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US delegation to visit Nepal right after Chinese foreign minister’s visit

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In what looks like a deepening of interests in Nepal, two major powers, with which Kathmandu shares longstanding relations, have stepped up their engagements.

The United States is expected to send a bipartisan congressional delegation, most likely by the second week of April, days after the visit of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who is also a State Councilor, on April 26-27. March.

Nepalese officials confirmed that the delegation, arguably the largest in Washington comprising 25 members, was heading to Kathmandu.

Given the backdrop of the adoption of the Millennium Challenge Corporation Nepal Compact after years of controversy, growing concerns from Beijing over the US grant, and Wang’s planned visit to Kathmandu, it is clear that powerful countries have renewed their interest for Nepal, according to officials and experts. .

In the run-up to the ratification of the MCC Nepal Compact, a US$500 million grant for improving electricity supplies and roads, Washington’s pressure on Nepal’s leaders had become evident, just at the when Beijing warned against “coercion diplomacy”.

After the MCC pact was ratified on Feb. 27, China said it took note of the event, but at least two Chinese governments strongly produced mouthpieces editorials written, claiming that the US grant undermines Nepal’s sovereignty.

Washington’s plan to send the 25-member delegation, on the heels of a high-profile visit from Beijing, many say comes as an indication that the United States wants to reassure Nepal.

At least two US officials familiar with the planned US visit said Washington wanted to thank Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and Nepali leaders for ratifying the pact. The visit itself is also a message for Beijing, they say.

The US Congress delegation’s visit is also expected to lay the groundwork for higher-level exchanges later this year from both sides to mark 75 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between Nepal and the US, it said. familiar sources.

Political divisions and controversy in Nepal over the MCC pact, signed in September 2017, had clearly left Washington frustrated, as rejection of the US grant could have been an insult to Washington. Continued delays in ratification had prompted Beijing, which in the past had not explicitly opposed the subsidy, to join the fray.

One of the officials said the visit of the bipartisan congressional delegation should be seen in context.

“This year marks the 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Nepal and the United States and there are many political and social engagements taking place between the two counties,” the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Reuters. Post. “The United States has also invited Prime Minister Deuba to visit Washington. There is also talk of inviting US Vice President Kamala Devi Harris or US Secretary of State Antony John Blinken to Kathmandu this year as part of celebrations of 75 years of establishment of Nepal-US relations .

The US Embassy in Kathmandu declined to confirm any visit, but did not rule out the possibility.

“While we have no confirmed visits to announce at this time, the U.S. Embassy in Nepal plans to host U.S. officials throughout the year, particularly in connection with the 75th anniversary of the partnership. U.S.-Nepalese diplomatic service, to explore the country’s culture, strengthen people-to-people ties, and discuss shared values ​​such as our commitments to human rights, a free economy, and democracy,” said Embassy spokeswoman Anna Richey-Allen in a brief email response to the Post.

A source close to the development said the 25-member bipartisan U.S. delegation will include members of U.S. congressional committees — foreign affairs and judiciary, energy and trade, human rights and finance, among others — as well as a senior official. from the State Department.

The last time a major US team arrived in Nepal was in 2017, when US House of Representatives Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi led an eight-member bipartisan congressional delegation in Kathmandu. Later in February 2020, Rep. Ami Bera, who chaired the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and Nonproliferation, led a group of four members Bipartisan Congress delegation in Kathmandu.

After the adoption of the MCC pact, Beijing appears to be pushing for some projects under the Belt and Road Initiative, which Nepal signed in May 2017, months before signing the MCC Nepal pact. However, in the past five years, not a single project under the BRI has started in Nepal.

In the past, however, US officials have made clear their reservations about the BRI in Nepal.

In February 2019, during his visit to Nepal, the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for South and Southeast Asia, Joe Felter, said that certain activities in which China had engaged in the past in the region – in Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Malaysia. – are a source of concern.

“We welcome a constructive relationship with China, we welcome China’s investment, but as long as that investment is designed to serve the interests of Nepal and not just China,” he said.

Experts say the US-China rivalry on the world stage is common knowledge, but when it comes to Nepal, it needs to exercise caution to avoid getting trapped in geopolitical games. Kathmandu should sail to benefit all friendly nations including the United States and China.

“Big powers and big neighbors are watching us now, but that doesn’t mean they are exerting their influence in Nepal or intensifying their rivalry and competition,” said former Foreign Secretary and Ambassador Madhu Raman Acharya. “If healthy competition exists and we can use leverage in our interest, that’s good for the country.”

According to Acharya, how Nepali leaders manage to deal with major powers in the country’s overall interest is key.

“Recently, we ratified the MCC. It will do the country good. Now the Chinese foreign minister is coming. But I don’t know how prepared we are to take advantage of the BRI,” Acharya said. “If the big powers and neighbors pay attention to us, it’s good for us and we should try to give them a level playing field.”

Nepalese politicians have long failed to build and follow a robust foreign policy, thus exposing it to the dangers of geopolitical games of powerful countries. Kathmandu has most often shown the tendency to swing towards one country or the other depending on the party in power.

“The more commitments from big countries, the better for Nepal. We should focus on economic development and cooperation,” Acharya said. strategic or military interests.”

Foreign Ministry officials said that since the Covid-19 pandemic situation is easing, they expect high-level visits from various countries.

“We look forward to high-level visits and exchanges from different countries in the near future,” said Sewa Lamsal, spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry. “It’s too early for us to make any announcements at this time.”