•      Sun Jun 23 2024

Foreign policy and infrastructure development need for Track Three diplomacy

Foreign Ministry
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Nepal

Er. Sugat Ratna Kansakar

Although Economic Diplomacy has already become a buzzword all over the world, it is likely that many eyebrows may be raised by trying to connect two entirely diversified issues- foreign policy and infrastructure development. Presently, Nepal is among thirty countries in the world with least per capita income. Obviously, topmost priority of all two dozen ministries, including Ministry of Foreign Affairs, should be to increase per capita income of our 30 million population at any cost. It is foregone conclusion that without adequate and high-quality physical infrastructure, no country can thrive in economy.

Almost all SAARC countries and other developing countries in Asian region like Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia have outpaced Nepal in economic growth. Unless we move faster, it will be impossible to catch-up with those countries. Huge investment is a must for building physical infrastructure. We need funds from not only agencies like World Bank, Asian Development Bank, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank etc. but also from donor countries India, China, USA, Japan, South Korea, and EU countries. So, focus of our foreign policy should be to take maximum advantage from those countries without wasting time in debates about theories and principles of foreign policy. Nepal cannot have luxury of romancing with ‘principled stand’ in relation with Big Brothers, especially India, China and USA. It is a matter of common sense that no donor country, especially powerful countries, shall give financial assistance without certain strings attached. Debate could be to find out those ‘strings’, and in what way those‘strings’ can be managed and channeled for nation building. The sentiment of ‘national pride’ and so-called ‘we are equal’ syndrome may be good for essay writing and intellectual debates, but it will not serve the main purpose of uplifting living standard of 30 million population.

The U-Turn

The experts opine that one major reason for faster economic growth of China compared to India is the priority given by China in the development of physical infrastructure right after Deng era began from late seventies. To build world-class physical infrastructure, China needed expertise as well as investments from developed world, especially USA and Japan. Unfortunately, China did not have good relation with both USA and Japan. In 1978 Deng Xiaoping said that “the basic point is we must acknowledge that we are backward, that many of our ways of doing things are inappropriate, and that we need to change.” Among many sectors where paradigm shifts were made by Deng, the most important one was foreign policy. He made U-turn in relation with USA and Japan. After three decades of ‘cut-off’ in relation with USA, on January 31, 1979, Deng signed agreements with USA to speed up scientific exchanges. During American President Ronald Reagan’s six days visit to China in April 1984, Reagan remarked that “Deng didn’t seem like a Communist.” Until 1972, there was no diplomatic relation between China and Japan. But during Deng’s years at the helm, no country played a greater role in assisting China build its industry and infrastructure than Japan.

Let us be Selfish

China’s example clearly proves that so-called principles of foreign policy make no sense. The crux of the matter in foreign policy is to be extremely selfish. Nothing matters more than bread and butter of the public at large, especially for countries like Nepal. Of course, sovereignty matters. But the question remains that when Nepal’s sovereignty is still intact for the last hundreds of years, will it not be foolish to talk about possibility of losing sovereignty in this age of Internet and globalization?

Futility of Emotions

Hottest topic in foreign policy of Nepal, at present, is the border dispute with India. Border dispute between two neighboring countries are there in many parts of the world. In almost all cases those disputes become highly sensitive and emotional issues in both countries. And in few cases, border disputes are deliberately made an election issue by stirring emotions of the voters. In democratic countries, it is natural that politicians like to bring up emotion in voters for political mileage. But it will not be in the national interest if intellectuals and experts also go on adding fuel to fire in those emotional issues. There is no way that Nepal will benefit in having sour relation with India in this Kalapani border issue, which existed since last four decades.

Need for Pragmatism

The Senkaku Islands dispute between China and Japan existed since long time and still not resolved. India is having border disputes with Pakistan and China since last few decades, and there is no indication that it will be resolved in near future. In this context, it will be naïve to believe that Kalapani border dispute or for that matter any other border dispute could be resolved at the drop-of-a-hat. It is understandable that opposition parties in the parliament will try to raise hue and cry over this issue to gain political mileage. But it is altogether a different matter if foreign policy stalwarts and related experts also start taking the line of stirring up emotion of man-on-the-street, thereby enhancing anti-India feelings in the society at large. More pragmatic approach in dealing with three Big Brothers- India, China and USA- is to keep them in good humor all the time. Hence, the need for Track Three Diplomacy!

