A Xinhua special feature
Nepalese Prime Minister Oli’s visit to China this week received widespread attention in the Indian media, with many expressing“concern” at the outcome of the series of cooperation agreements signed and stating that India “has lost Nepal”.
Nepal’s geographical location renders it relatively isolated with just two neighbours—India and China. Nepal’s economic dependence on India exceeds 65%. Moreover, 98% of Nepal’s trade with any third country passes through India. However, strengthening cooperation with China has become the “national consensus” following last year’s unofficial export embargo by India and consequent fuel crisis.
Oli set out on his first official visit to China on 20 March. Prior to his departure, Indian Foreign Secretary, Jaishankar, and Indian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sushma Swaraj, visited Nepal in succession and separately met Oli. In the opinion of many Nepalese, the main purpose of these two high level Indian diplomatic visits was to put pressure on Oli to once again make India its “centripetal force”.
During Oli’s visit, both the sides signed a number of agreements, including an agreement permitting Nepal the use of Chinese ports for foreign trade and another for construction of a railway link between the countries. On the ground breaking transit trade agreement (between Nepal and China), MEA Spokesperson Swarup responded by emphasizing “the special relationship between Nepal and India”, citing that the land link between Nepal and India is both inseparably close and unhindered. Indian Ambassador (to Nepal) Rae stated that, while traditionally, India has been Nepal’s largest source of foreign direct investment, failure to attract more investment from India was due to “Nepal’s own reasons”. Some commentators believe that the message conveyed by Indian officials is quite clear—Nepal can rely on India and there is basically no need for it to turn to China to build relations.
The truth is that Nepal’s relations with India and China are not at all “either/or”, as envisaged by the Indian media. A day prior to his departure, Oli, stated in an exclusive interview that there is no interest in Nepal to play one neighbour against the other. Instead, he wanted Nepal to become a “bridge” for cooperation between India and China and push for trilateral cooperation.