But that status looked set to waver when Nepal’s parliament ratified a key agreement in February that drew it closer to the United States.
Through the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Nepal Compact, the US pledged US$500 million for roads and energy infrastructure development in the landlocked country.
But the move received much opposition as it was viewed as a way for the US to use the Himalayan nation as a tool to counter Chinese influence. There were also concerns that the pact could eventually compromise Nepal’s sovereignty.
The MCC Nepal Compact was eventually signed after the US government clarified in writing that it was not a part of Washington’s Indo-Pacific strategy, and that the Constitution of Nepal prevails over the agreement.
Analysts believe Nepal will inevitably figure in the regional strategy of the US as it refocuses on the Indo-Pacific.
Professor Harsh Pant of the Observer Research Foundation said in the great power contest, the US has to offer a better alternative to smaller nations like Nepal, which can “decide for themselves what they want to do” with it.
After analysts partly blamed Sri Lanka’s financial crisis on expensive Chinese debt, many people in Nepal have become wary of the Chinese footprint in their country. Meanwhile, observers see this as an opportunity for neighbouring India to bring Kathmandu into its fold.
If Mr Oli unseats Mr Deuba in the upcoming polls, Nepal could well move further away from New Delhi and closer to Beijing, said experts, stressing that the elections could not only decide relations with its neighbours but also influence geopolitics in South Asia.