Nepal Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli on Friday started his debut foreign visit after assuming office. Choosing India as his first stop, Oli said his visit is aimed at “normalizing the past uneasy situation.”
Nepal’s differences and conflicts with India arose since the adoption of Nepal’s new federal constitution last year. New Delhi believed that Kathmandu failed to protect the rights of the Indian-Nepalese in the Terai region in the new constitution, arguing that these people would be split into multiple areas, while they were asking for equal rights and representation in the country’s political structure.
New Delhi then blockaded the major points between the India-Nepal border, which led to shortage of fuel and medicines in Nepal. Yet as a matter of fact, are these Indian-Nepalese people important to Indian national interests? Not really. Hence, by using the incident as an excuse, India is ramping up pressure on Nepal’s government, though its excuse – safeguarding the interests of people with Indian ancestors – sounds full of justice.
Faced with a crippled economy as a result of India’s pressure, Nepal has turned to China for help, which made the issue a game between major powers.
Oli has announced that he will visit China “to cement the strategic relationship” within a month after his trip to India. And even before his tour, he has long been pondering over which country to visit first. This is Oli’s strategy.
Nepal has only two neighbors, China and India. It is thus well aware of its geopolitical position. Meanwhile, China has been constantly promoting the development of Sino-Nepalese cooperation. Kathmandu thus wants to use it as leverage against New Delhi, in order to partly offset India’s influence.
It will not be easy. Despite the fact that Nepal does not like India’s bossiness, given the 1,751-km-long border between the two, the latter is still the country with the biggest influence on the former. Not only Kathmandu, other South Asian nations have also faced similar pressure from New Delhi, and chose to compromise in the end.
In light of this, it is understandable for Oli to visit India first. Getting the relationship with India back on track is Nepal’s priority for now, because after that, there will be no other tricky issues to manage in its diplomacy.
On the contrary, only maintaining good ties with China while having to face India’s pressure will be too much to take.
India used to show its peremptory attitude while having contact with its neighboring countries before. But this has gradually changed after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office. Modi has not only invited every leader from these nations to his inauguration ceremony, but also visited every single one of them afterward.
New Delhi is now hoping to cozy up to its surrounding countries to counterbalance China’s clout. It believes that due to its own negligence over the past years, China has rapidly expanded its influence to the region. That’s why India has been arguing that Beijing is wrestling for influence in South Asia with New Delhi.
There is no need for China to worry too much about it. Take Nepal, for example, although it will not turn strongly against India because it cannot stand the risks, it will continue deepening ties with China.
In fact, intellectuals in Nepal are worried about the country’s future. They are afraid that if India keeps acting in this overbearing way, their nation may be virtually annexed by New Delhi sooner or later. On that score, they will be certain to make good use of strategic resources from China.