Deepening Nepal-China Relations

Narayan Upadhyay

Nepal’s long and strong friendly relation with the northern neighbour will once again be on focus during Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali’s five-day official visit to China. The Foreign Minister’s trip will be the first high level visit from Nepal after the new government led by KP Sharma Oli assumed office. After the completion of PM Oli’s three-day state visit to India this month, the government has sent the Foreign Minister to China, apparently to set the tone of the PM’s visit to the northern neighbour. It is expected that during the Nepali Prime Minister’s future visit to China, of which date has not yet been fixed, the Nepali side would urge the Chinese counterpart for initiating the works for the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Nepal.
Several issues pertaining to the Nepal-China bilateral relations will be discussed during the Foreign Minister’s trip. The discussions are likely to focus on the important issues between the two nations such as the Chinese funded projects in Nepal under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the trade and transit agreement, the opening of the several Nepal-China border points to facilitate Nepal’s trade with China and imports to Nepal.

Agreements
On the eve of his visit to China, Gywali told media he would be discussing with the Chinese side about all the past Nepal-China agreements. Several of these projects have not yet started or completed in their stipulate time frames. However, the Foreign Minister would not be discussing about the much-hyped Budhigandaki Hydropower Project which was scrapped by the erstwhile government of Sher Bahadur Deuba, citing some technical shortcomings in the agreement reached between the Nepali authority and Chinese company during the premiership of Pushpa Kamal Dahal.
Talks will be also held on the proposed railway lines from China to several cities of Nepal. Despite being a signatory to the BRI, Nepal has not yet been able to initiate any China-funded big infrastructure projects, much to the chagrin of the Chinese side. Gyawali and his Chinese counterpart are expected to hold dialogue on the ways to strengthening the ties with both nations. Both sides would agree to start the exchange of high level visits between the two nations. It is expected that 2018 will be the year of high level visits of dignitaries of the both countries. The Nepali and Chinese Prime Ministers as well the Presidents of two nations may undertake the visits to deepen the ties. Gyawali said Nepal wanted to continue its age old relationship with China based on the principle of Panchasheel, non-alignment, all international laws and values of the world peace.
Significantly, while deepening the ties with China, the visit of the Foreign Minister would certainly centered around how Nepal, a small country sandwiched by two bigger economic giants, would maintain a balanced relation with northern neighbour that would not raise the heckles of southern neighbour, who regards Nepal as its traditional ally and close friend and that provides huge economic supports our country. This is a fact everyone would acknowledge that the geopolitics does not permit Nepal to maintain close relation with one of its immediate nation at the cost of other.
PM Oli had swept the general elections mainly on the plank of nationalism that surged following the 2015 Indian blockade. Nepal’s relation with India had soured during his first tenure as PM in 2016 after the imposition of Indian blockade on Nepal. Oli had sought Chinese support to ease the crisis in Nepal when India continued with its border closure for almost five months. During then, several accords were signed with China, including the famous Trade and Transit Agreement to facilitate trade with China and utilising Chinese routes for Nepali imports.
As relationship of the two governments of Nepal and India went from bad to worse, Nepal’s closeness to China apparently grew many folds, giving heartburns to the Indian authorities. Several of new projects, including the expansion of the Chinese railway lines and bigger infrastructure projects to be funded by China were then mulled in Nepal. It is said that present Oli-led government enjoys strong backing from China, which has in recent times increased its presence in Nepal. The poll-alliance between Oli’s UML and Prachanda’s Maoist Centre, which was reportedly supported by China, proved to be a ‘ game-changer’ in Nepali politics.

Priority
All these incidents suggest lately China and Nepal have been coming closer. The visit of the Nepali Foreign Minister is also an indication of this fact. The incumbent Nepali government accords higher priority to its relation with China, which has proved to be a friend in need in the time of crises in the past. Nepal, on the other hand, can boost Chinese confidence by sticking to its “One China Policy” and not allowing Nepali soil for anti-China activities.
When the visiting Nepali delegation led by the Foreign Minister, urges the Chinese side to reopen the border point of Tatopani, the Nepali side must be able to make the Chinese side feel confident that anti-China elements would not take undue advantage of this highly sensitive border point. In the final analysis, the Foreign Minister’s visit will focus on reinvigorating the Nepali-China friendly relations while setting the tone for the coming visit of our prime minister to China. In the meantime, the Foreign Minister would be eyeing to maintain a balanced yet friendly relationship with China that would not prove dearly to its age-old ties with the southern neighbour.

 

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