By Birat Anupam—
Outgoing Prime Minister K.P Sharma Oli is widely praised for having a landmark Transit Transport Agreement (TTA) with northern neighbor China during his official visit to China in March this year. Prime Minister-in-waiting Puspa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ and Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba have publicly pledged to implement all treaties that were inked during Premier Oli’s visit. Prachanda reiterated to implement the accords with China during his meeting with Chinese Ambassador to Nepal Wu Chuntai. Deuba had spoken positives of treaties Oli signed in a Parliamentary Session days ago. In this way, there is positive gesture on implementing TTA, widely appreciated by general Nepalis who bore the brunt of India-imposed periodic trade embargoes, the last one in 2015 after Nepal didn’t pay heed to include Indian inputs in Nepal’s to-be-promulgated constitution by the sovereign Constitution Assembly. However, given India’s high-handedness, hegemony and micromanagement in Nepal’s internal matters, it is still uncertainty on this front.
Depth of the doubt
One may question on the doubts surfacing on implementation of TTA. These doubts are natural given India’s visible interference in Nepal’s domestic political plays. Why did India, in 1960, reduce Nepal’s access to all Indian ports as stated in mutual treaty of 1950 and just gave access to commercially smaller Haldia port of Calcutta? Why did India oppose construction of Kodari Highway, the then only roadway linking Nepal and China, during the tenure of king Birendra? Why did Indian press raise issues of India’s diplomatic failures in Nepal just after Nepal signed TTA with China? Why do , time and again, Indian press and diplomats fear much-touted China’s railway projects in Nepal under China’s grand One Belt, One Road (OBOR) project? These are the open-ended questions on suspicions Nepalis are making on full-fledged implementation of Nepal’s TTA with China. And, with the arrival of Prachanda-Deuba alliance in new cabinet , the alliance extensively portrayed by Indian press and politicians as ‘pro-India’ has added doubts towards this end.
TTA with China, the nation Nepal shares the border of around 1415 km, was not an incredible issue in itself as Nepal has already signed TTA with Bangladesh, the nation Nepal doesn’t share any physical border. Still, TTA holds great sense and satisfaction of Nepal’s ‘India-locked’ situation in terms of international trade and transit. Having signed TTA PM Oli openly said that previously India-locked Nepal turned into land-linked nation. India’s periodic economic embargoes and its crippling impacts on every walk of life was crystal clear cause of huge euphoria exhibited by Nepali citizens as Oli officially signed TTA with China, something not accomplished by former monarchs and republican PMs.
PM Oli’s entourage to China from March 20-27 was not just an another edition of traditional visit, but was historically crucial as Nepal did not only sign TTA but also made agreement on importing fossil fuels and developing energy and infrastructures, something badly felt when the Indian blockade was peaked. Point 8 of joint press release of Nepal and China has clearly stated on this. 8th point says,’ The Chinese side agreed to build oil storage facilities for Nepal, and will send exports to Nepal to carry out feasibility study on oil and gas resources. The two sides agreed to establish a Dialogue Mechanism on Energy Cooperation to facilitate the long term planning of cooperation in this area, including trans-border power grid, hydro-power and solar power, etc.’ This point accommodates almost everything Nepal desperately deeds. Developing renewable energies like hydro power and solar power and studying feasibility of fossil fuels in Nepal itself and also to develop trans-border power grid is incredible for Nepal. This multi-pronged treaty is the great boost for up-coming economic and developmental partnership with world’s second largest economy and the founding member of the equivalent of World Bank named Asian infrastructure and Investment Bank (AIIB) on which China has highest share and say.
So far as studying feasibility on oil, gas and other ores are concerned, Chinese experts has arrived and submitted reports on areas where these resources are available. Likewise, Chinese firms has drafted the feasibility studies on China-Nepal railways. In a symbolic implementation of TTA, China sent its international freight train from Lanzhou, the capital city of northwestern China’s Gansu province, to Kathmandu reducing 35 days of transportation hour through Indian route. This move prompted India to allow access of Bishakhapatanam port, the cheaper and more easier port for Nepal than the existing port of Calcutta.
Indefensible for economic federalism
So-called experts and economic commentators say it is almost impossible to operate commercial trading between Nepal and China. They point out treacherous road-track and topographical hassles to justify their stance. However, if we look back to our history, Nepal is found to have established people-to-people trade relations since 7th century, long before Nepal established diplomatic relations with China in 1955 and long ago China took control over Tibet. Besides two functional trading points like Tatopani and Kerung, there are other half dozens trading points between Nepal and China. Kimathanka of Sankhuwasabha, karola of Mustang, Olangchungola of Taplejung, Larke of Gorkha, Yari of Humla, Lamabagar of Dolakha and Mugu border points are other commercially feasible trading points and they can function well after clearing bottlenecks on infrastructural and diplomatic sides. These trading points can be boon for all geographical locations of Nepal as they are located on different topographical intervals on various north-south alignments. To-be-formed 7 provinces can be benefited from these Sino-Nepal trading hubs individually. Much-touted Chinese railways network in Nepal may further boost this prospects. This reduces single dependency on particular border point and helps create economic federalism in federal republic Nepal.
Therefore, all post-Oli administrations must make their best efforts to implement TTA with China. It is not like what some term ‘China card’ and ‘anti-India’.Instead, It is pro-Nepal. As said by established writer Saurabh and poet Manu Manjil, Nepal was unnecessarily faraway from China and unnecessarily closest to India. In order to maintain this equidistant status economically and diplomatically with China and India, Nepal must pursue speedy efforts to implement TTA with China. If this doesn’t happen , our newer generations will have to feel pains and perils of imminent Indian trade embargo.
(Author is freelance journalist based in Itahari,Sunsari.)
Emai: [email protected]