News Analysis: Hullabaloo From Nepal’s Ultra-Left Should Not Ruin The MCC Project
By Manoj Rijal, NEW YORK: Of late, the ultra-left wing of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP), mostly comprised of the former Maoist rebels who waged a civil war for a regime change (1996-2006), has been dominating Nepal’s foreign policy vis-à-vis the United States of America.
Despite assurances from the U.S. Embassy in Nepal and statements from the top U.S. officials in Washington D.C., that the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) compact is “NOT” a part of any military alliance in the Indo-Pacific region, the ultra-left group of the ruling NCP looks hell bent to obstruct and resist this $500 million development project in Nepal.
(Journalists trying to take videos and photos during the Foreign Press Center briefing. Photo Courtesy: FPC)
MCC Compact In Essence
As per the agreement signed between the Nepal and U.S. governments, the MCC Compact is entirely a development project that aims to improve Nepal’s electricity grids and the highways. In its 10-point statement on January 17, 2020, the U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu said that the MCC project is focused purely on economic development by helping to build power lines and improve the roads.
“The $500 million is a grant, with no strings attached, no interest rates, and no hidden clauses. All Nepal has to do is commit to spend the money, transparently, for the projects that have been agreed upon,” said the U.S. Embassy statement, adding that “the Nepalis proposed and decided which projects the MCC will fund in Nepal based on Nepal’s own priorities.”
According to Nepal Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, MCC is not against Nepal’s sovereignty. In his statement delivered to NCP’s central committee meeting on January 30, 2020, PM Oli said there is no military component in the MCC agreement and that Nepal can utilize the MCC grant for Nepal’s own economic development.
“As per the agreement, the MCC grant is not meant for any military purpose and cannot be diverted to any military purpose,” PM Oli said.
(Journalists attending the press briefing organized by the Foreign Press Center for the international press. Photo Courtesy: FPC)
MCC And Indo-Pacific Strategy
Despite efforts from the ultra-lefts of the ruling NCP to establish a hypothetical link between MCC and the Indo-Pacific Strategy, facts based on reality point to the fact that there are no links or connections between these two separate components of the U.S. government.
“There is NO military component to the MCC. In fact, the U.S. law prohibits it,” said the U.S. Embassy statement, adding that “Nepal does not need to ‘join’ or ‘sign up’ for anything in order to participate in the MCC.”
In a press briefing organized jointly in Washington D.C. and New York by the Foreign Press Center on January 30, 2020, top U.S. officials made it clear that the MCC and the Indo-Pacific Strategy are different and have no connection.
“The MCC has been working in Nepal since 2012. The Indo-Pacific vision was only conceived of and announced in 2017,” said Jonathan Henick, who serves as the Deputy Assistant Secretary (DAS) for Central and South Asia, Public Diplomacy & Press, at the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs of the U.S. government’s Department of State.
“There has been some misperception that’s confusing these two particular issues. Nepal, I want to say straight out, does not need to join or sign up for anything in order to participate in the $500 million MCC compact that we’ve been negotiating with the Nepalese Government for many years now,” said DAS Henick.
“Openness, transparency and good governance are the values we share with many of our partners. We see Nepal as a very important partner, with which we share many of these values,” Henick said.
(DAS Henick said there is no connection between MCC development aid given to Nepal and the Indo-Pacific Strategy. Photo Courtesy: FPC)
Ultra-Left’s Domination In NCP
Despite repeated statements from PM Oli and the U.S. government that the MCC has no military component, the ultra-left faction of the ruling NCP wants to “thoroughly” study the MCC compact before it would get endorsed by the parliament.
“The MCC agreement was signed as a grant deal. Now issues have emerged as to whether it is a part of the Indo-Pacific Strategy of the U.S. government that forges a military alliance in the Indo-Pacific region,” former PM and ex-Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda), who co-chairs the NCP along with PM Oli, was quoted as saying in a recent NCP parliamentary party meeting.
