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Tiny Nepal Says Nay To Giant China's Security Pact Offer

A welcome move amid regional tensions.

Chinese President Xi Jinping meets with Nepalese Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda in Hangzhou, capital city of east China's Zhejiang Province, Sept. 23, 2023. (Photo by Ding Lin/Xinhua via Getty Images)
  • Nepal's Prime Minister, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, led a delegation of key cabinet ministers on a visit to Beijing to strengthen bilateral relations and cooperation in sectors like trade, connectivity, and technology
  • The visit resulted in the signing of twelve agreements, including Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) covering the digital economy, green development, agriculture, and fisheries cooperation between Nepal and China
  • Interestingly, critical issues such as expediting Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects and cross-border energy trade were left unaddressed
  • Nepal opted not to join President Xi Jinping's Global Security Initiative (GSI), rejecting Beijing's calls for a security pact amid ongoing regional tensions

Nepal, the small landlocked Himalayan country, infrequently turns up on global newsfeeds. For many, the beautiful nation sandwiched between Tibet to the north and India on all other sides is best known as the location of the world's highest peak, Mt. Everest.

The country's Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, aka "Prachanda," is on an eight-day visit to Beijing from September 23. His entourage includes several cabinet ministers who hold vital portfolios like national security, foreign affairs, infrastructure, transport, and water supply.

Nepal depends heavily on tourist dollars and imports to meet its needs. Still recovering from the pandemic-induced lockdowns, it faces a recession and significant unemployment rates. Kathmandu's exports are estimated to have declined by 33% in the third quarter of 2022/23. The landlocked country also relies on resources from Russia and Ukraine.

Nepal's area=56,827 Square miles, China's area = 3.71 Million Square miles

On his first visit to China, Prime Minister Prachanda met the Chinese President on the sidelines of the Asian Games in Hangzhou. He then traveled to Beijing to meet his counterpart, Chinese Premier Li Qiang, to hold wide-ranging talks. After comprehensively reviewing the state of friendly bilateral relations and expressing satisfaction with the two countries' close and cordial relations, the leaders discussed plans and projects to further enhance bilateral cooperation in varied sectors, including trade, road and rail connectivity, and information technology. 

Twelve agreements, including seven MoUs, were signed at the end of extensive meetings. According to the officials, these include an MoU for Cooperation between The National Planning Commission of Nepal and China's National Development and Reform Commission; an MoU on enhancing digital economy cooperation; an MoU related to cooperation on green and low-carbon development; and an MoU on cooperation in the field of agriculture, livestock and fisheries, the release said.

While the dozen agreements and myriad sectors they cover make it seem like a successful foreign visit by Nepal's leader, what was left out is of equal significance. For instance, The Kathmandu Post reported, "The prime minister was expected to iron out key differences over expediting BRI projects, cross border energy trade and implementation of past agreements and accords, among others, as he had publicly committed to before leaving for China. But these issues were noticeably absent in the agreements signed on Monday."

It may come as a relief to the West and India, Nepal's other neighbor, that none of the agreements fall under Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects. While Nepal is seeking mutually beneficial partnerships to harness its hydropower potential and develop its infrastructure, Nepal's Prime Minister is picking alliances and partnerships wisely.

The Prime Minister assured his hosts that Kathmandu "will never allow any separatist activities against China on Nepal's soil," in effect toeing Beijing's line regarding the Tibet issue. On this sensitive issue, Nepal set itself apart from India, which has given asylum to the Tibetan Buddhist leader, Dalai Lama.

Yet, the Prime Minister notably refrained from joining President Xi Jinping's Global Security Initiative (GSI). Another one of President Xi's pet programs, GSI, puts forth "a new vision for common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security." Along with the Global Development Initiative GDI and Global Civilisation Initiative (GCI), the GSI is meant to be the foundation of China's foreign policy.

The joint communiqué released by the two countries made no mention of the GSI, confining to stating that "law enforcement cooperation is of great significance to the security of the two countries."

With ongoing tensions between China and India, New Delhi would welcome the Nepal leader's move. Even in the West and the U.S., Kathmandu's stance will likely be seen as rebuffing Beijing's calls for a security pact.

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