CPN-UML leader Pradeep Gyawali took over the reins of Nepal's Ministry of Foreign Affairs at a time when the disputes regarding the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping, the border dispute with India and the MCC agreement with the US were reaching the climax. Nepalkhabar talked to Gyawali, the deputy general secretary of UML, about the activities during his tenure, the foreign policy adopted by the current government and the relations with India, China and the US. Excerpts:
You took charge of the foreign ministry at a time when the left coalition had a two-thirds majority. Was it easy to carry out this responsibility or were there challenges?
First of all there was a challenge in managing relations with India. The relationship between the two countries had sourced. The relationship had to be improved.
On the other hand, the previous government kept relations with China at a very low profile. The previous government was not interested in benefitting from China becoming the world's largest economy. Relations with the US were also limited to mere formalities.
Due to long political instability, Nepal's 'image' in the international community had tarnished. Investment opportunities in Nepal were very low and the governments were not stable.
It was a challenge that we had to improve Nepal’s image in the in the international community.
From what point did you start working to improve relations with India?
There had been discourse in the Indian leadership why they were repeatedly failing in the Nepal affairs. Their rough conclusion was that 'to improve relations, they should deal with the legally elected government. Because other countries have done this, they are successful or less controversial in Nepal.
Due to similar psychology, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj came to Nepal after the left alliance won the elections. While UML President KP Oli had not been appointed Prime Minister by that time. He was only the leader of the parliamentary party.
External Affairs Minister Swaraj's Nepal visit made the environment a little easier.
Establishing a relationship with Oli was an obligation, even a necessity, for the Indian side. We wanted to improve relations with India. Both countries will benefit when the relationship is harmonious. That is why we started discussions.
There had been harmonious relations between Nepal and India for around two years before the revised map of Nepal was made public.
How did you advance the relationship with China?
After India, I visited China in April 2018 at the invitation of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. In that visit, we created a general blueprint for Nepal-China relations and mutual cooperation.
When KP Oli was the Prime Minister for the first time, the transport agreement was signed. Then Nepal signed a MoU on BRI with China. A blueprint for the implementation of those agreements had to be made.
During my China visit, we created a similar draft. Then Prime Minister Oli visited China, then President Bidya Devi Bhandari also visited China. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi also visited Nepal.
After this, President Xi Jinping visited Nepal. It was a historic visit by the Chinese President after 23 years. During the Xi’s Nepal visit, we succeeded in making a very important agreement that would benefit both Nepal and China. In this way, we have systematically developed the relationship between the two neighborhoods.
Fortunately, relations between China and India were also good at that time. They themselves were active in enhancing the relationship between the two countries. Hence, it was easy for us to move forward by maintaining a balance between the two countries.
What was the latent intent of the Chinese President's visit to Nepal?
The Chinese President wanted to visit Nepal. He came to visit Nepal amid a very tight schedule. We put his visit on top priority. That is why he came to visit Nepal. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi also worked hard for President Xi's visit.
Our President Bidya Devi Bhandari strongly insisted Xi on visiting Nepal when she went to the second Belt and Road Conference in April 2019.
During President Xi's visit to Nepal, some important agreements were made for Nepal's development. Their implementation will strengthen Nepal-China relations.
At the end of KP Sharma Oli's second premiership, the relationship with China does not seem to be so trusting, possibly, due to growing disputes in the Nepal Communist Party.
Undoubtedly, China wanted to bring about political stability in Nepal. They wished that communist unity would continue in Nepal. It was not a hidden issue. We should not consider this interest as unnatural because of the party-party relationship and China's desire for stability in Nepal. We should not forget that when BP Koirala was the Prime Minister with two-thirds of the votes, China also built a similar relationship with him at that time.
However, due to various reasons, NCP unity could not be maintained. Despite China’s some initiatives to maintain unity, it split eventually -- not due to external factors. But the division made the Chinese side a little sad due to geopolitical reasons.
Some leaders within the NCP alleged that the unity did not last because KP Sharma Oli tried to advance the MCC and that Nepal’s relations with India sourced due to the revised pointed map of Nepal.
Also, meetings with Indian Intelligence Chief Samant Goel and subsequent meetings were an attempt to create an illusion that KP's foreign policy had changed. However, both allegations turned out to wrong as they themselves approved the MCC wholeheartedly.
As far as the Indian intelligence chief’s Nepal visit is concerned, he came as a representative sent by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Why the arrival of the Indian Prime Minister’s representative was kept a secret?