“This issue should be settled first before presenting the MCC bill in the parliament for an endorsement,” Dahal said.
Likewise, Agni Prasad Sapkota, the newly elected Speaker of the House of Representatives, who is from the Maoist faction of the NCP, said that “there should be no rush” in endorsing the MCC from the parliament.
“A debate on the MCC has just begun and is going on. Let it reach a conclusion. Let it be studied. Why do we need to rush?” Sapkota told reporters while assuming his office on January 27, 2020.
In the meantime, amid opposition to MCC from the ultra-left quarters of the NCP, the ruling party’s central committee on February 2, 2020 decided to form a three-member task force to “study and collect” feedback on the MCC.
Former PM and NCP secretariat member Jhalanath Khanal leads the task force, while Nepal’s Foreign Minister Pradip Gyawali along with former Home Minister Bhim Rawal will work as the members of the task force. Both Gyawali and Rawal are Standing Committee members of the NCP.
While Khanal is said to be in a neutral position, Rawal is said to be a fierce critic of MCC. Foreign Minister Gyawali’s views on MCC are similar with that of PM Oli.
The task force has been given a mandate of 10 days to submit its report.
Other Stakeholders Of MCC
Meanwhile, the opposition Nepali Congress (NC) party has said that the MCC should be endorsed by the current session of the parliament without delay.
A parliamentary meeting of the party took a decision to this effect on January 17, 2020, according to NC National Assembly Parliamentary Party Leader Surendra Raj Pandey.
Earlier, NC President Sher Bahadur Deuba stressed that there is no point debating on the MCC as it is solely a development aid given to Nepal.
“The government and the parliament have to approve the MCC. We have already expressed our support for the implementation of the MCC,” NC President Deuba said while talking with reporters in Biratnagar on January 15, 2020.
Likewise, Chinese ambassador to Nepal, Hou Yanqi said any international economic assistance to Nepal is a welcome from China.
“We welcome any international assistance to Nepal if it is for an economic cooperation. We would like to see the endorsement of the MCC and Nepal government taking a positive decision to this end,” Hou said while addressing a press meet on January 3, 2020.
In the words of Hemanta Malla, a former Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of Nepal Police, it is just a baseless allegation to say that the U.S. wants to counter China or India through the MCC compact.
“All these three countries have been supporting Nepal in its development endeavors for years. The U.S., in particular, has been supporting Nepal for more than 70 years now,” former DIG Malla said.
(DAS for Central and South Asian Affairs Jonathan Henick (left) is received by U.S. Ambassador to Nepal Randy Berry in Kathmandu, Nepal. Following the MCC row, DAS Henick flew to Kathmandu to receive fresh information and exchange views on the issue. Photo Courtesy: Ambassador Berry)
Way Forward And Solution
Amid the ongoing discussions on MCC, it looks imperative that this issue be resolved at the earliest without hurting sentiments of both the friendly countries – Nepal and the United States.
While Nepal needs to curb the hubbub of the extreme left that is attempting to create unnecessary hurdles towards the implementation of the MCC, the U.S. should continue its MCC engagement policy in Nepal with a lot of patience.
Rejecting a development project without a defect in the project will definitely send a negative message to Nepal’s development partners. This will also raise a question on Nepal’s capacity to provide a conducive environment to foreign aid and investments without hindrance.
Shunning politics on the issues of development, therefore, looks pertinent for Nepal.
Meanwhile, following the Foreign Press Center briefing on January 30, 2020, the U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary for Central and South Asian Affairs Johanthan Henick has travelled to Nepal to receive a firsthand information about the implementation of the MCC.
“Welcome to #Nepal Deputy Ass’t Secretary for Public Diplomacy & Press Jonathan Henick! Pleasure to have you visiting and hope we help you make the most of your visit to this vibrant and welcoming country,” U.S. Ambassador to Nepal Randy Berry said in this twitter account on February 4, 2020.