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Prime Minister Oli’s India Visit: International Diplomacy

Issue April 2018

Prime Minister Oli’s India Visit: International Diplomacy

Siddhi B Ranjitkar


Almost exactly after two years of his first visit to India, Prime Minister KP Oli is visiting India from April 6 to 8 again. This year also Oli is visiting as the prime minister of the coalition of CPN-UML and CPN-Maoist-Center as did in February 2016 but this time he is much more stronger than he had been in 2016. His diplomacy is straightforward not to bend to the desire of the large power. His stand on not giving in to the demand of Indian Prime Minister even defying the protracted blockade imposed on Nepal that had been suffering from the devastating earthquakes in 2015 paid off and Nepal got an inland route through China to the third countries. Nepal must not fall into the whirlpool of the international diplomacy, and needed to remain aloof even though sometimes it would not be possible.


Indian sanctions: In the past too, Prime Minister KP Oli visited India and improved the diplomatic relations that had been deteriorated to the extent that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi needed to impose sanctions on Nepal. Modi sent his foreign expert to Nepal a few days before the newly crafted Nepalese constitution was to be promulgated. Modi wanted that the constitution be revised to meet the demands of the southern Nepalese brethren. However, the three major political parties such as NC, CPN-UML and CPN-Maoist-Center had already decided to promulgate the constitution. None of the three the then leaders such as Sushil Koirala of NC, KP Oli of CPN-UML, and Prachanda of CPN-Maoist-Center wanted to postpone the promulgation of the constitution. So, they informed the Indian envoy that it was too late to postpone the promulgation of the constitution. Unfortunately, the envoy had to leave Nepal with an empty hand.


Sushil Koirala was the prime minister at that time. The then President Dr Ram Baran Yadav promulgated the constitution at the parliament on September 20, 2015. Leaders of the Madheshi political parties boycotted the promulgation of the constitution. They went to the border entry points and stopped the goods trucks traveling between Nepal and India demanding to review the constitution to meet their demands.


Those Madheshi leaders and cadre picketing at the border points, dined on the Indian side of border, India had provided them gratis, and came up to the Nepal side of the border to sit-in. Thus, India had openly managed to violate the non-interferences in the internal matters of the neighbor ignoring the principles the UN has propagated. India rather Prime Minister Modi wanted to demonstrate his muscle power to the small neighbor ignoring diplomatic norms and values, and went on denying Nepal any goods and services.


The time of the India-imposed blockade had been immediately after the massive earthquakes that had destroyed hundreds of thousands of houses, public buildings such as health posts, police posts, and temples, and broke up the roads and highways, and caused damages to power lines and so on. Thousands of Nepalese lost their lives to the quakes. In other words Nepal had been facing a number of troubles, and Indian sanctions had added some more.


About 30 million Nepalese stood behind Prime Minister KP Oli and endured the hardship the Indian blockade had brought to them. They tolerated the short supply of fuels, medicines, and other goods and services required for the socio-economic development.


The two negative forces: the earthquakes and the Indian sanctions led Nepal to have the economic growth at less than one percent. However, Nepalese not budging from their stand on not bowing down to the Indian interferences in the internal matters of Nepal, and Prime Minister KP Oli also firmly not giving in to the pressure of the neighbor led Indian Prime Minister Modi to launch a face-saving move. Nepal made a few minor changes in the constitution apparently to make the Indian demand seemed to be met, and India lifted the sanctions on Nepal even though those southern brethren were not for ending their protest and they wanted India to continue the blockade.


Prime Minister Oli broke his vow not to visit India before India lifting the sanctions on Nepal. Oli visited India in February 2016. However, diplomatic confrontations continued; and Modi and Oli did not make a joint declaration at the end of the visit.


Modi’s sanctions on Nepal had been blessing in disguise even though Nepalese had to pay a high price for the blockade. China opened up its territory for Nepal to have an access to third countries. That has been one of the great benefits Nepal could have achieved thanks to the Indian sanctions. China even provided Nepal with 1.2 million liter of gasoline grant-in-aid to mitigate the hardship Nepalese had been facing due to the short supply of fossil fuels caused by the Indian blockade.


International community did not bother to speak out against the Indian sanctions inhumanly imposed on Nepal when Nepal was suffering from the massive devastation of the human-made structures, and the huge loss of life and property the earthquakes had caused in 2015. The international community believed that Nepal was in the sphere of the Indian influence; so they did not need to interfere in the business concerning Nepal and India. However, the US government belatedly spoke out against the Indian sanctions.


