By Trilok Sharma (KATHMANDU, 7 May) – You should have been in last month seminar ‘Belt and Road Initiative and South Asia’ to know from insightful presentations of foreign affairs scholars of Nepal, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and China, why Belt and Road Initiative (B&RI) is a must project at moment for South Asian countries for win-win cooperation and genuine pursuit of common development. The seminar was jointly organized by China Study Centre (CSC) and Nepal Institute for Strategic Studies (NISS).
The common conclusion of all panelists was that too much patience and hesitancy could be penitence, just step in and take ride on Chinese fast train of development B&RI. Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi and Pakistani diplomats had a sense a pride and hope as they have now become a part of this initiative.
Special features and support gain
Since the inception of this ambitious concept in 2013 by Chinese President Xi Jinping, a lot of progress has been made as it has crossed the boundary of trade and investment and has equally increased the interactions in culture, education, science and technology, tourism and other areas.
The initiative is based on three major pillars- extensive consultation, joint contribution, and shared benefits focusing exclusively in trade and investment with no military gambit elsewhere. Because of this large chunk of think tanks across the globe has now started to view B&RI as a new Chinese development model which offers win-win situation and poses no threat to existing international governance mechanisms.
As the initiative is in line with the spirit of the UN Charter and 2030 Agenda, the UN Security Council in March of this year, has urged further efforts to B&RI and other developmental efforts. Indeed, this is the first such great victory of project at global forum.
This has further helped to garner support. Till date the initiative has already won support of nearly 100 countries and about 50 cooperation agreements have been signed so far.
However, despite UN’s thumps up, political commentators in the west is still reiterating their old notion that BRI is a modern-day version of the United States led Marshall Plan after World War II for reconstruction in Europe.
At a time when the United States and Europe development has reached to saturation level and lacks clear vision on new world order, commentators strongly believe this initiative as major step of China to project its power beyond borders and has all potential to reset the new world order of 21st century.
Situation in South Asia
The region with about one fourth of world’s population has made it both the most populous and the most densely populated geographical region in the world. As most of the countries are Least Developed Countries (LDCs) – no country, including the India, has enough money to meet its infrastructure needs and is eager to welcome B&RI.
China shares common boundaries with five out of eight countries of South Asia and is the major investors in infrastructure in the region.
Asian Development Bank (ADB) in its this year February report has estimated that the South Asia alone needs $6,347 billion in building all sorts of transport connectivity by 2030 in order to maintain growth, eradicate poverty and offset climate change.
The Indian government has its own estimation in this context. It has estimated that over the next decade India needs $1.5 trillion as infrastructure expenditure to undertake a massive modernization of decrepit railways and roads linking each of its 700,000 villages.
The situation was no different in Pakistan. But being early member of B&RI, the country is expected to immensely benefit from China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) – a $55 billion project of 3,000 km network of roads, railways and pipeline.
Encouraged from possible outcomes of CPEC, Bangladesh has also signed on loans worth over $24 billion to build power plants, seaport and railways, during Chinese President Xi’s last year October official visit to Dhaka. Sri Lanka being the pioneer member of B&RI is already immensely benefitting from Chinese-funded investment and infrastructure.
May forum and Nepal
The Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation scheduled for May 14-15 in Beijing is going to be the first such mega event of this initiative where more than 1,200 delegates are expected to attend, including at least 28 heads of the state and representatives from more than 60 international organizations. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres too will be leading UN delegation to the forum.
Krishna Bahadur Mahara, Deputy PM and Finance minister, in last month Kathmandu seminar while delivering his speech confirmed that he would be leading the Nepali delegation and Nepal will take this as an opportunity to sign the final MoU on Belt and Road.
Indeed, this would be one welcome step of PM Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ led government to please northern neighbor. Intelligentsia has blamed PM Prachanda for compromising on Nepal’s foreign policy with India during his last year September official visit to India and practicing the diplomacy of ‘No’ with northern neighbor bringing down Nepal-China bilateral relations to historic low.
In this year March, PM Prachanda made weeklong visit to China with not even a minimum level of preparation from Nepal’s side as he was resolute from inside not to sign any agreements which could provoke India and pose threat to his PM post. He exactly did so. However, didn’t fail to promise that in forthcoming May forum of B&RI Nepal will put it in the list of signatory nations. To strengthen his promise, he even proposed to extend Chinese railway from Kerung to Kathmandu and then to Pokhara and Lumbini under B&R framework.
Interesting, this is the same PM Prachanda who neither implemented any landmark agreements signed by his predecessor PM KP Sharma Oli with China nor participated in any of the programs related with China inside the nation during his eight months long tenure. Even in last month seminar initially he had promised to participate as chief guest. Giving nasty surprise to all, his all time loyal finance minster Mahara appeared in his place.
One after another such act has made suspicious to both Nepali and Chinese side. Still it is hard to believe that Nepal will really sign a deal with China during May forum given the fact that Delhi is against this initiative and will be participating in forum for mere formality. Surely, upcoming May mega event will witness the truth of PM Prachanda’s pledge.
If failed this time, undoubtedly Prachanda will be the most hated Nepali prime minister for Chinese side who repeatedly lied and betrayed and put all efforts to jeopardize cordial age-old Nepal-China relations.
Better if timely Prachanda come out of Delhi’s ghost and keep his promise which is truly in favor of nations interests.
Sharma is an executive member of Nepal-China Mutual Cooperation Society (NCMCS).
MA in Conflict, Peace & Dev. Studies, TU
Executive Member, Nepal-China Mutual Cooperation Society (NCMCS)
General Member, Asian Institute of Diplomacy & International Affairs (AIDIA)