China speaks about SPP: Experts say comment on Nepal-US bilateral matters not welcome 

‘China is not respecting Nepal’s sovereignty by unnecessarily commenting on its sovereignty’, geopolitical experts react to the Chinese official statement.

NL Today

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Kathmandu: On Thursday, the spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China–Wang Wenbin–welcomed Nepal’s decision to not participate in the United States’ State Partnership Program.

The comment from China came right after Nepal decided to reject the SPP following widespread criticism of the possible military agreement with the United States.

This is not the first time the northern neighbor has openly commented on Nepal’s decision on bilateral issues. Geopolitical experts worry that the increasing tendency of China to comment on Nepal’s diplomatic issues, could push Nepal well into a geopolitical trap.

On Thursday, speaking at a press conference, Wang Wenbin said, “We’ve noticed the recent wide controversy over the State Partnership Program (SPP) in Nepal. Various political parties and factions, the government, the army and people across the Nepalese society see the SPP as a military and security initiative closely linked to the Indo-Pacific Strategy and they consider it against the national interests of Nepal and its long-held non-aligned, balanced foreign policy to be part of the SPP. Nepal’s Cabinet meeting has decided not to move ahead on the SPP.”

Comment by Wenbin regarding Nepal’s decision to reject the SPP deal has received criticisms from intelligentsia and geopolitical experts. 

“As Nepal’s friendly and close neighbor and strategic cooperative partner, China commends the Nepali government’s decision. China will continue to support Nepal in upholding its sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity and support Nepal’s commitment to its independent and non-aligned foreign policy. China stands ready to work with Nepal to jointly safeguard regional security, stability and shared prosperity,” the spokesperson had said.

After such a statement emerged from the northern neighbor, Nepal’s intelligentsia and geopolitical experts have said China is not respecting Nepal’s sovereignty by unnecessarily commenting on its sovereignty.   Writer and senior journalist Kanak Mani Dixit wrote on Twitter: “Wish China would respect Nepal’s sovereign agency & not comment on any & every aspect of Nepal’s relationships with third countries, including the US.”

This is not the first time. A Chinese official had delivered a strongly-worded remark that China opposes “coercive diplomacy” of the US at a time when there was a heated debate on whether or not to ratify the MCC grant.

Likewise, Gopal Khanal, a foreign affairs commentator who also served as the senior foreign affairs expert to former PM KP Oli wrote: “China doesn’t need to speak in Nepal’s relations with the third country. Nepal can decide for itself what is right and wrong for the country. [SIC]”

Talking to Nepal Live Today, Khanal said, “the tone of the Chinese official sounds patronizing. Nepal, as a country, cannot afford to fall into a geopolitical trap. Nepal’s political leaders should be in the position to say that Nepal does not want comments from a third country on bilateral relationships.”

Nepal’s political leaders are often criticized for, what observers say, the mindset of passive compliance in front of powerful countries.

In February, China had delivered a strongly-worded remark that China opposes “coercive diplomacy” of the US after some of the communist leaders disseminated the message that Donald Lu, assistant secretary of state, ‘threatened’ Nepali leaders to ratify the Compact.

[Related: China speaks about the US-funded MCC’s Nepal compact. Can Nepal’s leadership avert falling into a ‘geopolitical trap’?

Will it be accepted by China if the United States starts welcoming or denouncing any agreement related to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), an analyst told Nepal Live Today, under the condition of anonymity. “No country should drag Nepal into controversy by commenting on bilateral issues.”

“Frequent comment and reaction from the Chinese side on Nepal-US bilateral relationship, including MCC and SPP shows China’s widening and deepening interest in Nepal,” said Geja Sharma Wagle, foreign affairs commentator and writer. 

“No friendly country has to be worried as Nepal has taken a position not to harm any friendly country by its policy,” he said, adding that the diplomatic and strategic balance is only policy for Nepal and even Nepali leaders do not have the privilege to deviate from the policy.

“Nepal has endorsed non-alignment as one of the guiding principles of foreign policy and the country is capable of handling bilateral issues on its own,” he said.