By Rudroneel Ghosh—
In an interesting piece in China’s Global Times, the region of Tibet has been described as the possible ‘gateway’ to Indian trade. The implication here seems to be that Tibet can serve as the ideal springboard for facilitating trade and connections to India and Bangladesh via Nepal. In this endeavour, Tibet’s excellent infrastructure – assiduously built up over decades by Beijing – would serve as an advantage for China. As someone who has experienced Tibetan infrastructure first hand, I can certainly vouch for this. Tibet not only has excellent roads, but also a growing network of first-class railway lines. The latter play a particularly important role in China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative of transnational connectivity.
In fact, currently the Lhasa-Shigatse line is being extended to Gyirong county. From there a connection to Kathmandu becomes feasible. China is keen on building Nepal’s railways, as is India. If both the Asian giants are allowed to do this, Nepal will not only get a huge infrastructure boost but also emerge as a key link country for India and China, facilitating trilateral trade and exchanges. Of course, China has the advantage in infrastructure building. But India’s position vis-à-vis Nepal – especially given the Terai plains – puts it in a better spot to push cross-border connectivity projects.
This is precisely why building connectivity across Nepal should not be viewed as a zero-sum game by India and China. Instead, New Delhi and Beijing should cooperate and work together. This would ensure that the resulting connectivity infrastructure operates on common platforms for the benefit of all. True, there are some concerns that this might lead to Chinese goods flooding the Indian market. But isn’t that happening already? That issue can only be addressed by New Delhi through boosting domestic manufacturing and getting Chinese companies to invest in India.
That said, it’s understandable that there’s an anti-China mood in India at the moment with Beijing being seen as backing Islamabad on Pakistan-origin terrorism. I firmly believe that India should continue pressing China on terrorism, making it plain that it must get Pakistan to crack down on anti-India terrorists. This is an absolute imperative. However, let’s also recognise the compulsions of the Chinese communist leadership – it can’t be seen being forced into conceding something. An incremental, away-from-the-media-glare approach works much better.
Taken together, Nepal can serve as a bridge between India and China. And by jointly working on Nepali infrastructure projects, New Delhi and Beijing can reduce the distance between them, both physically and politically.
( Ghosh is a New Delhi-based journalist working with the Times of India. This article was originally published in the Times Of India Online on Oct. 13, 2016.)