Nepal-China In New Era Of Connectivity

Nandalal Tiwari

Talking to journalists at the Tribhuvan International Airport upon his arrival home wrapping up six-day official visit to China, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli rightly said on Sunday that the railway agreement between the two countries was the most significant agreement of all signed during his visit to the northern neighbour. However, he cooled down the expectation that the construction of the cross border railway would begin soon as he said that decision on the construction of the railway would be taken in a mature manner, and not in haste. Even then, the signing of the MoU on Cooperation for Railway Connectivity has made it certain that sooner or later Nepal and China will have railway link. Certainly, the trans-Himalayan railway will start a new era of Nepal-China connectivity, and it will be a brilliant example of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) if it is constructed as part of the project.

The joint statement issued on the visit of Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s visit to China terms the railway agreement as the most significant initiative in the history of Nepal-China relations. Point No. 6 of the statement reads, “Both sides expressed happiness over the signing of the MOU on Cooperation for Railway Connectivity. They underscored it as the most significant initiative in the history of bilateral cooperation and believed that it would herald a new era of cross-border connectivity between the two countries.”
No doubt, this agreement is as historic as the trade and transit one signed in March 2016 during PM Oli’s visit to China. But, it should be noted here that the protocol to put the agreement into action which was expected to be prepared within two months from the signing of the agreement is yet to be signed. If PM Oli’s statement that decision on railway construction will not be taken in haste is put together with the present status of the trade and transit agreement, it is likely that historic initiative will take decades to materialise, and PM Oli will fail to keep word that Nepal will have railway connectivity with China within five years as pledged in the election commitment of the left alliance during the provincial as well as federal elections in Nov/Dec 2017. But, China also has its role to play with regard to financing the cross-border railway and consider Nepal’s proposal to build the railway under grant assistance. It is appreciable that “Both sides agreed to negotiate the financing modalities of the projects on road connectivity, railway connectivity, hydropower and transmission lines, among others, proposed by Nepal.”
It gives high hopes to Nepalis that Chinese President Xi Jinping has also shown special interest in building the cross border railway between Nepal and China. According to China Global Television Network, during his meeting with PM Oli on June 20, Chinese President Xi said, “China stands ready to strengthen cooperation with Nepal in infrastructure connectivity, post-disaster reconstruction, trade and investment under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative.” And railway construction is a part of infrastructure connectivity, which in part is one of the five main areas of cooperation under the BRI which was launched by President Xi himself in 2013. Nepal has already signed the MoU on BRI cooperation. And now, according to the joint statement, “The two sides agreed to intensify implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative to enhance connectivity, encompassing such vital components as ports, roads, railways, aviation and communications within the overarching framework of trans-Himalayan Multi-Dimensional Connectivity Network.”
It is a fact Nepal needs heavy investment for rapid development and it is good to express readiness to take measures to attract foreign investment. One of the outcomes of PM Oli’s visit to China is that Chinese investors will have better investment environment in the days ahead. The joint statement reads, “The Nepali side conveyed its readiness to facilitate more Chinese investment in infrastructure building and in other productive sectors. In this regard, the Nepali side expressed its willingness to welcome further investment from Chinese enterprises and, in accordance with Nepali laws and regulations, simplify the related approval procedures on applications related to land, taxes and visas in an efficient manner, and create a favourable investment climate and business environment for Chinese enterprises.”
Reopening of the Tatopani border has been a big concern in Nepal. And there has been achievement to this end during this visit. According to the joint statement, “Both sides agreed to reopen the Zhangmu/Khasa port at an early date; improve the operation of the Jilong/Keyrung port; ensure the sound operation of Araniko Highway; and carry out the repair, maintenance and improvement of Syaphrubesi-Rasuwagadhi Highway and push forward the construction of a bridge over Karnali river at Hilsa of Pulan/Yari port at an early date. To ensure the inter-connectivity and smooth running of the infrastructures above, the Nepali side will complete the disaster treatment around the Tatopani Port and along the Arniko Highway, maintain Kathmandu-Syaphrubesi Highway in operational condition.”
It is a happy matter that Nepal will have branches of Chinese banks, which will surely promote trade and tourism between the two countries. “In order to facilitate and promote trade, tourism and investment between the two countries, the Chinese side agreed to support the Chinese funded banks to open branches in Nepal in accordance with relevant policies and regulations. In this context, the Nepali side agreed to provide necessary policy and regulatory support for such banks to enter into Nepali markets.”

China now stands as the second largest source of tourists in Nepal. It is highly positive on the part of China to assist Nepal for promoting tourism. The Chinese side agreed to encourage the Tibet Autonomous Region as well as Sichuan, Yunnan and Qinghai and other provinces to enhance cooperation in the areas of trade, tourism and investment, among others. The Chinese side welcomed Nepal’s participation in the China International Travel Mart (CITM) this year, and would continue to help arrange Chinese media and travel agency delegations to visit Nepal and encourage relevant Chinese agencies to further promote Nepal in China in view of upcoming Visit Nepal Year 2020. The Chinese side agreed to continue providing Chinese language training in Nepal for Nepali tourism professionals to help promote Nepal’s tourism industry.
It has been long that Nepalis have been expecting a visit of Chinese President Xi to Nepal. His visit will surely take Nepal-China relations to a new high, and that will also help promote Nepal’s tourism in China. In this context, it is expected that PM Oli’s ‘invitation to the Chinese leaders to visit Nepal within this year’ will be responded.

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