Current Visit: Prime Minister KP Oli this time is much more stronger than the time he visited in 2016. The combined strength of CPN-UML and Maoist-Center is almost two-thirds majority in the parliament. They have the power to amend the constitution, and run the administration without fear for five years. That is what counts for the diplomatic relations with the neighboring countries at least. However, India is not concerned with the constitution of Nepal this time.


When the two left political parties such as CPN-UML and Maoist-Center in coalition garnered almost two-thirds majority in the provincial and federal elections, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi dispatched his Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj to Nepal. They know the strength of the people’s mandate. So, Modi wanted to keep Nepal in the India’s sphere of influence, and did not lose a minute to do so not by the force but by soft diplomacy. Modi himself made a telephone call to Oli and congratulated him for winning the majority of seats, and the then Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba for holding the elections successfully, and Chairman of Maoist-Center Prachanda for winning the elections.


China also congratulated Oli and others, too but stopped short of sending any envoy to Nepal to personally congratulate and to increase the influence, as China has been getting from Nepal what it wants and has been pleased with the political development including the improvement of the bilateral relations between Nepal and India.


Prime Minister of Pakistan also visited Nepal to personally congratulate KP Oli, and to improve the better understanding between the two countries and possibly for initiating to convene the convention of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), which has been the talking forum for the leaders of the South Asian nations. Probably, Pakistani prime minister’s visit to Nepal was for demonstrating India that Pakistan is not isolated; and Pakistan does have good relations with the neighbors surely except for India and Afghanistan.


This time, Prime Minister KP Oli needed not to worry about strengthening the bilateral relations between Nepal and India, as the relations have been so smooth as never had been in the past thanks to diplomatic strategy Modi has changed. He needed to make Nepal a bridge between China and India as had been in the past; and the India’s relations with China are going to be better and more business like for the benefits of both parties, which is what Chinese leaders also want.


So, Prime Minister Oli could mainly focus on the socio-economic development that could be possible with the mutually beneficially activities, as he has been stating to do while in India. Oli needed to see not only how Nepal could benefit from India but also to see how Nepal could be beneficial to India.


One thing Oli needed to keep in his mind clearly is Nepal has neither a China nor a India card. Nepal has the two neighbors physically and economically huge, and they are emerging as the economic super powers. They want to trade everything for the benefits of the both countries. They see better chances of improving the lives of billions of people on both sides of the border. So, Oli needed to think why Nepal should not take the advantage of this unique favorable regional situation.


India’s new diplomatic strategy: Prime Minister KP Oli is visiting India at the time when India particularly Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi shifted in the diplomatic strategy for improving the relations with China. Modi’s first attempt on developing good relations with the neighbors inviting the heads of State to his oath-taking ceremony in 2014 obviously did not work. Then, Modi had explored the various possible strategies to have the upper hand in his international diplomacy. He had effectively disabled the SAARC for isolating Pakistan. He went to have the Indo-Pacific Axis to counter the influence of China in this region. However, Modi learned a lot of lessons from those things and had been for a new diplomatic strategy.


Modi had tried Indo-Pacific Axis means US-India-Japan-Vietnam axis to face the Chinese influence in this region. However, Modi found that US President Donald Trump had been whimsical and not so reliable as any head of State or government needed to be. Japan is too far away. It has more business interest than any power in the region. Vietnam is an emerging economy but it is still very small.


India had a direct confrontation with China at Doklam: the border area between Bhutan and China in 2017. Indian border guards went even without bothering to inform the Bhutanese administration to stop the Chinese from constructing roads rather widening the road already existed on the Chinese side of the border. The standoff had been so close to the military confrontation, as both nations lined up their military forces on the area.


Then, India withdrew the forces before the BRICS convention held in China in 2017. BRICS is the forum of Brazil, China, India and South Africa for economic and business cooperation developed following the principles of south-south cooperation. They are all emerging economies and probably soon they would be making a difference in the world economic arena.


Thereafter, India changed its stand on the relations with China. Modi realized that confronting with the economic giant and emerging super power China would lead India nowhere. India would rather benefit from the correct diplomatic relations with China. India wants to pull China out of Pakistan diplomatically. China has been leaning too close to Pakistan and even has probably transferred the sophisticated military technology to Pakistan, which is not in the interest of India.


The Dalai Lama residing at Dharamshala in India for about 60 years since he fled Tibet in 1959 has been a bone of contention between China and India. The Dalai Lama had escaped from Tibet after the failed uprising against the Chinese rule in Tibet. The people’s liberation army walked in on Tibet in 1949; and Tibet has been under the Chinese administration since then. The Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile have not been effective to negotiate with the Chinese and regain the lost regime at least as an autonomous region.


