New government must craft a foreign policy ‘in favor of Nepal’

Priority should be on taking immediate neighbors into confidence, asserting presence in global forums, and utilizing diplomatic relationships in managing pandemic.

Ashim Neupane

  • Read Time 4 min.

Kathmandu: A new face in the Singhadurbar, the main administrative hub of Nepal, has brought with it a deluge of debate about foreign policy.

The overarching conclusion has been that the foreign policy of Sher Bahadur Deuba government will be different than that of KP Sharma Oli, given not only the differences in political ideology but also experience in managing external forces.

Despite Deuba’s experience, however, crafting a foreign policy and ensuring its smooth implementation will not be easy for him this time.

The coalition government of five parties does not appear to be motivated by shared values and political ideology, but by a mutual anti-Oli sentiment.

Deuba, as the head of the government, will face challenges to manage the interests of leaders who come from diverse and conflicting political backgrounds. This is likely to be reflected in the course of crafting foreign policy too.

Some leaders of the alliance are not mature enough to take a foreign policy stand that echoes the craft of diplomacy. The alliance comprises leaders from different backgrounds–from ardent supporters and opposition to MCC to supporters of suppression in Venezuela. Some leaders have an embedded bias toward countries with liberal systems. 

Even some leaders from his own party recently visited the Nepal-China border in the Lalungjong area of ​​Limi Lapcha area of Humla, for, what they, say possible encroachment of border by Chinese side without permission from and coordination with the federal government, as required by the law. 

Against this backdrop, Deuba will certainly face difficulty to craft a foreign policy that is acceptable to his alliance partners. 

However, addressing the House of Representatives before taking the confidence vote, PM Deuba indicated a balanced foreign policy would be his priority.

Speaking at the parliament, he said that maintaining a sound relationship with immediate neighbors–India and China– is the first priority, and the government would also expand relationships with extended neighborhoods for the benefit of the nation. 

There are no permanent friends or any permanent enemies, there are only permanent interests, he said.

Giving a clear message of ‘amity with all and enmity with none’, Deuba said,  “Nepal will not stand against any country. When it comes to the core national interests, Nepal always stands united.”

“The government will stand for the cause of the nation. For this, Nepal needs to maintain a sound relationship with both immediate and extended neighbors, with India and China in top priorities,” said PM Deuba, who successfully gained a vote of confidence with the support of 165 members of parliament.

Commentators and observers say Oli’s foreign policy marked a visible tilt toward one immediate neighbor in the beginning and a visible reversal toward another neighbor at the end.

Stating that Nepal is still an underdeveloped country, PM Deuba said the government would diversify relations with the United States, European countries, Japan, among others as Nepal needs their support for the development of the country. “To be in amity with these countries is what is in our national interests,” he said.

In what way could his foreign policy be different from and similar to that pursued by his predecessor –  KP Sharma Oli?

Commentators and observers say Oli’s foreign policy marked a visible tilt toward one immediate neighbor in the beginning and a visible reversal toward another neighbor at the end despite the government’s promise that ‘amity with all and enmity with none’ would remain the core principle of Nepal’s foreign policy.

According to political analyst Geja Sharma Wagle, the previous government did not show maturity in terms of handling diplomatic relationships. The government had failed to maintain balance when it came to the relationship with immediate neighbors, losing its diplomatic credibility.

“PM Deuba mentioned immediate neighbors are in the top priority-which is excellent,” said Wagle, adding the statement of Deuba to diversify relations with extended neighbors for the benefit of the nation is positive.

According to him, the major responsibility of Deuba is to solve misunderstandings with immediate neighbors through political and diplomatic dialogues and create an environment of trust. 

Wagle, however, feels the Deuba-led government would be tested in diplomacy on the implementation of Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). 

As Deuba has already said in the parliament, development would be the priority of the government, he must implement such mega projects not only for the prosperity of the nation but also to maintain credible relationships with countries who are supporting Nepal, he said.

Wagle said there was no response from international communities to the appeal of the erstwhile Prime Minister and to the letters sent by the President asking for vaccines. “At a time when the Covid-19 pandemic has hit the country hard, the new government should also prove its relevance by ensuring vaccines to its people,” Wagle said.

Similarly, creating collective ownership and translating the essence of policy into action should be the priority of the government. 

“Governments, even in the past, have always announced promising foreign policies, but have slipped during the implementation,” said Rupak Sapkota, Deputy Executive Director of the Institute of Foreign Affairs.

He took an example of the delayed implementation of a few projects. After India imposed an unofficial blockade on Nepal, the government signed several agreements including the BRI with China for connectivity and trade. “Even though several agreements were signed, Nepal lagged behind in implementation,” said Sapkota, who feels the statement of Deuba to prioritize immediate neighborhoods is nothing new.

After Nepal unveiled its new political map, India blamed China for the move, he said. “The government failed to clear the misunderstanding through diplomatic dialogues. Though Nepal claims the territories, Indian troops are still deployed in the territory. The government failed to get back the area through diplomatic dialogues,” he said. “All these incidents affected the balanced foreign policy of Nepal. And the new government should maintain a delicate balance to maintain functional relationships while enabling an environment of trust. ”

“The focus of the government should be on developing a balanced foreign policy. Nepal should benefit from both the giants and other developed countries too. For this, the government should focus on constructive and engaging activities rather than just pledging better relationships with foreign countries,” he said.