The Rising Geopolitical Importance of Nepal

On July 19 of 2016, a major shift occurred in Nepalese politics in that the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist-Centre), also known as the CPN (M-C), split with the government of its Prime Minister, Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli. This event is significant for several major reasons. First, in regard to Nepalese politics, is that a vote of no-confidence has been filed against PM Oli and his political party, the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist). Second is that any decision made could be influenced or affect the two major regional powers (India and China) bordering Nepal.

Both India and China have a vested interest in the Nepalese matters. First, China and India, rising regional and global powers, want to obtain spheres of influence in the countries bordering their own, with Nepal one of their targets. Second, as Nepal is a majority-Hindu state, India (which has the largest Hindu population in the world) sees a similarity between themselves and Nepal, thus wanting to influence the decisions that are made in Nepal. India has already involved itself in Nepali matters, aiding after Nepal’s earthquake in 2015 and helping Nepal end the Maoist insurgency and ensuing civil war in 2006.

China has its own stakes in the country, hoping to secure it as a safety precaution from any presumed or actual Indian aggression. The economic benefits of securing trade deals with Nepal can financially assist both Nepal and China greatly. The effect that China has had on Nepal has already started to show; after Nepal’s earthquake, the government allegedly refused humanitarian aid from Taiwan, fearing that it would anger the Chinese government. Instead, the Nepalese government graciously accepted the aid that China had offered after the earthquake. China announced an aid package of RMB 4.7 billion, which in US dollars translates to roughly $700 million worth of aid. This is on top of the amount of developmental aid that China gives to Nepal, which is slightly less than $40 million at $37.4 million. Looking at the economic benefits of the tourism industry, out of the 300 million Chinese that do travel, some travel to nearby Nepal, fueling Nepal’s and China’s tourism sectors.

There are clear indicators that India and Nepal are inextricably linked to one another. For starters, millions of Nepali citizens live in India right now, working and providing for their families back at home. According to Spotlight, “There is hardly any Nepali family that does not have members living or studying in India. There is also the shared familiarity of Hindu culture”. The two cultures and peoples are linked to one another through employment, religion, ethnicity, and families; this bond is much more tighter than the cultural similarities that are shared between China and Nepal. Although the two countries might be economically and politically linked, many Nepalis view Chinese culture and society as a foreign concept to them.

As recently as 2014, India and China were trying to use their influence to sway the political parties to support a federal political system that benefited their own needs as a regional power. For example, India only wants one or two Nepalese states on its borders, while China wants Nepal to avoid creating states off of ethnic backgrounds. The sole reason for doing this, by both countries in fact, is that these “solutions” will allow for fewer states on their own borders and thus make it more manageable to guard and protect.

Tying this back into the no-confidence vote, it actually never happened as Prime Minister Oli resigned soon before the no-confidence vote began, making his government the eighth in the past ten years. Many attribute his fall to his close relationship with China and his deteriorating relationship with India’s leadership. With these events happening at a rapid pace, Nepal needs to find and develop a healthy relationship with both India and China in which all three parties receive deals and develop relationships that are beneficial to all. While India and China are regional and aspiring global powers and thus need to engage in geopolitical maneuvering, they also need to understand that Nepal is a country that suffered a horrible earthquake in 2015 and only ended their five-year civil war in 2006. In retrospect, Nepal is just developing as a post-war state and thus needs the support of both of its neighbors and not squabbling over who has preferential treatment.