Nepal Foreign Affairs (KATHMANDU, March 1 ) – Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s visit to China in March looks all set to project Nepal’s neighborhood policy in a fresh outlook, in both optics and in substance. Here is how.
Nepal’s cabinet meeting on the Leap Day, 29th of February, instructed its related agencies to begin planning for Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s visit to China. Looking at the ongoing preparations, Nepal’s foreign policy projection looks all set to make a giant leap forward after this visit.
Although the groundwork was long laid- since Oli was elected the prime minister of Nepal in October- formal preparations now will give shape and direction to the visit, which includes finalizing a date, agenda and agreements.
In optics as well as in substance, this visit is certain to outdo all recent foreign visits of Nepalese heads of government because both China and Nepal are leaving no stones unturned to make this one a milestone.
In terms of date, Prime Minister Oli has been invited by his Chinese counterpart to visit China to participate in the 2016 Annual Conference of the Boao Forum for Asia (BFA). The conference is scheduled to take place in the city of Boao, Hainan province of China; from March 22 to 25. In all likelihood, Prime Minister Oli will start his five-day “state visit” on 19th March, meet his counterpart Le Keqiang , call on president Xi Jinping, and hold high delegation level talks in Beijing on 20, 21 and 22. He is also likely to make an observation visit to a modern agriculture site. He will address the BFA on 24thand return back to Nepal. A program to interact with Chinese entrepreneurs and potential investors is also planned.
In terms of optics, the visit will be given the status of “official/state visit”, which is as much a respect to the elected leader of Nepal as the signal to India, which had provided the status of “state visit” to Prime Minister Oli’s trip to the southern neighbor in February. Oli will be given a grand reception in the Great Hall of the People, a rare Chinese honor to foreign dignitaries. PMOli will be the first Prime Minister of Nepal, after Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal in 2009, also from his party CPN-UML, to pay an official visit to China.
Then comes the substance part, which is certain to break all brackets of the past and will match the optics.
China and Nepal have agreed to open six more border points through the Himalayas: Korala, Kimathangka, Larke, Lamabagar, Yari and Olangchungola. Other than Lamabagar, which is connected with China by a gravel road thanks to the Upper Tamakoshi hydro project, infrastructure in these points is extremely poor. A connectivity agreement between the two countries has been planned. This will speed up construction in the Chinese side while China will extend support to Nepal’s efforts in improving highways to link these border-points with Nepal’s major trade cities.
Since Tatopani port, the only trade connection to China so far has been closed after the 2015 earthquake, China has shown interest in opening up Kerung as an alternative. Tatopani is likely to stay closed for next two years as China plans to upgrade infrastructure and customs management systems. The entire township of Khasa in the Chinese side has been relocated to a safe area up northnear Kuti. But Araniko Highway, which is linking Nepal and China since 1960s, will be expanded into a four-lane all-weather highway in Chinese grant assistance. This means, even if the trade through this route is blocked now, transport is coming back to operation soon, with an objective of upgrading it into the most viable trade route between the two countries by next year.
Besides China will build Pokhara and Gautama Buddha Airports, which contribute to the improvement of Nepal’s airlines infrastructure. An agreement to link Nepal with China’s Quinghai-Tibet Railway in the next decade is another remarkable development to expect.
Petroleum and trade
Nepal has historically provided India a monopolized market for petroleum products. Unfortunately, India has been using this as a leverage to influence Nepal’s domestic political events. The most painful experience came with the new constitution of Nepal last year.
On 20th September 2015, Nepal promulgated a historic, progressive constitution. Instead of welcoming this event, India’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a two line statement to “note” the promulgation of “a constitution” in Nepal, a silliest diplomatic conduct to undermine the outcome of the democratic struggle of Nepalese people. Next day, it vomited another statement, which said that Indian transporters were facing security threat in Nepal. It was a manufactured truth, as Philosophy says, “Truth is not an objective substance waiting somewhere to be discovered;it is carefully manufactured by shaping events over time”, only to set the stage for its ill-intended economic blockade.
To shape events in Nepal to suit its ill-motive, Indian spooks used the MadhesiMorchaas pawn. Its rogue elements were unleashed on the ground to disrupt transport in Nepal. Nefariously claiming that Nepal’s new constitution was not inclusive, India imposed a five month economic blockade. The worst affected sector at this time of hardship was petroleum trade, the result of India’s market monopoly. Western world didn’t speak for Nepal because India was using the pretext of “China’s growing influence in the region” to justify its inhuman blockade.
To break this Indian monopoly, Nepal and China have prepared to sign three agreements of economic cooperation: Petroleum Agreement, Trade and Transit Treaty and Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement. Issues of taxation and logistics are yet to be sorted out to make the petroleum deal happen. For the country’s betterment, if logistics are hindrances, Nepal government must be prepared to make substantial one-time investment for Nepal-China Petroleum Pipeline. China has always proposed to build reservoirs and storage facilities in Panchkhal of Kavre or any other place. Such Pipeline, expected to be some 400 km long, will bring down the transport cost to zero, and provide long term solution to our petroleum worries. Time has called upon us to think out of the box for the nation.
New consulate office, president Xi’s visit
In addition to the existing Nepalese consulate offices in Hong Kong and Lhasa, Nepal is keen to open a third one in Chengdu city, to which Kathmandu has direct flights for several years. In reciprocity, China will be opening its consulate office in Pokhara.
Chinese president Xi Jinping is most likely to visit Nepal in November 2016, together with India, where he is scheduled to attend the BIRCS summit meeting.
Nepal-China relations to this date have remained largely problem-free. Prime Minister Oli’s visit is adding historic value to this embrace across the Himalayas.