Diplomacy is a litmus test of an individual or state especially in time of crisis, which should be visibly seen to maximise the engagement of counterparts and get things done in the larger interest of the country. In his famous book ‘The Art of War’, Sun Tzu, a military strategist and philosopher of ancient China, said diplomacy is “a supreme art of war to subdue the enemy without fighting”. In a way, a diplomat is a warrior without fatal weapons and strategist like a commander in war. The real test of a diplomat is, thus, seen during crises between countries.
Geopolitical rivalry Given Nepal’s stated non-aligned foreign policy, we have no enemy but friends all over the world. But sometimes, geopolitics is so cruel that it drags even a neutral country into difficult position although the country itself may not be responsible for it. At times, countries fall victim to geopolitical rivalry between big powers, while the slight miscalculation and mishandling of national and foreign policies by a country may land into trouble. Ukraine is the recent case in point.
Geopolitical position is both opportunity and curse. If handled delicately, geopolitical position can be of immense benefit and a country can enlarge its influence in the larger international chessboard. However, if a country fails to understand the geopolitical reality and sensitivity, it may invite catastrophe. There are several countries in the world which have fallen prey to such geopolitical curse and their miscalculations. Afghanistan is yet another case in our neighbourhood.
Asia is emerging as a new theatre of great-power rivalry. The United States and China seem to be in the front line of this rivalry while other international powers like Russia and India also seek to throw their hats into the ring of international power wrestling. Russia has already started flexing its muscle and projecting its imperial intention by invading a sovereign and independent neighbour, while India, too, is benignly advancing its ambition in the region and beyond as a junior partner in the international power play.
Asia is a key priority region of the United States’ strategic roadmap in the 21st century, primarily for two reasons -- one is the oil of the Middle East and the other one is the rise of China as a new and clear challenger to the might of America. The United States’ foreign policy and strategic primacy has been to contain and prevent China from further rising and enlarging its influence in the region for which it has adopted a number of initiatives, including alliance building including those with which it has already treaty arrangements, cultivate others to join the alliance; promote cooperation mechanism with non-treaty countries; and create mechanism of cooperation with regional groupings region namely the Association of South Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Pacific Islands’ Group.
With international power shifting to Asia heralding the Asian Century, Nepal is in the heart of this new geopolitical game. The US sees some geopolitical fault lines of China through which Washington seeks to pull its trigger. These fault lines are the Taiwan Strait, South China Sea, Tibet and Xinjiang. Tension is already building in South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait but southwestern frontiers are relatively stable. With US pull out from Afghanistan, China has heaved a sigh of relief in the western frontiers. Beijing thinks the United States may try to use the southern front to irritate China.
It is perhaps with this notion that China is susceptible about the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) agreement the United States and Nepal signed for the construction of an electricity transmission lines and widening of a key highway. While the issue was in Nepali parliament in the process of ratification of MCC, China and the United States came face to face in verbal war. China termed the MCC as an arm of the US Indo-Pacific Strategy brought about seeking to encircle China. But the US called it purely an economic grant for the development of Nepal and any attempt to scuttle the MCC agreement would be construed as tantamount to being motivated by external force clearly referring to China. However, Nepal’s parliament ratified the MCC compact.
China, perhaps, had been under the impression that Nepali communist parties would not support the MCC. However, the ratification of the MCC stunned Beijing. A three-day whirlwind tour of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to Nepal immediately after the ratification of MCC is evident of China’s serious concern in Nepal. Nepal is one of the oldest countries in the world. In its long history, Nepal has maintained its sovereignty even when a large part of Asia was under the colonial rule. So we should be proud of our history and clearly convey this message to our friends in the neighbourhood as well as the Western world.
Crucial juncture Nepal’s diplomacy has come under the radar of crucial test especially when global powers are currently seeking to wrestle to get the geopolitical pound of flesh in Asia. Nepal needs to delicately handle our foreign policy and diplomacy at this crucial juncture. The country should not shy away in telling our neighbours and friends, including India, China and the USA frankly and diplomatically that we care about our friend’s and neighbours’ sensitivity and will never allow our territory to be used against the interest of our friends and neighbours and at the sometimes we should politely ask them to refrain from getting bogged down in our internal matters.
(The author is former ambassador and former chief editor of this daily. email@example.com)