With China Nepal Loses Nothing But Chains
By Dr. Upendra Gautam
More than 2,000 years ago, the ancient Silk Road starting from China connected Asia and Europe. It was an important bridge facilitating trade exchanges, communication and cultural interaction between the East and the West. History shows that learning from other cultures for common prosperity was one of the essential features of civilisations. Today, there are many challenges that all countries must face together. Managing the relationships between different civilisations has been the foundation of development on this planet.
China has been a country having an unparallel sense of history. Now it is fairly confirmed that President Xi Jinping had been contemplating on the Chinese model of international development cooperation before he came to power. His model of cooperation was rooted in China's history of international exchanges. This model of cooperation had to address contemporary challenges like the needs of sustainable economic growth, territorial peace and security, which helped realise China's "two centenary goals" of founding of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) whereby China achieves a status of moderately developed society in 2021 and a developed society in 2049 respectively. In short, President Xi's OBOR helps China by helping others as only sharing Chinese riches can China fulfill its international duty as the world's friendlier neighbour. In no way President Xi wants to repeat a Soviet Union in China. His OBOR initiative, therefore, is solely guided by a wish for a happy life for his people.
Xi made public China's grand vision of international development cooperation in the form of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-century Maritime Silk Road (OBOR in short) in September and October 2013. China's authoritative agencies documented his model of international cooperation in a "Vision and Actions on Jointly Building Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road" in March 2015. The first edition of the document authorised by China's State Council (Council of Ministers) was jointly issued by its National Development and Reform Commission, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Commerce. Before this document, the Chinese edition of the Governance of China by Xi Jinping had hit the book stands in October 2014. His book provided an overarching philosophical, governance and international cooperation framework on OBOR from China's historical and pragmatic perspective.
Evolution of cooperation
In the last three years, characteristics and progress made while implementing this strategy have been unfolding. The first “Belt and Road Initiative Big Data Report 2016” was released in Beijing in October last year. The report analysed five aspects of cooperation between China and the 64 countries along OBOR— policy coordination, connectivity, trade, finance and public support. Russia and Kazakhstan were regarded as top two “highly” cooperative countries with China while Thailand, Pakistan and Indonesia ranked in third, fourth and fifth places. Guangdong, Zhejiang, Fujian, Shanghai and Tianjin were the top five provinces and municipalities that were regarded as “highly participating” in the initiative. Chinese President Xi visited 37 countries between September 2013 and August 2016, and promoted cooperation for OBOR on many occasions.
Reform and OBOR examples
China in 1978 had started unprecedented reforms and development of its economic system under the leadership of its paramount leader Deng Xiaoping. It was the same year Deng visited Nepal. During the visit, according to former Prime Minister Kirti Nidhi Bista, Deng proposed a joint venture model of economic cooperation between China and Nepal. China wished to grow together with Nepal in an equitable manner.
There is perhaps no need to mention that Nepal skipped Deng's offer in 1978. What followed in Nepal after 1978 was much weakened national power infected by political instability, civil war, bloody regime change, trade blockade, migration of youth, leading to a state of overall underdevelopment and insecurity. After more than 35 years, Nepal has received another offer from China in the form of President Xi's OBOR. In 1978, the offer had a more bilateral tone. Now the offer is explicitly international. Yet, the basics are bilateral in the sense that OBOR supports mutual independence through credible inter-dependence, which nurtures a win-win proposition in international economic cooperation. Some examples will make the case clearer.
In May 2016, commencement of the construction of Mongolia’s first highway, which will link Ulan Bator with the new international airport in Khushigt Valley, marked a milestone in the implementation of the OBOR Initiative in Mongolia. As a landlocked country, Mongolia neighbours China and Russia. An earlier initiative announced by Mongolia, the Steppe Road Plan, includes the construction of a highway and an electrified railway connecting China and Russia. These constructions are in line with the initiative to build the China-Mongolia-Russia Economic Corridor. In September last year, China unveiled guidelines on building this Economic Corridor, marking the official launch of the first multilateral cooperation plan under the OBOR framework.
As the Chinese saying goes, “If you want to get rich, first build a road.” Pakistan shares the same development experience. Nowadays, the construction of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has provided a boost to Pakistan’s infrastructure sector. CPEC will benefit three billion people in China, Central and South Asia, and the Middle East. In OBOR's context, Pakistan provides a fine example of integrating the Silk Road Economic Belt with the 21st-century Maritime Silk Road aspects of OBOR. While Pakistan's Gwadar deep port on the Arabian Sea provides a highly efficient maritime window, linking the port with high speed railways, express ways and information highways optimise the benefits for the larger region as a whole from multi-modal transport and communication connectivity. On the other hand, the economic corridor through Mongolia ties two great powers China and Russia in a closer bond of economic prosperity and co-existence. Indeed, Mongolia as the mid-country between the two great powers will see its international status much strengthened when the construction of the economic corridor under OBOR completes.
The “Belt and Road Initiative Big Data Report 2016” also emphasised that China’s cooperation with 32 countries, or half the overall number, “needed to be enhanced.” It recognised huge space for deepening cooperation between China and countries in China's northwestern and southeastern regions along the route in the next stage. The China-Nepal Think Tank Conference that was organised in Kathmandu by Xinhua, Kathmandu Bureau and Nepal Study Centre at Hebei University of Economics and Business could be taken as a step to fill in some of the intellectual gaps to enhance the bilateral cooperation for OBOR.
Where does Nepal stand along OBOR? Nepal's cooperation with China so far on OBOR has admittedly been low. Despite the bilateral agreements, including the one where Nepal has committed to cooperate with China within the framework of OBOR, things have not progressed. Nepal seems to be at a great risk of losing OBOR as it missed China's first reform offer in 1978. During our visit to China in October 2016, some friends in the China Study Centre (CSC) Nepal delegation had gathered an impression that China was not keen on Nepal so far as OBOR was concerned. As a matter of fact, this impression itself was a direct product of Nepal's almost non-participation in the real OBOR activities and its preoccupation with a politics of exclusion in the conduct of fair international relations. A large number of people in Nepal realise very well that with China Nepal does not lose anything but the chains. What it needs is honesty and a work culture in its bilateral deals. OBOR will even help the political leaderships of all hues and colours in implementing their sincere development commitments. But they seem to be more in chains than the people.
(Dr. Upendra Gautam is associated with China Study Center-Nepal.)