By Gopal Khanal (KATHMANDU, 15 October 2020) – It has elapsed one year since Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Nepal. On October 12 last year, President Xi had paid a state visit to the Himalayan nation. It was historic for a Chinese President to visit Nepal after a gap of 23 years. President Jiang Zemin came to Nepal in December 1996. The first anniversary of the visit of Chinese head of state is recalled here in different ways.
Analysts, who have been closely observing the progress of bilateral relations between Nepal and China, have viewed that the visit had set the forthcoming milieu of bilateral relations, but the follow-up actions thereafter couldn’t give a momentum to the vital agreements having long-term impacts. They are yet to be implemented effectively.
The highly-awaited visit was historic by all terms. Such high-level visits are obviously complemented by some bilateral agreements on mutual cooperation; the visit was not distinct from that viewpoint. The strongest message President Xi delivered to his Nepali counterpart, leaders and people was that China would support Nepal to achieve its lofty motto – ‘Prosperous Nepal, Happy Nepali’. It was an example of Chinese modesty and thoughtfulness towards Nepal. President Xi had then announced that Nepal-China relations had entered the phase of ‘strategic partnership’ from the level of ‘trusted friendship’.
This enhanced proximity under the new banner of ‘strategic partnership’ had been interpreted paradoxically – some have interpreted it with extreme loyalty while others objected to it with irrational paranoia. Such imbalanced comments have put it in wrong perspective and dragged Nepal into unnecessary geopolitical dispute.
Such expressions of strong approval and disagreement on the visit should have been answered by the actions on the agreed issues, identifying and expediting the joint projects on the basis of priority. But the apathy and lacklustre visibly apparent in both the sides has raised speculations and questions on the sincerity of implementation.
It is true that Nepal and China have achieved unprecedented occurrences in principles in the form of agreements, but the relations practically remained on the same stage, which it used to be. We should be mindful that such euphoric expression merely on the agreements and understanding might adversely lead the relations towards desperation. Therefore, the immediate need is the implementation of the accords in earnest.
During the visit, Nepal and China had signed 18 memorandums of understanding and two letters of exchange to boost connectivity, trade, economic assistance, and security relations. These agreements were significant but the affinity and warmth demonstrated by President Xi to Nepal was extraordinary.
In the current history of Nepal-China bilateral relationship, the last four years since 2016 have been remarkable with the signing of game-changing agreements such as Transport & Transit (T&T) accord. This momentous deal was the bold and major shift in the history of Nepal’s foreign and neighbourhood relations. President Bidya Devi Bhandari and President Xi had recalled the outstanding achievements including the significant T&T, which have taken the bilateral ties to ‘newer heights.’
Similarly, President Xi had fully backed the Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s dream of transforming Nepal into a land-linked nation from land-locked one, stating that China would help Nepal to realise this dream. By transforming Nepal into land-linked country means to equally explore the development opportunities with both India and China on the basis of interdependence.
During the meeting with President Xi, Prime Minister Oli had mentioned Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) as flagship programme from which Nepal could be enormously benefitted. Nepal had joined BRI in 2017. Under the BRI, China has committed Nepal to support the major large-scale projects in the areas of infrastructures, industry, roads, hydropower and energy. But, it is unfortunate that Nepal has not even identified the projects to be built under the framework of BRI.
China is not only a neighbour of Nepal, it is a global power that is exercising to influence global politics and diplomacy. Nepal needs more support from China than China needs support from Nepal. China has many things to offer to the world and it has been supporting the underdeveloped and developing nations economically and strategically, too.
Moreover, Beijing has adopted a practical peripheral diplomacy under which the neighbourhood nations would be supported financially to develop their economies. Nepal shouldn’t worry about India-China relations since New Delhi and Beijing have understood each other and realised their constraints, too.
What Nepal now should do then? Nepal should immediately prepare the list of the projects to be built under BRI and submit it to the Chinese side. Further delay in it will complicate the situation. Similarly, the agreement on Trans-Himalayan Multi-dimensional Connectivity Network should be practically moved forward. Three corridors – Koshi, Gandaki and Karnali – must be opened up as per the agreements. At least, both the sides should initiate building infrastructures in these trading points.
Time to act
The difficult geographical terrain, which has so far remained as a stumbling block to the development of bilateral relations, is not a barrier. Such claim should be supported by action. Even the existing two land routes -Tatopani in Sindhupalchowk and Rasuwagadi in Rasuwa district, are not in full-fledge operation. They have hit a snag frequently. We have much talked on the opportunities Nepal should explore from China but have done little to translate them into reality. It’s a time to act. Time and tide wait for none.
This article first appeared in The Rising Nepal.