As a one-China policy, China made Tibet and Taiwan as integral parts of China. India has been hosting the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile means India does not accept the one-China policy. China and India went to war in 1962. Since then China has been encroaching on the Indian Territory according to the Indian version of the border claim whereas China has been saying it needs to regain a lot of border areas the then British rulers in India had unscrupulously included in the Indian Territory.


India had advised Tibetan rulers to get the admission to the United Nations to have a separate identity but Tibet did not have it. So, it is hard for Tibetans to claim Tibet as an independent nation. The Dalai Lama and his Tibetan government in exile have been ineffective and they would not be able to do anything even to secure the autonomous status of Tibet in the near future.


For India, the Dalai Lama and his government have been the main obstacles to improving the relations with China. So, India wants to leave the Dalai Lama and his government in exile on their own rather than holding them on the India’s shoulder at the cost of not having good relations with China. The Indian administration issued a circular notice to all ministers and high officials to stay away from the celebration of the Tibetan anniversary in March 2018, and forced the Tibetans to limit their celebration activities at Dharamshala not new Delhi: the Indian capital as planned.


In 1950, the People's Liberation Army marched into Tibet and defeated the Tibetan local army in a battle fought near the city of Chamdo. In 1951, the Tibetan representatives signed a 17-point agreement with the Central People's Government affirming China's sovereignty over Tibet and the incorporation of Tibet. The agreement was ratified in Lhasa a few months later.[9][10] Although the 17-point agreement had provided for an autonomous administration led by the Dalai Lama, a "Preparatory Committee for the Autonomous Region of Tibet" (PCART) was established in 1955 to exclude the Dalai Lama's government and create a system of administration along Communist lines. Under threat of his life from Chinese forces the Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959 and renounced the 17-point agreement. Tibet Autonomous Region was established in 1965, thus making Tibet a provincial-level division of China. (Source: wikipedia)


Modi also realized that China has the veto power at the UN. So, without the nod of China, India could not have any positions on any UN bodies. Keeping China happy is to gain rather than the Tibetans in India. So, Modi and his government have been marching to improve the bilateral relations with China.


What Nepal to gain: In this current regional diplomatic situation, Prime Minister Oli is visiting India. When China and India have good bilateral relations then Nepal could gain a lot. As Chinese President Xi Jinping envisaged Chinese rails could traveled from Chinese border: Kerung to Kathmandu, then to Pokhara, and Sunauli to India for selling Chinese goods in India and then buying Indian goods in turn then Nepal would become a bridge between China and India.


What a wonderful scenario for Nepalese is. Nepal as a whole could be a trade center for both China and India. Millions of jobs would be created for Nepalese. Then, surely, they would not need to travel to foreign countries for employment, and work on the sizzling sun.


Nepal could not only benefit from the good relations with India but also with China, too. China’s main concern in Nepal has been the Tibetan refugees’ activities against the Chinese government. Nepal continues to host 20,000 Tibetan refugees.


China has been reluctant to open up the Tatopani border entry after the earthquakes damaged it and closed it in 2015 because Nepalese folks in conjunction with the Nepalese police had used it for smuggling Tibetans out and in, the Chinese rightly believed.


The Chinese administration had vehemently protested the Nepalese observer attending the BRICS convention held in Goa in India, also had attended an event sitting in the same row with the prime minister of the Tibetan government in exile in 2016. The Nepalese observer was president of NC Sher Bahadur Deuba the then Prime Minister Prachanda had sent to attend the BRICS convention as an observer. Dr Ram Sharan Mahat had even said that the picture in which Deuba was seen sitting in the same row of the Tibetan prime minister was photo-shopped.


In 1990s when the elected government of NC had been in power, Tibetan refugees had liberty to hold protest rallies and even march from Boudha to the embassy of China in Kathmandu protesting against the Chinese rule in Tibet. At that time, Nepal did not have so good relations with China. However, China endured the not so favorable diplomatic relations with Nepal, and waited for the better time to come.


In 1970s, the then King Mahendra had stopped the activities of the Khampa rebels that had been fighting against the Chinese rule in Tibet. The US and probably India too assisted the Khampa rebels airdropping communication equipment and even possibly the weapons. However, with the help of Nepal, the Chinese administration managed to put off the Khampa rebellion.


