BRI To Boost Nepal-China Relation

 

Nandalal Tiwari

In his visit to Nepal in January 1957, Premier Zhou Enlai had rightly highlighted on the need of people to people contact to further consolidate the diplomatic ties between Nepal and China. Although the White Pagoda Temple or the Baita Si, considered to be the oldest and biggest preserved Tibetan Buddhist pagoda in China, at western part of Beijing, which was designed and built by a Nepalese architect Araniko during the reign of Kublai Khan, the first emperor of the Yuan Dynasty, some 700 years ago, stands as an evidence of the Nepal-China relations since the ancient time, there has not been people-to-people relations to the extent as envisioned by the first premier of the People’s Republic of China. And this is all not because the governments did not want but because the formidable Himalayas played their role.

But now, with signing of the Memorandum of Understanding on the BRI between Nepal and China that focuses on connectivity, all this is expected to change drastically. Both the Nepalese government and the people have great expectations from the BRI.

Trans-Himalayan railways and highways connecting Nepal and China will not only make it easy to transport goods but also provide an amazing travel experience to the people and thus promote tourism, trade and investment. The BRI is expected to add a new page in the history of cooperation between Nepal and China and it is a new dimension in the relations of the two neighbours.

Despite repeated assurances from the Nepalese side to join the BRI, there had been an uneasy feeling on the Chinese side owing to the delay in signing the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in relation to the BRI. It is hoped that China knew well about present period of political transition in Nepal and pressure from other regional and foreign powers to not support the BRI. That’s why In his meeting, on March 27, with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ had expressed firm commitment to participate in the BRI, which has now resulted in practice, and Nepal is participating in the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation being held in Beijing on May 14 and 15 as a partner of the grand initiative. 

It is a fact that China has always been a generous and most reliable neighbor for Nepal. Latest examples of the neighbourly empathy on the part of China was seen during the devastating earthquake in April 2015 in Nepal and the 6-month long goods-fuel blockade by India starting from September 2015. Within a few hours of the quake, Chinese rescue teams were in Nepal’s capital city, Kathmandu, and the Chinese government has extended its support for the reconstruction in the aftermath of the once-in-a-century quake.

The grant assistance of petroleum products, albeit in a little quantity, during the Indian blockade, which were transported through the under-construction and narrow tough mountainous road, also serve as an example to how a neighbor feels the ache of the other.

The difficulties faced during these two incidents proved how poorly Nepal and China were connected by land although there had been talks about taking the Chinese bullet trains from Lhasa of Tibet, China, to Katmandu and then Pokhara and Lumbini, the Birthplace of Buddha, in Nepal.

In addition to being a good neighbour, China is the largest source of foreign direct investment (FDI) and the second largest trading partner of Nepal. However, despite being linked with land, most Chinese goods reach Nepal, a landlocked country, via the sea route. And this is an odd situation for both Nepal and China, which calls for immediate and increased overland connectivity.

 Moreover, Nepal’s trade deficit with China is huge although total trade volume is just over a billion US dollar. If this trend continues for long, it is likely that Nepal will eventually fail to do any trade.

To deal with trade deficit and increase economic development, Nepal needs investment on highly potential sectors such as hydropower generation, mines and minerals including uranium and petroleum excavation, tourism and agriculture and in other areas in which Nepal has relative advantages. And for sure, the BRI, the economic and infrastructure development campaign initiated by Chinese President Xi since 2013 can be a great help in this regard and Nepal cannot afford to miss the opportunities being offered. 

Nepal is not a small country in terms of the size of population as it is nearly as big as Australia. With the remittances from abroad, Nepal’s middle class is growing, which is contributing to economic growth. Furthermore, Nepal can be a gateway to the vast Indian markets such Uttar Pradesh and Bihar states of India. Given the present situation, Nepal can be a dynamic bridge between India and China if the Chinese railways and roadways reach India through Nepal and vice versa.

Giving up the ‘a yam between two boulders’ notion with regard to Nepal’s geopolitical location, Nepalese leaders have been making efforts also for trilateral cooperation among China, Nepal and India for over a decade since Nepalese Prime Minister Prachanda visited China, breaking tradition to start foreign visit with India, in 2008 as the first Prime Minister of Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal.

A poor Nepal may eventually fail to be practically sensitive to the core Chinese interests simply because powerful countries always use the poor countries as their playground. Nepal has remained firm in its one China policy and acted perfectly accordingly. Moreover, a poor neighbor will not add to but cast shadow over the elegance of the second largest economy. It is also responsibility of a generous neighbor to carry its neighbors along as it takes strides in economic development.

The historic ten point agreement signed between the two countries in March last year including those agreements of the past, Nepal’s passion to join the BRI and Nepal’s perception of China as an always reliable friend make it clear that China as always should keep its heart big to understand Nepal’s practical difficulties. China enjoys a good public trust, highly positive public sentiment in Nepal as a kind, helpful and non-interfering friend. And with the BRI, China can be a true development partner of Nepal. Nepalese leaders should realize this and grab the opportunities by devising effective and efficient development plan and projects.

Nepalese are eager to see that when the Chinese train reaches Keirung, a Chinese town in Tibet at border with Nepal, in 2020 there is a railway line to take the train to Nepal’s capital Kathmandu. And if this happens, the era of people-to-people contact as envisioned by Premier Zhou will really begin. The signing of the MoU on the BRI has raised such a hope in the Nepalese.

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