Nepal and China are close friends for ages. They have been maintaining cordial relations since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries in 1955. With the signing of historic Transport and Transit Agreement in 2016 that transformed Nepal’s status of a land-locked country to a land-linked one, the bilateral relations have gained newer heights. China's Ambassador to Nepal,
Hou Yanqi, has been actively working to further strengthen the bilateral relationship since she assumed her office in January 2019. She spoke to Gopal Khanal, consulting editor of The Rising Nepal, and Shreeom Shrestha, Chief Editor of the Gorkhapatra, on various aspects of Nepal-China relations. Excerpts:
How do you assess Nepal-China friendship since the establishment of diplomatic relation between the two countries in 1955?
China and Nepal are close neighbours linked by the same mountains and rivers and enjoy a long-standing friendship. Since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries in 1955, we have developed friendly ties on the basis of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence. During the last 65 years, political mutual trust between the two countries has been continuously consolidated, cooperation in various fields has been deepened under the framework of BRI and people-to-people exchanges have also been strengthened.
In 2019, the trade volume between China and Nepal reached 1.5 billion dollars. Nearly 170,000 Chinese tourists came to visit Nepal in 2019, and China has become the second largest tourist source in Nepal. According to the statistics of the Nepali side, China's total aid to Nepal (including grant and loans) ranks first among bilateral development cooperation partners of Nepal. China's grant amounted to 106 million dollars, ranking first among all multilateral and bilateral development cooperation partners of Nepal. The two sides have always supported each other on issues involving each other's core interests, becoming a model of equality, friendly cooperation and mutual benefit between countries of different sizes. It is outstanding that the Presidents of two countries realised the exchange of visits last year and both sides agreed to upgrade our relationship to a strategic partnership of cooperation featuring ever-lasting friendship for development and prosperity during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Nepal. Our relationship has entered a new era and faced a new historic opportunity for further development.
Looking back at the last 65 years, we have always been good partners in the same boat, and always helped when the other one faces difficulties. When Wenchuan in China was hit by earthquake in 2008, the Nepali government and people tried their best to support us. When Nepal suffered from the devastating earthquake in 2015, China launched large-scale rescue activities promptly and participated actively in post-disaster reconstruction. Up to now, among the 25 China aided post-earthquake reconstruction projects, 12 projects including the first phase of Kathmandu Ring Road Improvement Project and Kathmandu Durbar High School Reconstruction Project have already finished, while other projects are progressing in a steady and organized manner.
After the outbreak of COVID-19 this year, we have once again supported and helped each other. When China was in the most difficult time, the Nepali government and people expressed their support to China in various ways. With personal care of the leaders of both countries, China also donated medical supplies to Nepal in its difficult times, assisted Nepali procurement of medical supplies in China, held video conferences for pandemic prevention and control between experts from both sides, worked hard to help ensure the supply of medical goods and daily necessities in Nepal, which have provided firm support to Nepal in combating the pandemic.
BRI is China's flagship programme to support the developing countries around the world. What exactly is this programme? What is its focus in Nepal?
BRI (short for the Belt and Road Initiative), put forward by President Xi Jinping in the year of 2013, is China's proposal to build a Silk Road Economic Belt and a 21st Century Maritime Silk Road in cooperation with related countries. The initiative focuses on promoting policy coordination, connectivity of infrastructure and facilities, unhindered trade, financial integration, and closer people-to-people ties through extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits, with the goal of building a community with shared future for mankind with political mutual trust, economic integration and cultural inclusion. This is not only an inheritance of the spirit of the ancient Silk Road, but also goes along with the demand of globalization.
Since the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding on bilateral cooperation within the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative between China and Nepal in 2017, Nepal has officially become one of the important participants of BRI and the cooperation between the two countries has entered in a new stage. The two countries actively explore to better align development strategies and strengthen cooperation in areas of connectivity, infrastructure construction, post-disaster reconstruction, trade and investment and people-to-people exchange.
According to Chinese statistics, the contract price and business volume of Chinese engineering contracting in Nepal in 2019 had reached 1 billion dollars and 638 million dollars, with an increase of 12.9% and 39.6% year-on-year respectively. Chinese direct non-financial investment in Nepal in 2019 had reached 98.7 million dollars, an increase of 96.1% year-on-year.
The top priority of BRI cooperation between China and Nepal is connectivity. Both sides are actively building the Trans-Himalayan Multi-Dimensional Connectivity Network and boosting cooperation in railways, highways, ports, aviation, communication, transit transportation, etc. At present, Nepal has adopted a series of strict measures to prevent and control the pandemic, so the Chinese projects in Nepal are naturally affected. However, BRI cooperation between us is a long-term process and will not be fundamentally affected by the pandemic. We will promote the resumption of the projects prudently based on pandemic prevention and control, and promote pragmatic cooperation in various fields between the two countries to achieve more fruitful results.
Nepal and China signed a historic agreement on Transit and Transport during the first premiership of Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli. Chinese President Xi Jinping, while in state visit of Nepal, had said Nepal has been the land-linked country referring to this historic T&T Agreement. What else can China do to make Nepal land-linked from traditional land-locked status?
China and Nepal signed the Transit and Transportation Agreement in March 2016 and the Protocol on Implementing Agreement on Transit and Transport in April 2019, which provides Nepal with access to seven Chinese sea and land ports for third-country trade. This is an important measure to deepen the cooperation between China and Nepal. It ushered a new phase of transit transportation cooperation between the two countries and will play an active role in further enhancing the level of connectivity and building an all-round mutually beneficial cooperation pattern under the framework of BRI.