Track Three Diplomacy

Diplomacy is defined as the profession, activity, or skill of managing international relations, typically by a country’s representative abroad. It also implies the practice of conducting negotiations between representatives of states. All official dealings with other countries emanating from Ministry of Foreign Affairs is considered as official diplomacy. Any other unofficial dialogue or dealing with concerned officials or politicians or ministers are usually termed as Track Two Diplomacy. Mostly in relation with India, experts recommend Track Two diplomacy. In fact, it will not be exaggeration to state that major part of foreign affairs between Nepal and India are confined to Track Two diplomacy already. Frequent visits of our leaders to New Delhi and other informal visits by high profile personnel of India to Kathmandu could be considered as Track Two diplomacy. But ground reality is that Nepal is not in high priority of India form the new point bilateral assistance and investment. Same is true from our northern neighbor China also. One of the most lucrative hydropower project West Seti is still in limbo. Same condition in many other big hydropower projects. Nepal, therefore, needs Track Three diplomacy, which focuses only in economic affairs, mainly eyeing for infrastructure development. Due to the fact that frequent one-to-one talk at highest possible level in the respective governments of three Big Brothers may be needed, the leadership in this Track Three diplomacy must be taken from Prime Minister himself, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs should have a separate powerful cell dealing exclusively in Track Three diplomacy. It is essential that at no point of time there should be any kind of misunderstanding between Government of Nepal and government of each Big Brother on any issue, although there may be grumblings and criticisms by opposition political parties, intellectuals and media from time to time.

Balancing Act

Let us hope that ‘cold war’ between India and China with regards to Nepal has minimized to great extent after Chinese President’s visit to Kathmandu right after talks between him and Indian Prime Minister. Unfortunately, the new controversy of America’s MCC project has shadowed the rosy picture of possible Nepal- India-China cooperation in socio-economic development of Nepal. MCC project is an infrastructure project and most possibly there may be certain string attached. It is a pity that instead of dwelling into pros and cons of the offer by a Big Brother, few politicians and experts are trying to find out the ‘strings” attached. It is strange that after weeks of debate, nobody could yet identify the real ‘string’ which may damage the national interest or pride or sovereignty or security. Many are already suspecting that some other power center or Big Brother may be behind this controversy. Track Three diplomacy is the only solution to this highly sensitive and precarious job of balancing relation between three Big Brothers- India, China and USA. Commonsense dictates that we should take advantage to maximum extent from those Big Brothers by adopting Track Three diplomacy.

Educate the Public

One more important part of Track Three diplomacy should be to educate public at large about ground reality in international relation between countries. There is no such thing as equal status between a less powerful country and a more powerful country. The principled stand of nonaligned movement did not succeed due to the fact that no country can ignore or sacrifice her self-interest in the name of principle. National interest like job creation, uplifting living standard and fast socio-economic development should come first. Japan, Singapore and South Korea did miracle by accepting USA as a Big Brother, and totally ignoring unnecessary emotional issues like pride, nationalism, equality etc. It is a matter of great concern that few politicians as well as experts are, knowingly or unknowingly, inciting general public to throw venom at India in Kalapani border issue. Actually, the unique relation between Nepal and Big Brother India must be taken into account before jumping into the bandwagon of nationalism, sovereignty, pride, ego, self-esteem etc.

The Mantra

One and only one MANTRA of Nepal’s foreign policy is to accept India, China and USA as three Big Brothers, and do balancing act so as not to antagonize any one of them at any cost; and zoom into double-digit growth at the earliest. ‘At any cost’ does not mean even by losing our sovereignty. Nepal has survived for the last hundreds of years as a sovereign country never colonized in the entire history. Against this background, worrying about losing our sovereignty at this juncture of
world politics makes no sense.

* Er. Kansakar is a former Executive Chairman of Nepal Airlines Corporation

Note: This article was first published in Nepal Council of World Affairs (NCWA)’s Annual Journal 2020.