After the Dalai Lama fled Tibet, Tibetans in thousands flooded in Nepal. With the assistance of the international community, Tibetan refugees were temporarily settled at different areas in Nepal. They worked at the carpet factories for a living. About 20 thousand Tibetan refugees continue to live in Nepal.


Currently, Nepal has strictly prohibited any Tibetan activities against the Chinese rule in Tibet; and Nepal repeatedly committed the one-China policy. China has been a big player in the socio-economic development of Nepal. Chinese investment in Nepal has outpaced the Indian.


That brings us to the Oli’s visit to India again. While in India, Prime Minister Oli needed to seriously talk with Prime Minister Modi and other Indian authorities on the sell of hydropower to India. Today, Nepal imports power from India to mitigate the short supply of power because of not building large hydropower plants in Nepal in the past. India has been sticking to the policy on buying the hydropower from the plants built with the Nepalese and Indian investment only means denying the foreign other than Indian investment in the hydropower in Nepal. This policy is certainly a bias against the foreign investment and reduces the chance of fast hydropower development in Nepal. If India were to buy the hydropower from Nepal then it would surely contribute to lessen the balance of trade between India and Nepal. Currently, the balance of trade has been heavily in favor of India.


Foreign investors were active even in 1990s to construct large hydropower plants in Nepal provided they could sell hydropower to India. However, the then Indian authorities did not like to see Nepal developing large hydropower plants refusing to buy hydropower from Nepal even though India had suffered from the acute power shortage. Probably, the current Indian authorities have half heartedly opened up their mind to let develop hydropower in Nepal agreeing to buy hydropower only from the plants built with the Nepalese and Indian investment.


Prime Minister Oli needed to talk to Indian Prime Minister Modi about the Indian authorities arbitrary stopping the agricultural and livestock products and other items going from Nepal to India to add fuel to the already deteriorated balance of trade between India and Nepal. The flow of goods from Nepal to India and vices verse needs to be smooth without delay.


Another thing, Oli could take up with his counterpart in New Delhi is the opening of the Indian territory for Nepal having a direct road access to Bangladesh and vice versa so that Nepal and Bangladesh could have a direct road link, and increase the volume of trade between Bangladesh and Nepal. Thus, Nepal could have an easy access to Bay of Bengal through the ports in Bangladesh. India might not like to talk about it but it is the right time for Nepal to take up such issues with India.


Chinese trains have reached Germany and Moscow in Russia via central Asia. China has an ambitious plan on reaching every nook and corner of the world following “One Belt One Road.” India would become very generous to open up its territory for Nepal to have a direct link with Bangladesh then time might soon come when trains would run from China to Nepal and then India and Bangladesh via Nepal and vice versa if the railways were to build as envisioned both by China and India on the Nepalese frontiers.


Nepal could be a bridge not only between China and India but also between Bangladesh. Consequently, Bangladesh, China, India and Nepal could be a block of four countries for the trade partnering and could share all sorts of natural resources, and launch comprehensive environmental programs to counter the climate change and correct the floods and landslides caused by the deteriorating environment in the Himalayas to the north, Bangladesh, and India to the south.


Speaking to the anchor of the Radio Nepal morning program called “antar-sambad” on April 6, 2018, senior leader of Maoist Center Narayankaji Shrestha said that Prime Minister Oli would talk about the “Peace and Friendship Treaty between India and Nepal of 1950” but would not make any decisions as the eminent persons’ groups (EPG) of both India and Nepal have been working on it.


Some political leaders had demanded to immediately abrogate the treaty claiming it has been an unequal treaty in the past. The then hereditary Prime Minister Mohan Shumsher had reached the agreement with India on this treaty believing it would save his three-star crown. It did not but the treaty remained. The people’s revolution ended the Rana portion of the then Shah-Rana dynastic rule in 1951.


The main drawbacks of the treaty for Nepal have been that Nepal needed to inform officially to India whenever it needed to buy arms and ammunitions, and preferably from India only; and the shameful clause that the Nepalese prime minister needed to brief the Indian prime minister whenever the Nepalese prime minister made foreign visits.


Once Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi demanded the then Nepalese Prime Minister Kritinidhi Bista to brief her about his China visit. Poor Bista had to do so with the green signal from the then King Mahendra. That had been no less humiliation to the proud Nepalese but the then prime minister and the king also went through this unthinkable embarrassment.