As Chinese President Xi Jinping put it during his state visit to Nepal last year, China will assist Nepal in transforming itself from a land-locked country to land-linked one by developing Trans-Himalayan Multi-Dimensional Connectivity Network. The governmental departments of both countries are working together to implement the consensus the two leaders reached putting connectivity as the top priority of BRI cooperation between the two countries. Especially during the pandemic, we have reopened border points to assist Nepal to transport medical supplies and daily necessities at the request of the Nepali side, which have played an important role in Nepal’s fight against the pandemic and guarantee people’s normal life and production. Of course, the connectivity across the world's most complex geographic environment is not easy. It takes long-term and unremitting efforts.
We assume China has been observing Nepal-India relations including the latest border dispute at the northwestern point of Nepal. While commenting on the dispute, some people maintain that Nepal raised the issue at the behest of some other power, indicating to China. What is your view in this regard?
Firstly, I’d like to reiterate that the Chinese side has always respected for sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Nepali side. The issue of Kalapani involves Nepal and India. We hope the two countries will resolve their differences properly through friendly consultations and refrain from taking any unilateral action that may complicate the situation. China's position on this issue has not changed.
Secondly, I’ve noticed that some irresponsible media and individual groups are always trying to create confusion between right and wrong and divert public attention to China. China and Nepal have already signed the Boundary Treaty in 1961 and the boundary has been delimited and demarcated without any dispute. Over the years, the two sides have a good cooperation in matters such as boundary and dry ports affairs. During the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Nepal last year, the two sides signed the Agreement on the Boundary Management System. Both sides are strengthening cooperation on boundary affairs to avoid interference from outside and promote common development. I have also noticed the statement issued by the Foreign Ministry of Nepal on June 25th and it has been made clear that the relevant reporting is totally baseless.
Thirdly, all the parties and people in Nepal support the government for updating political and administrative map. This is the measure by Nepali government to firmly safeguard sovereignty and territorial integrity, and comply with the public opinion. Any so-called “Nepal at the behest of China” accusation is baseless and comes with ulterior motives. Such accusations are not only insult to the will of the independent country of Nepal and the consensus of the Nepali people, but also are endeavours directed at disruption of China-Nepal relations.
COVID-19 has afflicted the entire world including China, which was the first country to report novel coronavirus cases. But China controlled it with least human casualty. How was it possible?
China was the first country to report novel coronavirus infected cases, so we have accumulated a lot of experience in fighting against the pandemic. I’d like to share some of the experiences. Firstly, we have strong leadership and efficient administration. Under the command and guidance of President Xi Jinping, we concentrated resources and mobilized all the government organizations to join the battle. We implemented strict nationwide control measures, pooled together medical resources to Wuhan, the epicenter of the pandemic and extended adequate financial support to fight against COVID-19. Based on pandemic situation, we declared different risk levels in different areas, from low to medium to high, and implemented differentiated and region-specific measures of prevention and control to manage the movement of people.
Secondly, China insisted on scientific prevention and control measures. We implemented the policies of "early detection, early reporting, early isolation and early treatment", "immediate trace on close contacts" and "testing all who need to be tested, hospitalization of all who need to be hospitalized, isolating and treating all who need to be isolated and treated".
Thirdly, we did our best to treat and save lives at all costs. We regarded raising the cure rate and lowering the fatality rate as our top priority. The best personnel and supplies were rapidly dispatched to the front line of the fight against the virus. Employing proactive, science-based, and flexible ways of treatment, they did everything possible to treat each and every patient, from an infant only 30 hours old to a centenarian. The goal was to save every single life whatever the cost.
With these great efforts, China's pandemic situation has been basically controlled, but it still faces challenges such as the resurgence of the pandemic situation and imported risks. China will continue to fully implement a containment approach centering on preventing both case import and domestic resurgence, adhere to timely discovery, rapid disposal, precise control and effective treatment, to protect the safety and health of the people and to fully restore the economic and social order.
There are many myths and hypes about China relating to Covid-19 pandemic. Despite all these rumours, China has been supporting all the countries hard hit by the pandemic. How do you feel when you hear such baseless comments?
Since the outbreak of the pandemic, China has shared information with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the international community timely in an open, transparent and responsible manner, implemented strong control measures, bought time and made sacrifice for containing the pandemic. Even though we were in huge demand for medical supplies, we have managed to provide surgical and N95 masks, personal protective equipment (PPE), nucleic acid test kits and other assistance to more than 120 countries and a number of international organizations. Besides, we provided assistance to many countries in their commercial procurement from China, and shared our prevention and control experience with the world including video conferences and by medical teams. China's efforts have been widely appreciated by the World Health Organization as well as other countries.
Regrettably, some western countries and politicians politicized the pandemic and used it as a weapon to stigmatize China out of national and even personal interests. It was nothing more than shirking their responsibility, covering up the weakness of their pandemic prevention and holding onto their votes. This “infodemic” is slur on the achievement of China’s fight against the pandemic, on the sacrifice of Chinese people and on the international cooperation actively conducted by China. It goes against the joint efforts of the people all over the world to fight against the pandemic and poses a huge threat to all humanity just like the coronavirus.
We firmly oppose these irresponsible and baseless comments and call for the unity of countries all over the world to fight against the pandemic. No country can stay safe alone in front of the virus. Vicious rumours and groundless accusations can only make it more difficult for the international cooperation necessary to fight against the pandemic. China will continue to support all the countries including Nepal to fight against the pandemic, carry out international cooperation in the field of public health, and make its own contribution to all mankind’s victory over the battle against the pandemic.
Finally, would you like to convey any message to Nepali people during this hard time?
I would like to say that true gold does not fear fire. The friendship between China and Nepal is true gold and has withstood the tests of time and the changing situations. No matter how hard the situation is, China will always stand with Nepal and face the difficulties together. I believe that with the efforts of the governments and cooperation between our two countries, we will definitely win the final victory against the pandemic. I’m looking forward to that day to come soon!
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