When Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli addresses the 18th Summit of the Heads of State and Government of the Non-Aligned Movement on October 26 in Baku, he will once again attempt to assuage the international community that Nepal is committed to the principles of non-alignment, at a time when there is much speculation about Nepal’s foreign policy tilting towards certain powers. Anil Giri specially for The Kathmandu Post.
Oli will be addressing the general debate of the summit, which is taking place on October 25 and 26 in the Azerbaijani capital, on the theme of “Upholding the Bandung Principles to ensure concerted and adequate response to the challenges of the contemporary world”.
According to foreign policy analysts, Nepal, as a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement, needs to showcase its firm commitment to the principle to non-alignment, especially given rising geopolitical rivalries among major powers like the US, China and India.
Given recent developments in Kathmandu, including the state visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping, Nepal needs to assure the international community that the country is not deviating from its own constitutional obligations.
“The diplomatic community in Kathmandu has its plate full, assessing the outcome of Xi’s visit to Kathmandu and Nepal’s diplomatic postures towards New Delhi and Washington in the days to come,” said a foreign diplomat on condition of anonymity.
As New Delhi has been closely observing developments in Kathmandu since Xi’s visit without any overt reactions, the diplomatic community in Kathmandu has no other option but to follow through with engagements and ties between Kathmandu and Beijing. However, how the political leadership in Kathmandu strikes a delicate balance between India and China will be telling, foreign policy analysts say.
As ties with Beijing have been elevated from a ‘comprehensive’ to a ‘strategic partnership’, Prime Minister Oli, in a recent interview with the Post’s sister publication Kantipur, said that ties with India will also be elevated to a strategic level and that an agreement regarding the US’ Millennium Challenge Corporation will be approved during the next session of Parliament.
In Baku, Oli will have the daunting task of reiterating Nepal’s commitment to non-alignment, especially given its participation in the China-led Belt and Road Initiative and the US-led Millenium Challenge Corporation and the Indo-Pacific Strategy.
According to Oli’s Foreign Relations Adviser Rajan Bhattarai, Nepal’s commitment to non-alignment is profound and unwavering.
“Non-alignment is our core and fundamental foreign policy principle, which is enshrined in the constitution too,” Bhattarai told the Post. “Due to our geopolitical location, we cannot ignore the intricacies of non-alignment. We are committed to implementing it in a true sense and have similar expectations from others. Another speciality of our foreign policy is that it is country-specific.”
Oli, in Baku, will also emphasise cooperation among nations and Nepal’s firm commitment to multilateralism, according to Bhattarai.
However, some analysts are not convinced of the Oli administration’s commitment to non-alignment.
“Can a strategic partnership with one country and non-alignment go together?” said former Nepali ambassador to India Dinesh Bhattarai. “Though we are not tilting to any power right now, some of the government’s activities have provided ample space to raise questions.”
According to Dinesh Bhattarai, a strategic partnership, which entails cooperation in economic, technical, cultural and security, could lead to concerns among friends and neighbours.
“Before the issue becomes more complex, the government should clear the air,” he said. “Non-alignment is a historic necessity for us and we need to be engaging with every country without fear.”
Nepal is a founding member of the Non-Alignment Movement, a grouping of countries that emerged during the Cold War that professes non-alignment to any major power bloc. Nepal has been participating in the forum at the highest political level since its inception in 1961.
The upcoming meeting is particularly important as it is taking place at a time when numerous multilateral institutions are being weakened, said Nischal Nath Pandey, executive director of the Centre for South Asian Studies, a foreign policy think tank.
“It will be a platform for PM Oli to renew contacts with world leaders, but it is also an opportunity to build relationships with Caucasian and Central Asian states with whom we have had very few interactions,” said Pandey.
Anil Giri is a reporter covering diplomacy, international relations and national politics for The Kathmandu Post. Giri has been working as a journalist for a decade-and-a-half, contributing to numerous national and international media outlets.