Belt & Road enables Nepal to act for equilibrium between China and India

By Ritu Raj Subedi–With Nepal signing a landmark agreement with China to join the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the Himalayan state is set to spread its wings to explore new vistas of economic cooperation and connectivity. This will effectively enable Nepal to overcome major handicaps created by its land-locked position between the two giant Asian neighbors – China and India.
For centuries, Nepal suffered from the geographical curse that led to growing dependency on India. The latter abused its economic clout to undermine Nepal’s economic and political sovereignty time and again, imposing three separate trade blockades in the last half century. However, the Nepalese refused to kowtow to Indian diktats and attempted hegemony.

Now that the Belt and Road Initiative ensures Nepal’s access to sea via Chinese territory, India will have to think twice before applying another economic embargo to show its displeasure over the sovereign decisions of its neighbor.

The first credit in carving a path of economic freedom goes to Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli, whose government signed a score of agreements, including a trade and transit treaty with China, and expressed a strong desire to be the part of the BRI in the wake of an Indian economic embargo in 2016.

Caretaker Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, who replaced Oli’s government allegedly at Indian behest, at first showed hesitancy about signing the extended MoU on the BRI. He was under pressure from India and his own ruling partner, the Nepali Congress, not to sign.

However, the public mood was quite the opposite. The opposition parties, intellectuals and public constantly piled pressure on the coalition government to forge an agreement on the Belt and Road Initiative through different channels. As the Chinese development venture became a global project with even U.N. endorsement, Prachanda could no longer hold back.

Signing up to the BRI marks the brighter side of his premiership that will come to an end in a few weeks. This is also a positive move to rectify his lopsided foreign policies adopted since taking office some nine months ago. As the deal was struck two days before the first phase of local elections, some feared the ruling Maoist leaders would play a China card to tip the balance in its favor.

Nepal’s latest action has not only brought Nepal and China ever closer, it will also enhance Nepal’s status in the region and international arena.

Highlighting the motivation behind the launch of his signature project, Chinese President Xi Jinping noted that the Belt and Road Initiative embodied the aspiration for inter-civilization exchanges, the yearning for peace and stability, the pursuit of common development and the shared dream for a better life.

“Spanning thousands of miles and years, the ancient silk routes embody the spirit of peace and co-operation, openness and inclusiveness, mutual learning and mutual benefit,” he said during the Belt and Road Forum (BRF) for International Cooperation in Beijing on May 14.

Economic independence is the key to political sovereignty. The BRI seeks to promote “connectivity of facilities, trade connectivity, financial integration and connectivity of people.” It will further attract Chinese investment in Nepal. China has money and better management skills in the infrastructure development that Nepal badly needs to fuel its inclusive economic growth.

It also offers huge opportunities for Nepal to escape the vicious circle of poverty, economic dependency and prolonged transition. Once Nepal regains economic confidence and democratic stability, its diplomatic profile will soar to new heights. This will put Nepal in a dignified position to act as a strategic mediator between India and China.

“Becoming part of Belt and Road Initiative, Nepal will not only become a transit hub but also an equilibrium instrument in the interaction between China and India,” predicted Professor Wang Yiwei, director of Institute of International Affairs at Renmin University of China.

Having put pen to paper, Nepal and China can explore sectoral areas to set up road and railway networks in earnest. The line ministries should realign their development policies and plans, and the political parties should foster consensus viewpoint for their speedy implementation.

(Ritu Raj Subedi is an associate editor of The Rising Nepal. This article was originally published in on May 18, 2017)

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