Trilateral handshake

12552622_10208430003453340_8717018686448959434_nBy Suresh Acharya–President Xi Jinping has already proposed Nepal-China-India Economic Corridor, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also supported it. Establishing a permanent Trans Himalayan Nepal-China-India (NECHIN) Tri-lateral Mechanism could bring development and prosperity in one of the least developed regions of the world.

China is world’s second largest and India the ninth largest economies, according to data released by the World Bank in Washington on July 1st, 2015.  The two fastest growing (more than 7.5 percent) economies of the world have pledged to conduct common business transaction amounting to US$ 100 billion annually from July 2015.

Nepal, on the other hand, remains one of the poorest countries with most sluggish economic growth. However, as a country sandwiched between China and India, Nepal has great opportunities and prospects for development because of its rich but largely untapped resource base.

Apart from Nepal, north and south of the Himalayan range in China and India are among the most impoverished and inaccessible parts with complex business climate, distance from the sea, difficult geographic terrain, persistent power shortages, underdeveloped infrastructures, lack of transportation and susceptibility to natural disasters. Without addressing these problems with joint efforts, the whole of Himalayan trajectory could remain economically stagnant for many years to come.

The trilateral focus should be, among other issues, on energy cooperation because the whole of the northern South Asian region is under energy crisis today. Joint water and energy management will be vital for NECHIN.

The Chinese government has principally agreed to build the Trans Himalaya Betrawati-Trishuli Riverine corridor (Rasuwagadhi-Galchi) as well as develop Gandaki and Koshi Riverine corridors from Tibet to Nepal. There are already many well-functioning border-points connecting Nepal and India by rails and roads. The tri-lateral transportation system can promote trade and transit in underdeveloped but resource-rich areas of Himalayan range of three countries.

Nepal is reeling under nearly 14 hours of load-shedding on a daily basis. China has the capacity to meet Nepal’s electricity shortage. China has proposed to build Trans Himalayan Cross-border High-voltage Power Transmission Line between Kyerung (Tibet) and Kathmandu for exporting electricity to Nepal. This can be further extended to the southern border, inter-connected with the Indian grid and used for tri-lateral electricity transaction.

There are signs of trilateral cooperation taking shape. The construction of Nepal-India Cross-border High-voltage Electric Transmission Line from Darbhanga (India) to Bardibas (Nepal) is about to be complete. Proposed extension of railway lines from more than five places in India to the hinterlands in Nepal could set a milestone for future trilateral cooperation.  These innovative projects will ease movements of goods and energy in the region. The construction of a gas pipeline from Tibet’s Kyerung to Kathmandu will be yet another watershed development. China’s proposal of Comprehensive Mutual Framework (CMF) presented to Nepal during DPM and Foreign Minister Kamal Thapa’s official visit to Beijing in December last year is significant for  further extending  tri-lateral collaboration in the region.

In July 2015, India and China had signed more than 55 agreements for deepening extensive and intensive bilateral engagements. This should have made Nepali government prepare a master-blueprint on Trilateral Economic Framework (TEF). It does seem to have happened. Nepal needs to understand that though trilateral cooperation is heavily dependent on China-India relations, greater economic integration of the region will be possible only with Nepal’s participation. Nepal is resource-rich, India has ready-market and China has capital to invest. Tripartite investment will be mutually beneficial and can create unique opportunities and comparative advantages for all.

NECHIN could be an effective mechanism to help three countries combat terrorism, money laundering, illegal immigration, trafficking of women and children and drug trade.

The road and rail connectivity via Lipulekh of Nepal and Nathula pass in Sikkim of India will directly inter-connect three countries via land. Chinese rail will reach up to Kyerung by 2020 and will extend beyond. It will greatly ease multilateral trade as well as help the expansion of regional connectivity with India and other countries in South Asia. Extension of railway from Kyerung to Lipulekh, possibly by 2025, will make it not only a vibrant Multilateral Trade Hub (MTH) but also ease people-to-people contacts of the three countries, heralding an era of multilateralism. It will definitely establish Nepal as a South Asian Bridge (SAB).

Nepal must tap the opportunities coming from two giant neighbors. Extensive connectivity between China, India and Nepal will not only change the ‘face, fate and future’ of the world’s most inaccessible and impoverished parts of Himalayan region, but also prove to be a landmark development in Nepal-China-India (NECHIN) trilateral relations. The handshake over the Himalayas will help us realize our common dream, development and destiny.

(The author is a leader of RPP-Nepal and Member Secretary, Department of International Relations. This article was originally published in Asia Pacific Daily, Kathmandu issue in February, 2016)

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