Nepal’s Posture Over BRI
The unique step taken by China in bringing the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has attracted much attention from our region and the world as well. True, the scope and scale of the BRI is largely extensive and unprecedented ever undertaken by any nation of the world to date. Chinese President Xi Jinping has described the initiative as the “project of the 21st century”, which would stretch to the huge land mass of the Eurasia and Africa. The project is estimated to cost over 1 trillion US dollars and its implementation may take years and decades.
As an immediate southern neighbour of China, Nepal has signed the Memorandum of Understanding on the BRI. Albeit belated, Nepal entered into understanding to get closely associated with the grand initiative of the big northern neighbour.
The MoU includes, among others, five important components as areas of cooperation with a view to usefully let neighbourly friendship and relationship fructify to a greater extent. The five components are-- Policy coordination on matters related with economic development, Facility connectivity in the transportation, Trade and business connectivity for the development of economic zones, Financial integration for opening up branches of Chinese bank with priority given to payment in Nepali and Chinese currencies and People-to-people contact for enhancing media connected relations, exchange of visits by parliamentarians and the private sector.
The signing of the memorandum is just an initial step that Nepal and China have taken. Follow-up works have to be done. Without detailed programmes, the understanding would not come up to materialise what have been intended for as envisaged in the memorandum. On the part of Nepal, the government should be pro-active and prepared. Delay means defeat of the purpose and goals.
As of now, the government of Nepal seems to have made some perfunctory study about the grand project undertaken by China. But essentially it deserves wider and deeper study as its implications and ramifications would be larger and greater in the socio-economic of Nepal. What benefits and advantages the implementation of the initiative would fetch to Nepal? What cost and risk it could bring to Nepal? Every project concomitant with its repercussions is likely to have some impact when it is being put into implementation. As far as it goes, the domestic situation will not be affected. The larger chunk of Nepali population appreciates Nepal’s involvement with China in executing the project, because it would make a great and diversified opening for Nepal, and its dependence on the southern neighbour would be visibly reduced. In its turn, the fear of unwanted and imperious blockade by the south would not hunt the suffocated mindset of the Nepali society. The economic dealings with the external world through the Belt and Road connectivity with China, have become a matter of certainty. It is hopefully expected that the final materialisation of the BRI guarantees the trade and transit facilities for landlocked Nepal as a significant opening for the external economic linkages in the years ahead.
Even common people of Nepal are aware that India and its current government leadership do not go well with Nepal agreeing to enter into cooperation with China. They think they will lose their economic and political leverage in their dealings with Nepal. They have been long considering Nepal as a backyard wherefrom their clout should not slip away. They have been using their influence over Nepal and its politics since India got freedom from the British imperial authorities. Nepali people understand well that India is now a mature democracy. They do hopefully expect that democracy at home would nudge Indian leadership to deal with weaker neighbours with democratic spirit and appropriate behavior in the enlightened decades of the 21st century. This is what the Nepali people wish from the Indian political leadership.
Relations between China and India are still suffering from trust deficit, although their trade and economic relations are zooming up in recent years. Whenever Nepal goes a little bit of inch closer to China, the bogey of security concern always crops up in the mind of Indian leaders. However, China in the present regional and global scenario does not feel any threat from India. Viewed from this context, it would be good if Nepali diplomatic practitioners could carefully initiate diplomatic demarche to remove the cloud of suspicion over the security concern of India. It would be far better and purpose- serving as an affirmative step towards the beginning of the tri-lateral relations, for which China is willing and Nepal is desiring with no spectre of suspicion. Diplomatic initiatives supported by diplomatic capital are essentially required to plunge into this great game of diplomacy.
True, China suspects the behavior some vested interests of the United States and the West with regard to the security of Tibet Autonomous Region, which China considers as its soft- belly as an integrated region, because some decades and years ago China experienced unwanted interference from them. In respect of the BRI as well China, and its strategists and think tanks still express their suspicion that they might stealthily obstruct the materialisation of the great Chinese initiative to connect the huge land mass of Eurasia now in the proactive offing. China does not distrust India, but believes India will finally come to join the Chinese initiative to the mutual advantages of all concerned.
Chinese experts on South Asian Affairs believe if India could get together in the activities of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) as a full-fledged member, there is no reason why India should not extend its hands for mutually useful works to materialise the BRI, which could bestow several advantages to India, especially on expanding physical connectivity. This means the trade between the two would beneficially grow in the days ahead.
Doubters look at this grand Chinese project with suspicion, and raise question until India joins the BRI. They think Nepal would remain at the crossroads in going ahead with necessary process, let alone its implementation. The frequent changes of government in Nepal in a very short span of time as also the tendency of the Nepali political leadership to wait for some glimmer of green signal from the south might cause the delay in moving further to materialise the project. Decisive approach to convince the south about the non-existence of any security threat from the project must be one of main concerns of Nepal’s diplomatic activities, and China on its part should join Nepal in removing the cloud of suspicion, which would finally create a congenial atmosphere in Nepal’s relations vis-à-vis India and China. Nepal must exhibit ability to clearly portray the situational ambience with realistic logics that could be of a great help for Nepal in further advancing its interest for more modern connectivity with the north. Nepal has never faced any security threat from China through the opening of Tatopani and Rasuwaghari check points. Hence, there should be not even a slightest sense of insecurity either for Nepal, or for India as well.
A well- known foreign policy expert of the US, Joseph S. Nye, Jr. has recently written that “Overall, the United States should welcome Chinese BRI”….“Moreover, there can be opportunities for American companies to benefit from BRI investments”. This view represents the shade of the western opinion and also indicates the possible participation in the project by the western corporate world for benefits. So, how should doubters of our region assess the impact of the project? This is the question everyone needs to think over.