Nepal foreign policy at crossroads: PM Deuba seeks to balance ties between major powers

Nepali Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, while seeking a vote of confidence in parliament earlier this month, said the country's foreign policy will be of mutual friendship and cooperation

Jul 29, 2021
Nepali Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba

Nepali Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, while seeking a vote of confidence in parliament earlier this month, said the country's foreign policy will be of mutual friendship and cooperation. He said it will be based on national interests, and getting vaccines will be his first priority. 

“There are no permanent friends and enemies in foreign policy and international relations but there is always a permanent interest,” said Deuba. “Securing vaccines will be my first and foremost foreign policy priority.”

His elevation to the top post has significantly reduced the sway China used to have in Nepal’s domestic politics under the previous government. In 2018, it was Beijing that had helped to bring together different communist parties in the country under the single party. 

However, the infighting and later a judgment by the apex court nullified the unification of communist parties. 

Calling Deuba a pro-Indian leader, Global Times, which is considered as the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, in an opinion piece said, “The Nepali Congress (Deuba’s party) will likely lead Nepal’s foreign policy towards a favorable direction for India.” 

Soon after the trust vote, Indian Prime Minister Narendra congratulated Deuba, and this week US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also held a telephonic conversation with the new prime minister. 

“It would be wrong to say that Beijing is wary of the government change in Nepal but it does have some concerns and will keep a watchful eye on Nepal. And it would be more so because of the United States rather than India,” Anil Giri, a senior Nepali journalist, wrote in a piece in The Kathmandu Post newspaper. 

China will watch carefully how Deuba takes the Millennium Challenge Corporation compact forward. In the past, he has pushed for early ratification of the US program under which Nepal is set to receive $500 million in grants. However, parliamentary ratification is still pending.

China looks at the MCC compact as part of the US Indo-Pacific Strategy aimed at countervailing its own Belt and Road Initiative, which Nepal signed up to in May 2017.

Significantly, on Tuesday evening, when Blinken rang up Deuba MCC was said to be part of the discussions.

Arun Budhathoki, another senior Nepali journalist wrote in The Diplomat magazine, “As a small neighbor of gigantic China and sandwiched between the two Asian giants, India and China, Nepal has to tread carefully. It cannot afford to get caught in their geopolitical battles.”  

Another aspect that could put Nepal in a tight spot is the renewed focus of the US and India on the Tibet issue. Nepal is home to over 20,000 Tibetan refugees. Both India and the US support the cause. Despite repeated attempts by Beijing, Nepal has not signed the extradition treaty with China, allegedly under pressure from western countries and India. 

Budhathoki further said “Deuba faces complex geopolitical challenges as rivalries between regional and global powers plays out on Nepali soil. He will need to tread cautiously, especially on issues that are of core importance to these countries.” 

However, experts say the presence of the Communist Party of Nepal- Maoist Centre (CPN-MC) led by Dahal will be beneficial to China. Dahal has always stalled attempts to tilt Nepal’s foreign policy towards the US. 


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