Chinese Vice-premier’s Nepal Visit
Vice-premier of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China, Wang Yang is visiting Nepal from today, Monday. Vice Premier Wang is the top Chinese leader to visit Nepal since Premier Wen Jiabao visited Nepal for just five hours in 2012. For various reasons, including Chinese foreign policy of non-interference in domestic affairs of the other countries, substantial support to Nepal for development any visit by the Chinese leaders is taken quite positively by Nepalis. Moreover, in recent years the two neighbours have taken solid initiative to expand the dimensions of the relation with the signing of agreements, among others, about trade and transit route some one and a half years back and the Memorandum of Understanding on Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in May this year.
As Vice-premier Wang’s visit is being held amidst this bright background, the Nepali people have high expectation that some concrete steps would be taken in the form of agreements to put the BRI into action. There has been much talk about having railway connectivity between China and Nepal and there is high hope that some offers are made by China in this regard simply because existing economic conditions of Nepal may not be strong enough to have such connectivity as envisioned in the BRI.
Stand on Kalapani
A few days back media reports, particularly the Indian news media, highlighted the argument of Wang Wenli, deputy director general of the Boundary and Ocean Affairs of China’s ministry of foreign affairs, with regard to Kalapani, a border point between Nepal and China in Darchula district of Nepal. She was quoted as saying that Kalapani, Nepal’s territory occupied by India since 1962, was a disputed border area. According to a report in the Hindustan Times, while talking with an Indian media delegation on August 8 in relation to the China-India standoff in Donglang, she said, “The Indian side has also many tri-junctions. What if we use the same excuse and enter the Kalapani region between China, India and Nepal or even into the Kashmir region between India and Pakistan.”
What she said about Kalapani is closer to truth than what has happened because of the reference to Lipu Lekh pass, a part of Kalapani area, in the joint statement issued during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to China in 2015. Point No. 28 in the 41-point joint statement between Modi and his Chinese counterpart Li Keqiang remained pinching to Nepal. The point under the subtitle “New Avenues for Cooperation” mentions that “the two sides agreed to hold negotiation on augmenting the list of trade commodities, and expand border trade at Nathu La, Qiangla/Lipu-Lekh Pass and Shipki La.” This sentence clearly meant that Nepal has nothing to do or say about Lipu Lekh Pass which is located in Darchula district of Nepal. Nepal has been raising the issue of Kalapani, including Lipu Lekh since the time the Indian side usurped it by setting up a military camp in 1962, when India and China were at war. Nepal has presented historical maps and other documents which prove that the Kalapani area, including Lipu Lekh Pass, is Nepal’s territory, and that the pass is at least the borderline between Nepal and China, not between India and China.
And now, China seems to have realised Nepal’s genuine claim over the Lipu Lekh pass. Although Nepal has not presented any ‘position paper’ with regard to Kalapani as China has done with regard to nearly two-month-long faceoff in the Donglang where, according to China, Indian troops have tress-passed, it has provided ample evidence to counter India’s claim and usurpation of the area. This Chinese realisation and stand on Kalapani is helpful for Nepal to get back the occupied territory.
As Wang’s Nepal visit is taking place amidst the standoff between China and India over the Donglang or Doklam area near the tri-junction border area of China, India and Bhutan, it is expected that as in the past China will respect Nepal’s neutral position on the issue. Nepal has hoped that the border dispute between the two countries would be resolved peacefully and through dialogue. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs Krishna Bahadur Mahara has already urged both the neighbours to seek a peaceful settlement of the dispute.
China is the second largest trade partner of Nepal. But Nepal’s trade deficit with China, as with India which is Nepal’s largest trade partner, is huge even though the total trade volume is about 1 billion USD. To narrow the ever widening deficit, Nepal needs investment in industrial, infrastructure, manufacturing sectors so that Nepal can also export to China. Happily, China already ranks first in terms of the FDI in Nepal. Nepal has recently submitted a list of about 500 Nepali products to China to classify them under the duty free and quota free category to enhance Nepal’s export to China. As Vice Pemier Wang also looks after international economic affairs, it is hoped that a good progress is made on these issues.
Nepal has already remained firm in words and actions on One China policy. Located between the two big neighbours, Nepal has always been sensitive about the core interests of China and India. Nepalese leaders have been talking a lot about making Nepal a dynamic bridge between the two big powers so that the country also reaps benefits of the economic growth in the neighbours. They have, however, yet to come to a solid plan about how to materialise this dream of dynamic bridge. But, if there is anything that may help for this dream, it is connectivity, and for connectivity, it is hoped the BRI would play a catalytic role. Nepali leaders should know we have no choice but to reap benefits from BRI and for this Wang’s visit can be a turning point.