Nepali Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba’s five-day visit to India last week assumed greater significance especially in the backdrop of the two-month-old Doklam standoff, which just got resolved yesterday (August 28). Wooed by both New Delhi and Beijing, the Nepali government made it clear that it wanted a peaceful resolution of the Sino-Indian military standoff. “Nepal does not want to be dragged into the boundary dispute between India and China,” Nepali foreign minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara said.
Mahara underlined China’s policy of maintaining equidistance by suggesting that “both of our big neighbours should maintain cordial relations through peaceful diplomacy and dialogue.” He was categorical, “We do not support any of our neighbours in this case.”
Not only Beijing and New Delhi stepped up their diplomacy to engage Kathmandu at this crucial time, the Nepali government too was concerned by China’s attempts to bring other disputes such as Kalapani into the equation in order to justify its actions at the India-Bhutan-China tri-junction.
Wang Wenli, deputy director general of the Boundary and Ocean Affairs of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, suggested, “The Indian side has also many tri-junctions. What if we (the Chinese) use the same excuse and enter the Kalapani region between China, India and Nepal or even into the Kashmir region between India and Pakistan.”
External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj was in Kathmandu recently, ostensibly to attend the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) ministerial meeting. But her engagements with the Nepali government became the focus of her visit.
Nepal has benefited tremendously from its “historic” ties with India and it seeks to further strengthen its bilateral relations with New Delhi, Prime Minister Deuba said even as Swaraj underlined that India attached the highest priority to its relationship with Nepal.
Meanwhile, China is also reaching out in a big way. Chinese vice-premier Wang Yang was in Kathmandu recently with a big delegation to get a sense about the Deuba government’s inclinations. Beijing has pledged $8.3 billion (Rs 53,000 crore) to build roads and hydropower plants in Nepal even as Indian commitments remain in the realm of $317 million (Rs 2,000 crore).