Prime Minister Gandhi held a grudge against Nepalese Prime Minister Bista because he dared to remove the Indian border police posts from the northern border areas in Nepal in 1960s. Since 1951, Indian police had been guarding the Nepalese northern frontiers with the approval of the then King Tribhuvan. Nepal borders with China on the north


Probably from the Hyderabad House, Prime Minister Oli and Prime Minister Modi would jointly launch the construction of the Arun-III hydropower project with the total capacity of producing 900 MW the Indian State-owned company called Satlaj Bi-dhut Nigam is constructing in Nepal, the news in “gorkhapatra” stated on April 6, 2018.


Previously, while Nepalese Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba was in the India visit after taking over power from former Prime Minister Prachanda in 2017, had invited Prime Minister Modi to visit Nepal for launching the Arun-III hydropower project. However, this invitation remained on the paper only, and Modi did not visit Nepal.


Prime Minister Oli is going to add another PhD academic qualification to his CV. He is receiving an honorary PhD from the “Govinda Ballav Panta Agriculture and Technology University” where Oli will deliver an especial speech, the news in “gorkhapatra” stated on April 6, 2018. Oli had no chance to have academic qualifications, as he had to served 14-year-jail term for being a political activist when the then Kings denied Nepalese any sorts of political activities except for parroting in praise of the kings. Oli must have informally studied Marxism and Leninism that did not add any academic qualifications to his CV but made him the prime minister today.


International diplomacy: Nepal might not have concerns about what have been happening elsewhere in the world but the fallout of the international events might directly or indirectly affect Nepal, too; so, to have a little interest in the international diplomacy would be appropriate.


China and US have been at the trade war. US applied 25 percent tariff on imported steel and 10 percent on aluminum. US President has been warning of imposing tariff on many other items imported from China in order to save the largest economic power from falling.


However, what the US president has done is to make the US steel companies could harvest benefits from such tariff without needing to do anything. The import of steel is only 30 percent of the total steel consumption in the US, as the US companies produce 70 percent of the national steel requirement. The steel companies could increase the price of steel to be on a par with the price of the imported steel. Certainly, the victims will be the consumers.


China in turn imposed high tariff on many items imported from the US obviously to retaliate. The agricultural products and livestock products would be the main items hit hard by the tariff China has imposed on the US products. Again the Chinese consumers will be hit hard from the high tariff on the imported agricultural and livestock products.


Both China and US would not certainly benefit from the trade war. Rather the producers, importers, exporters and others involved in trade and transport, and ultimately the consumers would heavily suffer from such an unwanted trade war.


For example, the US farmers producing soybeans and pork might not be able to sell their products not reducing the prices of these items because of the price rise caused by the tariff China has imposed on the items. So, officials of the US chambers of commerce have been saying that imposing tariff on the imported items is not the way to save the national industries and keep the jobs in the country.


Another diplomatic war has been going on in Europe. The EU countries including the UK and the US have expelled hundreds of unwanted diplomats from their respective countries to punish President Vladimir Putin of Russia for allegedly poisoning the Russian double agent and his daughter in the UK.


Russia in turn expelled the equal number of diplomats, and even closed the US Councilor in St Petersburg. Russian foreign minister has said that it might be the UK itself used the Soviet era nerve poison “Novichok” that has been destroyed in Russia long ago, to distract the attention from the problems of Brexit, the BBC news stated.


Most probably, the western world did not want to see the rise of Russia as a super power again. The west had written off the Russia as a super power after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the economy of Russia went down the bottom becoming almost like any developing countries in 1990s. However, President Vladimir Putin managed to give a new life to Russia, and lift up the economy to a new height, and to improve the lives of Russians now.


Russia and China have been closing in as never before. “I am visiting Russia as a new defense minister of China to show the world a high level of development of our bilateral relations and firm determination of our armed forces to strengthen strategic cooperation,” Wei said at a meeting with Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu, according to a report by state-run Tass Russian News Agency, the Asia Times quoted on April 5, 2018.


Russia and China had been rivals in 1960s. They even went to a war briefly. After the death of Soviet dictator Stalin in 1953, the Chinese communist leader Mao Zedong claimed to be the world communist leader, which Soviet communist leader Nikita Khrushchev denied Mao leading to the confrontation between the then two rival communist powers.


In 1980s and 1990s, China managed to rise up economically having the high economic growth annually whereas Soviet Union collapsed in 1990s and disintegrate into several independent nations. One of them is Russia that has gone down economically and politically before Vladimir Putin lifted it up again.


Thus, the international diplomacy has been in turbulence. What would be the outcome of the trade war between China and US, and of the diplomatic row between the west and Russia remains to be seen. However, the Asian region has remained calm so far; the fallout of the diplomatic war in the west and the trade war between China and the US might hit economically, as the Stock Market in the west has been restless.


April 6, 2018

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