Monday, 27 May, 2024

Prospects Of Nepal-China Cooperation

Dr. Balmukunda Regmi 


Lying on the two sides of the Himalayas, Nepal and China have been enjoying cordial relations with inception of Asian civilisations. The bilateral relations were surely affected by political changes and natural calamities in the course of time, but friendship and cooperation always prevailed. Look at one century back when Nepal had come out the pro-British Rana regime and became a constitutional monarchy. China has liberated herself from the Japanese occupation, ousted the traditional republic system, and established the People’s Republic. Nepal too has undergone political transition from unitary to federal system but these changes had hardly affected Nepal-China relations and good neighbourliness.
Nepal recently celebrated the fourth anniversary of new Constitution; China is celebrating 70th anniversary of the founding of People’s Republic of China. The nations celebrated 64th anniversary of diplomatic relations. The high level political relations have deepened with the people-to-people economic and cultural exchanges. Nepal-China ties are based on Panchsheel (five principles of peaceful coexistence). In the mid-eighteenth century King Prithvi Narayan Shah, the unifier of modern Nepal, had described Nepal as ‘a yam between two boulders (India and China)’ and instructed his men to maintain good friendships with the both.
In course of time, Nepal lost the privilege of being the ancient trade route between the two giant neighbours, firstly due to asymmetrical advances in the marine route of trade, and secondly due to the decrease in self-confidence and her inability to catch up with fast the developing economies.
In 1960s, Nepal was more than happy when China offered constructing Kodari Highway between the two countries. Compared to the possible economic benefits and the then economic status of China, the highway was a very big project; China worked with high speed and completed it in 1966, with many Chinese workers losing their lives in course of the construction.
Meanwhile, China has changed very fast, especially following the reforms and opening-up policies of Deng Xiaoping. Along with his emphasis on peaceful means, Deng emphasised on the Confucian view ‘Seek the commons, reserve the differences’. Through outcome-oriented approaches like “It doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white so long as it catches mice” and “Let some areas, some people get rich first, and help other areas and people to gradually achieve common prosperity”, China ultimately succeeded in becoming the world’s second largest economy.
Transparency and economic discipline are major issues in the least developed countries. A reliable way of ensuring the proper selection, construction and maintenance of development projects involves the private sector in the process. The scribe considers that China can best help us through the direct investment. This approach directs the money towards feasible and economically viable projects, increases the efficiency of the ventures, generates employment and revenues in Nepal, and reduces our trade deficit.
We should understand what Nepal needs. Compared to low productivity, unemployment and underemployment, food security, deteriorating ecology compounded by climate change and haphazard constructions and trade deficit, connectivity seems not to be our top priority. As to the much hyped-Nepal-China railways, the learned public is not interested in Nepali investment or any loan for it; the project is welcome if the project is offered in kind as a Chinese aid. We fear any aberration will lead to economic loss to Nepal, and may drag China into “debt trap” controversy in a matter of a decade.
Nepali government and people have great respect for Chinese government and people. There have been many bilateral high level visits, and people-to-people contacts too. However, no Chinese president has visited Nepal for 23 years.
Also, Nepali people have noticed that the 19th CPC National Congress held in 2017 has enshrined “building a community with a shared future for mankind” as one of the core concepts and basic policies guiding Chinese diplomacy in the new era, and that Xi Jinping gives emphasis on “Asian community of shared future”. Nepal has participated in the Belt and Road Initiative with full enthusiasm. We hope Xi’s Nepal visit will boost Chinese FDI in Nepal, opening of Chinese market for Nepali goods, services and human resources, and free arrival visa to Nepali visitors to China.

(Dr Regmi is the chairman of Nepal-China Social Relation Academy.)