Oli’s Upcoming China Visit Deepening Bilateral Ties
Mohan P. Lohani
Nepal-China relations are as old as history itself. Several centuries ago, monks and pilgrims, scholars and artists from both sides visited each other’s country and played a significant role in promoting cultural connectivity. The establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries in August 1955 formally strengthened the age-old ties existing between these two close neighbours. The exchange of high level visits, from time to time, followed by people-to-people contacts, during the last six decades and a half, has further cemented the bilateral relationship. China, over the years, has been a reliable partner in Nepal’s development endeavours. Mention may be made of a number of projects implemented with Chinese assistance, such as roads, bridges, power generation and some useful factories at the initial stage of industrialisation in this country.
The people of Nepal have noted with appreciation the spectacular progress made by China since 1978 when paramount leader Deng Xiaoping introduced an open door policy with a view to modernising the economy by inviting investors from all over the world. Nepal has also been a great admirer of China’s ‘benign neighbourhood policy’ as the Chinese leaders have repeatedly and consistently made it clear that the peaceful rise of their country is not designed to pose a threat to any country in the region and beyond. China has gratefully acknowledged Nepal’s firm and consistent stand on One-China Policy, including its commitment not to allow its territory to be used for hostile activities against the friendly northern neighbour.
Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli is leaving next week for People’s Republic of China (PRC) on a five-day state visit at the friendly invitation of the Chinese government. This will be PM Oli’s first visit to China after the formation of a new government which commands more than two-third majority in parliament following elections held last year under the new constitution. Just a little over two years ago, PM Oli paid a week-long (March 20-27, 2016) visit to China during which a 15-point joint communiqué containing several significant projects aimed at strengthening Nepal-China cooperation was issued. Both Nepal and China expressed satisfaction at the conclusion of Agreement on Transit Transport, a long cherished desire of Nepal to reduce dependency on a particular country only for transit – transport facilities. After his recent visit to China, foreign minister Pradeep Gyawali is reported to have stated in an interview to a vernacular daily that a Protocol, an integral part of the Transit Transport Agreement, is most likely to be signed during the forthcoming visit of PM Oli to China, facilitating the operationalisation of the Agreement.
Geo-strategically located as Nepal is between China and India, two Asian giants and immediate close neighbours of this country, the significance of this location has been highlighted by several scholars and experts in recent years. Nepal has sought to maintain balanced relations with its two neighbours and it is in Nepal’s national interest to promote trilateral cooperation (Nepal-China-India) for shared benefits. Addressing a workshop organised by China Study Centre (CSC) with which this writer is associated as Adviser on China-Nepal-India Economic Corridor: Feasibility and Approaches in August 2016, former Chinese ambassador to Nepal Wu Chuntai categorically stated that although trilateral cooperation is a new concept, it will create a win-win situation for all if pursued vigorously and with all sincerity. Likewise, acting chairman of CSC, delivering a keynote speech at a recently organised conference in China’s Yunnan Province, observed that landlocked Nepal situated between China and India, two rising Asian economic powers of 21st century, is looking forward to benefit from the progress made by its neighbours on both sides.
While the Chinese ambassador referred to President Xi Jinping’s proposal of historic significance known as Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) which is expected to link more than sixty countries of the world through infrastructure development like roads, railways and sea-lanes, CSC acting chairman described BRI as a unique visionary contribution of President Xi Jinping, unparalleled in human history, designed to bring about common development for shared benefits through closer cooperation and larger connectivity among nations. He further added that economic corridors envisaged under BRI, which are mostly in Asia, are gradually becoming operational and expected to bring about a major paradigm shift of geo-political nature after their completion.
Nepal has already signed MoU under BRI with China and is in the process of identifying projects to be implemented under it. While specific agenda for PM Oli’s visit is yet to be finalised, both sides are expected to exchange ideas and proposal on constructing cross-border railways and railways network under BRI in Nepal. A foreign affairs expert close to the newly unified Nepal Communist Party (NCP) has indicated that the proposed railways network will be built with Chinese grant assistance. He further stated that priority will be given, during PM Oli’s visit, to expeditious implementation of the 10-point Agreement signed two years ago between the two governments. There is no doubt that the visit of PM Oli who will be warmly received by his Chinese counterpart and other leaders will elevate and upgrade Nepal-China relations so happily subsisting between the two countries for a long time to a new height further enriching and deepening bilateral friendship and cooperation.