Nepalese Oil tankers leave for China


Nepal Foreign Affairs (KATHMANDU, October 30). Nepal has traditionally depended on India for oil trade. Having gone under an embargo third time in the last forty years, Nepal’s new Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli, who inherited the embargo from his predecessor Sushil  Koirala, decisively turned to China as his attempts to normalize relations with India were refused by New Delhi.

Two days after the petroleum deal with China, Nepal Oil Corporation dispatched 12 Petroleum tankers amid a ceremony to bring petrol that China has made available in grant. More tanker trucks will leave for China tomorrow. This is a huge diplomatic coup current government of Nepal has scored. This has proven that Nepal is not merely playing “China card”, as blamed by India, but is deliberately focusing to diversify its trade with China and other neighbors. Until a month ago bringing Oil from China was not only unthinkable in Nepal, many thought it would be practically unfeasible.

At one point, rumors did round in Kathmandu that Chinese oil was of lower grade and would be unable to drive machines in Nepal. All this is now trashed as facts have been just opposite. The Euro-4 standard gasoline from China is actually a better quality fuel than what Nepal has so far been using.

The deal with north came at a time when Nepal has been reeling under acute fuel shortage for over a month as India, the fuel supply monopoly for Nepal, imposed an oil-embargo to advance certain demands of the political parties centered in Province 2 of Nepal. The province, which comprises 8 districts of Nepal’s 75, has a dominant Madhesi community, which India thinks is closer to it than the rest of Nepalese. However, the hill groups of Nepal have historically remained the supplier for Indian Army.

Among the major demands of the Province 2 parties include constitutional guarantee of the naturalized citizens (people who migrated to Nepal and acquired citizenship at some point in their lifetime) to reach to the top state positions like the president. Besides, the province 2 parties also want the size of their state to be bigger. Both are refused by rest of Nepal as such demands are clearly against Nepal’s national interest.

Nepal has traditionally depended on India for oil trade. Having gone under an embargo third time in the last forty years, Nepal’s new Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli, who inherited the embargo from his predecessor Sushil Koirala, decisively turned to China as his attempts to normalize relations with India were refused by New Delhi. A working visit of Nepal’s Foreign Affairs Minister Kamal Thapa was not seen enough by New Delhi to improve relations. The Minister later said that New Delhi had promised improvements, but failed to translate them into action.

On 28 October, Nepal and China signed an MoU for bilateral oil trade. The details of the MoU have not been disclosed, but informed officials in Nepal and China confirmed that China would supply at least one-third of Nepal’s total oil consumption from now on. The infrastructure in the Nepalese side is weak and need huge upliftment but they are in a condition of operation without big hurdle. The government is said to be planning roads improvement campaign by mobilizing Nepal Army as well as local people so that within six months, two major crossings could be connected by all-weather highways. China has also expressed willingness to support.

From the Kerung town of Tibet from where petrol is being brought, Katmandu is just about 200 kilometers. The distance to Terai and east or west of Nepal is also similar to what it used to take to transport oil from India.

Nepalese are frustrated with the democratic world which has stayed mostly quiet about the Indian oil embargo. Analysts in Kathmandu believe that India must have used the pretext of China’s rise to pacify the West on this, while at the same time blaming Nepal of playing China card. In the whole process, India’s doublespeak came to the fore: it instigates, and even finances, province 2 parties for agitation; and under the same ruse, imposes oil embargo on Nepal.  India has consistently refused the blockade and has asked Nepal to “set the house in order first.” But its support to the Province 2 parties has pushed a political solution further away.

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