South Asia And BRI
South Asia, a seat of ancient civilisation, has been in touch with China since time immemorial. Several South Asian cities, such as Kathmandu, Patna, Kolkata, Delhi, Mathura and Taxilla formed parts of the ancient Silk Road that began during China’s Han Dynasty in 130 BCE. Renowned ancient scholars from China and South Asia travelled through these routes. The Belt and Road (BRI), which Chinese President Xi Jinping launched as his signature project in 2013,carries the civilisational heritage of the ancient Silk Road. The BRI seeks to enhance connectivity, trade, investment, technology, financial integration and people-to-people contacts among the people living in Asia, Africa and Europe. For South Asia, BRI holds special significance as China shares a 5,000-kilometre border with five SA countries - Nepal, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Afghanistan. Moreover, they have enjoyed cultural, religious and commercial ties since prehistoric days. Now many South Asian nations have participated in the BRI to bring about shared prosperity through investment, connectivity and infrastructure development. Several projects under the BRI framework have picked up momentum. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor, the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) linking BCIM to Lhasa and Kathmandu, and the Qinghai-Tibet Railway connecting to Kerung, Kathmandu and Lumbini are some vital BRI projects aimed at integrating economies between South Asia and China.
The region stands to benefit from the BRI through economic corridors, trade, investment and tourism. Likewise, China will get an extended market for trade, investment and execution of big projects in the region. It is worth mentioning here that the trade volume between China and South Asian countries increased by 14.8 per cent to US$ 110 billion in 2016, with the implementation of BRI four years ago. Direct investment of China in South Asia in 2016 reached $1.46 billion, an increase by 114.7 per cent compared to 2013. Against this backdrop, experts and officials from South Asia and China the other day averred that the BRI would play an instrumental role in ushering peace, stability and prosperity in the region. The region has witnessed speedy development of free trade zones and overseas cooperation zones, contributing to growth of local income and employment in places lying along the Belt and Road. It is imperative for the both sides to promote mutual trust, exchange of ideas and cooperation to give momentum to the regional economy.
Because of its strategic location, Nepal stands to immensely benefit from the BRI. It is China’s gateway to South Asia from its western territory that has lagged behind other regions. Nepal has shown keen interest to be an active member of BRI as it enables the cash-strapped nation to bring much-needed investment for infrastructure development. It will liberate Nepal from a landlocked position through the trans-Himalayan railway, trade and investment. More importantly, the BRI is crucial for ensuring energy security and diversifying trade by reducing its excessive dependency on the southern neighbour. A technical team from China recently declared that it was feasible to construct the Kerung-Kathmandu-Pokhara-Lumbini railway. This rail track will not only increase mobility of people and goods between Nepal and China but will also connect China to the region’s biggest market, India. Thus, it requires that South Asian nations and China forge better understanding and cooperation to accrue mutual economic, social and cultural benefits through the BRI projects.