There was no attempt to keep it a secret. There was a ban on international flights due to the Covid-19. He had to approve the landing of the ship. The two Prime Ministers had a conversation at night. Then the next day in the evening, Goel arrived. At one point he also had a conversation with his counterpart (the Head of the National Investigation Department). So Goyal's visit was not something we wanted to hide. There was no reason to hide it. We were 'clear' in our 'position' regarding Nepal-India relations. As such, the eighth edition of the map that India published in November 2019 is incorrect.
Recently, Prime Minister Oli did not even meet the Chinese Ambassador Hou Yanqi. Previously, there were constant such meetings. Even though there was a dispute in the NCP, why was it 'ignored' to that extent?
When there is an 'issue', there is no meeting. Even after the party split, the Chinese ambassador has been meeting with me regularly as a high-level meeting.
As I said earlier, the disputes in the NCP was strictly our internal matter. The formation of the NCP was not because of China, either. The split in NCP is not because of China or India. We were divided for internal reasons.
It was said that Xi Jinping tried to give 'class' to NCP leaders to export Xi ideology. Are you also trying to be cautious with the Chinese side?
Not even that. Because it is beyond imagination that they will export Xi Jinping ideology. The Chinese Communist Party has been saying since Mao's time that exporting ideology is wrong. It is in this context that Mao repeatedly said, "Look for shoes according to the size of your feet, don't try to fit your feet according to the size of your shoes."
Currently, China is purely in favor of its national security, development and the construction of its world order in the same way. They themselves know that Xi Jinping's ideology cannot be applied in any other country.
Where did the particular problem begin?
After the tension in the China-India relationship, the trouble started. The Presidents and Prime Ministers of China and India had meetings and talks in Wuhan and Chennai. However, after descending from that level of friendship, they reached the point of skirmishes in Galwan.
After this, both of them tried to pull Nepal towards them. Nepal could not be dragged into such a dispute. We appealed and said, “Maintain peace, promote friendship”. It was also our duty to call for peace and friendship.
Again, some American officials explained that the MCC is part of the Indo-Pacific strategy. MCC itself is not a body of anyone. Our relationship with China was getting stronger. Due to this, the interest of America and India increased.
As a former foreign minister, in your understanding, what is China, what is India and what is America?
Regarding foreign policy, Churchill had said, "In international relations, only one thing is true all over the world. That is -- national interest.”
Every country works and maintains relations for its own national interests. That's what we do. National interests converge in some places and diverge in some places. The success of diplomacy is increasing the 'convergence' and reducing the places of 'divergence'.
An Indian diplomat once told me, “Nepal-India relations are unique. But there are problems. Our efforts should be to take down the graph of disagreement as much as possible.” Let's take the graph of understanding and partnership to the top. It was very real and practical. The same applies to everyone.
China has its own interests towards Nepal. In my understanding, China's main interest is Nepal's political stability. From an ideological point of view, it is natural to think that political stability will come in Nepal if the leftists come to power. But no one determines their relationships based on ideological beliefs.
Yes, our party-to-party relationship is very good. However, the relations between parties should not be allowed to dominate the country. We are committed to it.
We have repeatedly said that we will not allow the land of Nepal to be used against our neighboring friends. And, we have also said, “The relationship between Nepal and India cannot be replaced by the relationship with any other country.”
Does this mean that the relationship with China is as easy as it is with India?
In fact, relations with India should progress more smoothly. Because the relationship between Nepal and India cannot be compared with the relationship of any other country in Nepal.
The country’s geography is facing south. Our rivers are flowing south. We have open borders. In this sense, Nepal-India relations should be the most comfortable. However, it is not going on as expected. Because, there are some historical issues in it. One issue the history has left behind is Limpiyadhura-Kalapani. We have to find a solution to this issue. However, I do not see ease and generosity in Indian friends to resolve it.
The other problem today is the trade deficit. Due to the one-way structure built by India on the border, there are problems such as flooding in Nepal, difficulty in entry of Nepali goods into India. There is so much buzz about energy trading.
Despite all this, what I want to emphasize is that we must find solutions to these problems. Nepal-India relations must be harmonious. It is also in the interest of both Nepal and India.
Now let's talk about America.
America's power is now waning. After the events in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Afghanistan, America is no longer invincible in military terms. However, in terms of military power, America is still the largest power. No one can challenge it.
America's second 'supremacy' is in innovation. But even in the field of innovation, it was overtaken by China and Korea. From the point of view of economy, G-7 has now been overtaken by BRICS. After a few years, China is in a position to overtake America.
