither do we have any ill-will against India nor with China. We want our national interest to be strictly protected and promoted. Being patriotic does not mean that one has to be against any other country. We are against only those countries and elements that harm our national interest. This is and should be the bottom line of our foreign policy. But this has not been the case with us and our rulers often compromise our national interests under pressure from certain country or countries even antagonizing other friend. This is unbalanced foreign policy, from which we must depart and begin afresh for a more balanced, pragmatic and proactive foreign policy. This is necessary to cope with the newer challenges of the 21st century. We are not in the era of Rana oligarchic rule nor do we are under monarchy. This is the republican era—the people’s ere— in which people’s views are duly addressed. The demand of the people is to break from its old style in the conduct of foreign policy. We need more change than continuity in the conduct of our foreign policy in order to protect Nepal’s national interest in the present era of globalization, modernization and democratization.