BRI Implementation Nepal Should Overcome Obstacles

Narayan Upadhyay

Ever since the China-sponsored ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) made headlines across the globe, the Nepali authority too has shown its traction towards this initiative on which China will be investing billions of dollars in many countries willing to be a part of it.
Nepal government signed the BRI agreement with China on May this year at the BRI summit held in China. Despite the much publicised agreement, the suspicion regarding Nepal’s total commitment to the BRI agreement implementation still haunts many-- think tank members, media persons, politicians and many others from both sides of the Himalaya.
Nepal’s internal situation and the outside pressures are believed to be the prime factors behind the sluggish progress on the BRI front in Nepal. Likewise, the fear that Nepal will not be able to pay the interests and loans provided by China under BRI might be another reason behind the lukewarm support of the Nepali authorities to the Chinese initiative that aims at constructing roads, railways, infrastructures and power grids in the neighbouring as well other countries of Asia, Africa and Europe and provide connectivity through land and sea to bolster economic development of these regions.
A senior member of the Chinese think tank, Chinese Institute of the International Studies (CIIS), has maintained that Nepal is not very forthcoming in implementing the BRI, as per which Nepal will be receiving soft loans and loans from the Chinese government and firms to build infrastructure, roads, railways and power projects in Nepal.
The political instability which has resulted in the frequent changes in government in the country and the influence of India on Nepal seem to be the major reasons that have obstructed the Nepali authority to go for implementing the agreement wholeheartedly.
Senior research fellow of CIIS, Jiang Yuechun, in an interaction with the visiting Nepali media delegates in Beijing last week, opined that Nepal appeared to have inclined less towards implementing the BRI agreement, also known as One Belt, One Road (OBOR) programme of the Chinese government.
Jiang suspected that Nepal was not forthcoming in implementing the accord because of the Indian pressures on the Nepali authorities and politicians. India is not a signatory of the BRI agreement. Being a closer neigbhour to India, the pressure from the southern neighbour is palpable and India wants that Nepal should not get drawn towards China, which would allow China to have more presence in Nepal.
However, Jiang, an expert on China-Japan relations, maintained that India itself might not remain aloof from BRI for long because Japan, an ally of India, had somewhat showed its inclination to be the part of maritime route under the BRI. If Japan, which had taken part in BRI Summit in May, could express its inclination, then its ally India might also join the initiative in one way or other.
Despite Jiang’s optimism, only time will tell whether Indians would become the part of the initiative in which the Chinese would pouring massive funds, amounting to approximately one trillion US dollars.
It is also pertinent to mention that the Indian authorities and media often term the BRI as a security and military challenge to the region; so it often discourages Nepal not to invite Chinese enterprises to undertaken development projects in Nepal. Many in Nepal think that the pressure from India has barred Nepal from taking up the BRI agreement wholeheartedly. Back in May when Nepal participated in the Summit and signed the agreement, the Nepali head of the government, the then Prime Minister, didn’t attend the BRI summit. The government sent a delegation under the leadership of deputy prime minister and minister for foreign affairs to attend the event and sign the BRI accord. The Chinese side is said to have taken note of this as many government and state heads had attended the Summit.
Many in Nepal view BRI as China’s campaign to boost its slowing economy by investing in foreign projects. Several back home, mostly the economists and policymakers, fear that the country may not be able to pay the loans provided under BRI, hence the country’s tepid support to the implementation of the agreement.
In a query why Nepal is not forthcoming in implementing the agreement, another member of CIIS, Wang Ruibin, said Nepal may or may not opt to implement the agreement as the choice is hers. He believed that Nepal is under Indian pressue regarding BRI.
However, another member of Yunnan think tank, Guo Suiyan, of China (Kuming) Academy of South and Southeast Asian Studies, said that Nepal is an important partner for China and no one should view Nepal from Indian perspective. She maintained that Nepal could be an important bridge between China and India through connectivity. Nepal can be an important factor of BRI as the ambitious initiative is based on the ancient Asian trade linkages. Nepal and China can establish closer ties through the continued interactions among high officials, businessmen of two nations and people-to-people contact.
In a nutshell, all Chinese think tank who interacted with the Nepali media persons, were of the view that Nepal and China should get closer and launch various development programmes under BRI so that the Nepal’s ambition for development could be addressed.
They also viewed that the idea and principle behind the Belt and Road Initiative, a brainchild of Chinese President Xi Jinping, aims at brining economic prosperity to China’s many neighbouring countries by helping them through funds and technology in building infrastructures such as roads, railways, power grids as well as establishing connectivity through maritime routes and sea ports.
Indeed, the choice of expediting the implementation of the agreement with the northern neighobur is with Nepal, the country that appears at crossroads regarding the BRI. Should it express its commitment to implement the BRI accord, then the nation can get enough support from China in undertaking various infrastructure building programmes by receiving soft loans and loans from the Chinese authorities and firms. The nation can opt to delay or not to implement the accord owing to the internal and external pressures. The fear that it cannot pay back the loans to the Chinese authority may also compel the nation not to go for implementing the agreement.
Many commentators, media persons and think tank in the country, however, view that if Nepal fails to implement the agreement earnestly, then it will certainly find itself on a losing side. Because the BRI, an ambitious Chinese programme, has provided it with an opportunity to build development infrastructure to help establish a good connectivity with the neighbouring nations and other parts of the world and provide it a chance to give a boost to its economy as lots of investments can be attracted from foreign nations should the nation possess sound infrastructure such as roads, railways, industries and power and energy. Most importantly, the successful execution of programmes and projects undertaken under BRI will vigorously contribute to consolidating the relationship between Nepal and China.




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