BRI And Benefits For Nepal
The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) often regarded as China’s ambitious plan of massive infrastructure and investment has emerged as a new platform for international cooperation. It has been generally accepted as a significant milestone aimed at promoting comprehensive connectivity and cooperation among the countries and people in the region and beyond. With a focus on ‘connectivity’, the BRI has gained greater currency in the international arena for the past few years.
Five major components of BRI connectivity include policy, infrastructure, trade, finance and people to people cooperation. Furthermore, both hard and soft connectivity is emphasised. While the former pertains to infrastructure development, the later signifies legal infrastructure, rules and regulations for smoothening trade and economic exchanges. Soft connectivity also encompasses the social, ecological and political conditions necessary for accomplishing the goals of infrastructure development, trade and finance among others.
BRI marks a significant shift in the global world order which the United States dictates at present. There are others who view BRI as a platform for country like Nepal to reduce asymmetric dependency with India. The initial cold response by some countries including India and U.S. towards BRI is undergoing some rethinking coming up to the second BRI conference in 2018. It is learnt that Chinese financial institutions have already provided $ 440 billion in funding for BRI projects so far. More than 130 countries of the world have signed MOU expressing their interest to become a part of this initiative.
Himalayan Ecology Conservation as the main component of BRI needs greater attention. It is significant to promote the age-old culture and civilisation of the Himalayan region for improving the livelihood of the people residing in this region. Deepening cross-disciplinary interactions between ecosystem, climate and livelihood putting biodiversity at the centre of BRI collaboration will be a significant aspect. With the issues of climate change and environment degradation posing a direct threat to the Himalayan civilisation, achieving the SDGs with respect to environment and climate change demand a clear strategic vision within the BRI framework to address the pertinent issues of the Himalaya.
While the current discourse has often been limited to international global politics and emerging world order, BRI-based deliberations from the perspective of small country is missing. For a country like Nepal aiming to graduate to the status of a developing country soon, tapping benefits from this global paradigm shift ought to be the top priority. In addition, the discussions have centred around the infrastructure dimension leaving the crucial aspect of production. However, it is welcoming to note that the Joint Communique of the Leaders’ Roundtable of the 2nd Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation has included “Trans-Himalayan Multi-dimensional Connectivity Network, including Nepal-China cross-border railway ” in its annex further signalling the intent of the Chinese government to join hands with Nepal under the BRI.
In the context of Nepal, benefits accrue in productive areas like agriculture, investment, tourism including education, health and culture. Nepal-China Economic Corridor has been repeatedly emphasised although plenty of works remain overdue to translate it into action. Finding ways of cooperation and mutual collaboration in these areas will be instrumental in our development endeavours. Nevertheless, BRI should not only be viewed in economic sense, but also as a new avenue for socio-cultural transformation.
Not only the state inclusion but societal inclusion will be equally important for the holistic development of Nepal under the BRI framework of cooperation. Nepal needs to address her local, geo-political and cultural problems to reap benefits through BRI engagement. It will be significant to invest in ground level projects aimed at enhancing the living standard of people. In this regard, exploring collaborative academic possibilities to develop a green inclusive corridor can be a stepping stone.
Though Nepal’s participation in BRI has already marked more than two years, we haven’t been able to gain substantial benefits. Nepal presented 9-point plan with revision in the earlier proposal before the second BRI conference in April this year which included Kathmandu-Kerung railway and upgrading Syaprubesi-Galchi road among others. While China seems to be interested in bringing rail to Kathmandu, no agreement has been reached in terms of investment model for implementation. In the same way, a protocol relating to the transit agreement has also been signed between Nepal and China. However, Nepal has not been able to instantly obtain any benefits by utilising it in the absence of her own productive capacities.
It is high time that the government establishes a high-level political mechanism to materialise the process of obtaining benefits from the BRI. No less significant is sharpening our diplomacy. Wider consultation with civil society, private sector and expert community should be under the government’s priority in terms of assessing the potential benefits and risks associated with our BRI engagement.
(The author is a member of the Social Science and Research Faculty at NIMS College.)