Nepal can act as bridge between China and India

By Gopal Khanal (KATHMANDU, 15 June 2018) – A significant diplomatic agreement with far-reaching consequences was signed between China and India in Wuhan, Hubei of China on 28 May 2018 during the informal summit between Prime Minister NarendraModi and President Xi Jinping.

During the two-day informal summit, President Xi and Prime Minister Modi agreed for the first time to implement a joint economic project in war-torn Afghanistan. According to the agreement, officials of both the countries will identify the projects and work out the modalities of cooperation in Afghanistan.

The two Asian economies had earlier discussed possible cooperation in third countries. In 2010, officials of both the countries had exchanged views on possible infrastructure projects in Afghanistan. After 8 years or so, the two Asian powers, despite possible geostrategic challenges, agreed to jointly work in Afghanistan, calling it a ”ground-breaking” agreement.

“There will be more China-India projects in the region some of which will involve a third party,” Vice Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyan told a media briefing at the end of the summit. This statement has opened a ‘new era’ in Asian politics conveying solace to a country like Nepal, which is passionately waiting for FDI from China and India.

For these two politically confronting economies, this informal summit has been an important step to end the border hostilities in the post-Doklam scenario. Both the heads of the governments directed their armies to maintain calm and tranquility, calling it a ”strategic guidance” to prevent an untoward incident. This strategic understanding came to the whole South Asia as good news. Nepal’s Minister for Foreign Affairs PradeepGyawali welcomed the positive progress between the two countries in a recent interview with the Kathmandu-based Xinhua news agency.

Nepal’s cause

Let’s recollect what had actually transpired between the two foreign ministers of Nepal and China on 18 April 2018. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi proposed the trilateral economic corridor for the common benefits of Nepal, China and India. The Chinese Minister further stated that China and India should support Nepal in its quest for prosperity and development.

Meanwhile, Minister for External Affairs, Gyawali urged China and India to work in tandem in Nepal’s development efforts for which he assured a favorable environment. He said Nepal could play the role of a bridge between the two countries and reap benefits from the development of its giant neighbors.

Elaborating on China’s Nepal vision of multidimensional cross-Himalaya connectivity network, Minister Wang said there could be a prospect for an economic corridor connecting China, Nepal, and India.

Trilateral Cooperation

The trilateral cooperation is obviously Nepal’s agenda for its development as envisioned in the constitution. Former Prime Minister Dr. BaburamBhattari had avidly raised the issue with India and China when he was the Prime Minister. Beijing, however, paid no heed to Dr. Bhattarai since he was alleged of being a ‘Delhi-loyal’. Later, the then Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal picked up the issue during a brief meeting with Modi and Xi in Goa, India.

Former King Gyanendra had once pitched the concept of ‘transit point’ saying Nepal could serve as a bridge between India and China. But his proposal that time was politically motivated to counter India for the latter’s role of supporting Nepali agitating parties.

As a land-locked poverty-striven nation between the two powerful nations, Nepal has the lawful right to get access the third county trade. Nepal has already signed transport and transit agreement with China in March 2016 and protocols of them have been in the discussion.

In fact, India and China have made their commitments to link Nepal with railways. China’s Belt and Road Initiative is asking Nepal government to finalize the mega projects for which Nepal is proposing the Kerung-Rasuwagadhi-Kathmandu railway.

Likewise, India has announced that it would link Raxual and Kathmandu through railway, for which the detailed project report (DPR) would be carried by India within a year. During the state visit of Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli to India (6-9 April 2018), a separate agreement on Railway and Waterways was signed.

If both India and China have expressed their willingness to support Nepal in its endeavor to achieve prosperity, the question is why do they contradict each other on Nepal’s issues? If they are unanimous on the Afghan deal, why can’t they come together on Nepal?

It is high time that Nepal convinced both its neighbors to protect this tiny nation’s genuine interests and vice versa. Nepal can play a major role to bridge the gap between Beijing and New Delhi as both the neighbors have tremendously restored normal relations. Now that, Nepal should give a leap forward to the idea of trilateral cooperation by proposing some model mega projects.

This article first appeared in Asia Pacific Daily.

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