Nepal is a free and sovereign country. We are free to make decisions in our context. Your interest should be only where our policies affect your national security, security of citizens, Nepal-US bilateral relations.
In other matters, Nepal moves independently. And, it decides what suits it.
America is trying to build a bloc by creating a 'framework' of subjects like open society, democracy, and human rights. Will Nepal participate in that framework or not?
First of all, we must be clear about two things. We are strong supporters of human rights. Our 70 years of struggle is for democracy, human rights, and open society. Our constitution is one of the best in the world. In this way we are closer to the global democratic community. We should not hesitate to say this.
But now the issues of democracy and human rights are more politicized. It is also seen that these subjects are used to change the regime in countries that they do not like.
Let's talk about the Israel-Palestine conflict. We are always against the terrorism of Hamas. However, in the name of fighting Hamas, what is being done by Israel in Palestine? If it was from China, what would be America's reaction? America cannot make a statement against the massacre in Palestine? America can stop the carnage going on there if it wants to. People are being killed in Palestine. But America does not want to stop, does not speak.
There was news that journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed with the involvement of the crown prince of Saudi Arabia. If the same thing happened in another country, what would be America's response?
If India had not participated in the four-nation security group 'Quad' created by the US, or if the Indian Prime Minister had distanced himself from the US, would this have been the view of the US regarding some of the incidents that happened in Gujarat when he was the Chief Minister?
Regarding the 'Democratic Summit' organized by America, what I want to say is that it is necessary for Nepal to participate in the 'Democratic Summit'. It is also necessary to participate in the Boao Forum organized by China.
However, if you leave the Boao Forum and only participate in the Democratic Summit, it seems that you are becoming one-sided. We should use all such forums.
Do you mean the current government is becoming more pro-American or pro-Indian?
Some things are obvious. Our relationships are not balanced. The Chinese were willing to invest in various projects. We will help the economic development of our country by bringing investments from all countries. But is the policy we have taken in this context balanced?
In terms of energy, the path we are trying to take is to secure 10,000 megawatts in the Indian market. However, there is a situation that is being discussed for 500 MW. One after another conditions are added.
Second, what are the consequences of being completely dependent on one market? Didn't we completely depend on petroleum yesterday? What was the result, what did you have to suffer?
There should be 'choice' in terms of market. There should also be 3-4 shops. If you are generating a lot of electricity, there must be a lot of market for selling it. You can then choose which markets to sell to profit from. If not, tomorrow he says I will not buy it. What do you do at that time? Because you cannot store electricity. He says sell on my terms. If you give on his terms, you lose. You can neither give nor take from him. Given all these things, there is an imbalance in the matter of investment, in the matter of economic partnership, in political matters.
How did you evaluate Prime Minister Prachanda's India visit in the last week of May?
After the election of the Prime Minister in Nepal, it is customary to send an invitation along with the congratulatory note from the Indian Prime Minister on the first day. After that, the diplomatic officials of the two countries sit and prepare for the visit.
He said that he would make his first visit from India. However, this time, the Prime Minister's visit to India was possible only after constant insistence.
Two of our international airports have been built. Without an air route, our investment of billions is wasted. India itself is in such a big 'partnership' with China. However, planes are not allowed to fly in the airport built by Nepal with a loan. It is clear that it was not allowed to fly because it was built on loan from China.
The Gautam Buddha International Airport, Bhairahawa, was built with a loan from the Asian Development Bank. Indian friends are not ready to give air route there.
However, no agreement could be reached on providing an air route for the Prime Minister's visit to India.
Previously, Sher Bahadurji went to India, and handed over West Seti to the southern neighbor. This time Prachanda visited India and handed over Fukot and Lower Arun. Now, gradually they are handing over Tamakoshi and Arun, too.
India’s plan is to have sole control over Nepal's water resources. After the ruling alliance came to the government, India was 100% successful in its plan. But, India did not agree to give such a minor 'air route' as sought by Nepal.
As a former foreign minister, what do you suggest about the Prime Minister's upcoming visit to China?
We can gain many benefits by connecting with China's development. However, the current government has not paid attention to taking such benefits.
What should be understood is that China will not suffer if we ignore it. It is now the second power in the world, after a few years it will become the first power nation. By understanding this, the possibilities with China should be used to the maximum.
There has been a suspicion on the Chinese side that Nepal has tried to keep its relationship with China in a 'low profile' or has not given importance to it.
My suggestion is that the Prime Minister’s upcoming visit to China should dispel such suspicions.