Left: US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for South and Southeast Asia, Joe Felter; Right: Chinese Ambassador to Nepal Hou YanqiLeft: US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for South and Southeast Asia, Joe Felter; Right: Chinese Ambassador to Nepal Hou Yanqi

US and China play ‘tug of war’ with Nepal

On Sunday, the U.S. Embassy announced the arrival of Dr. Joe Felter, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for South and Southeast Asia in Nepal. Little did we know things were going to be stirred.

On Monday, Dr. Felter spoke to a group of journalists and warned them about China’s plans of ‘economic imperialism’ via its Belt and Road Initiative. Given that the ruling party of Nepal’s interest is highly inclined towards China, Dr. Felter made a smart move by reaching out to the media fraternity to get his message across to the public – next thing you know leading publications have stories published on their home page, and/or their cover page.

According to the reports, Dr. Felter was in no way subtle. He spoke clearly to the journalists, in hopes the message would disseminate. Citing an example through Sri Lankan port Hambantota, a part of the BRI project and its eventual lease grant to China Merchant Port Holdings for 99 years, he tried to warn Nepal about China’s ulterior motives. He warned Nepal to be wary of China’s ‘debt trap’ model, which it is advancing through BRI.

He also went on to say that US wasn’t asking Nepal to choose sides – right after he criticised BRI and pushed for Indo-Pacific strategy, a Trump administration initiative focusing on developing issues across the broader pan-Asian region.

Dr. Felter’s words were published, mostly ‘quoted’. Just as it did grab the attention of the public, it got the attention of the Chinese authorities too – in Nepal and in China.

The Chinese ambassador to Nepal, Hou Yanqi had some things of her own to say. She said she was ‘surprised and confused’ upon learning the US official’s remarks and clarified that BRI follows the ‘rule of shared benefits through consultation and contribution’. She said each nation makes their own decision regarding investment and development. She went on to accuse the US of ‘attempting to break the harmony between Nepal and China’, and acknowledged Foreign Minister Gyawali’s support to China by saying ‘debt trap’ is an ‘imported psychology’.

Aawaaj’s stance on this issue:

We feel, it is our duty to present the cases that have been made by both sides objectively. Each person’s own political inclinations help them decide which side to trust. It is true Nepal needs to be cautious while pursuing BRI – the Sri Lankan port is an apt example. But before blaming China on the issue, Sri Lanka needs to look at its own decisions – China wasn’t holding a gun on their head, rather skillfully advancing its objectives.

Now, is Nepal smart enough to make decisions which do not put us in a similar scenario? What do you think?

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