IRSHAD SALIM (Jun 14, 2018): Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli is embarking on a five-day official visit to China on June 19 as Beijing looks to deepening ties with Nepal with deals under its flagship Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and ‘trilateral connectivity” with India eventually.
The geme-changing visit is taking place at the invitation of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and less than two months after Nepalese Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali held talks with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Beijing.
“Let me say China and Nepal have agreed on long term vision of a multi-dimensional cross Himalaya connectivity network,” Wang told a joint press briefing along with Gyawali after their talks in April.
Gyawali was on his maiden visit to Beijing after the Oli-led government came to power in recent elections. Wang said China and Nepal have already signed an MOU on the BRI in which regional connectivity cooperation is a part.
“We believe that a well-developed connectivity network can also create conditions for an economic corridor connecting China, Nepal and India,” Wang said. “We hope that such cooperation will contribute development and prosperity for all the three countries,” he said.
Wang said, “China, Nepal and India are natural friends and partners. We are neighbors connected by rivers and mountains.This is a fact that cannot be changed by whatever changes taking place in the world and inside the three countries.”
PM Oli, his first visit to China after re-election, is going to discuss with Beijing specific projects under the BRI — Nepal became a part of it last year. Kathmandu has already sent a list of projects to Beijing mostly related to road, rail, energy and cross-border power transmission as early harvest projects. Dry Ports, railways, highways, aviation, power and communications will follow aimed at “trilateral connectivity”.
China has been investing heavily in Nepal in the last few years to enhance connectivity and infrastructure.
According to the Times of India, Beijing’s plans for an India-Nepal-China economic corridor are expected to be discussed.
Oli, during his earlier brief tenure as premier in 2016, had widened China-Nepal ties by signing the transit trade treaty with China to reduce the dependence of his landlocked country on India and had sought expansion of road links through Tibet besides extension of China’s railway network to Nepal through the Himalayas.
As of Wednesday, both sides have agreed to sign at least six pacts while negotiations are going on for five other deals, report Khatmandu Post.
This will be PM Oli’s second China visit over the years. In 2016, his signing the landmark Transit and Transport Agreement with Beijing was meant to end Nepal’s longstanding dependence on India for third-country trade. This time around, apart from signing the Protocol to the Transit and Transport Agreement, several other pacts and memoranda of understanding on connectivity, linking China and Kathmandu by rail, energy, tourism, opening more border points between the two neighbors and construction of petroleum storage facilities, among others, will be signed. In Beijing, Oli is scheduled to hold delegation level talks with his Chinese counterpart Li Keqiang.
There could be more agreements but the details of pacts, understandings and MoUs will be ascertained by Friday, said officials, according to KP.
China’s a Foreign Ministry spokesperson said in Beijing it looks forward to using Prime Minister Oli’s visit as an opportunity to deepen its cooperation with Nepal in the BRI framework, strengthen cooperation in politics, economy and trade, infrastructure, post-disaster reconstruction and human resource, and push bilateral relations to a new level.
Officials expect that one medium-sized hydroelectricity project, to be constructed under the BRI framework, will also be announced in Beijing after talks between the two prime ministers.
China is expecting its company Gezhouba Group Corporation (CGGC) to get back the contract to build the 1,200 MW Budhigandaki hydropower project, which was cancelled by the previous Nepalese government, according to TOI. The project may be included in BRI.
Oli will also call on Chinese President Xi Jinping and other senior leaders of the Chinese Communist party. The two sides are prepared to sign agreements on energy cooperation and construction of two all weather north-south corridors across the Himalayas, technical and economic cooperation, and Chinese assistance for human resource development in Nepal that includes training for Nepali students and professionals.
“This is the first visit of Oli to China after completion of the political transition [in Nepal]. This provides an important opportunity for the leaders of the two countries to further plan” and propel China-Nepal relations to a new height, the Chinese ministry said in a statement.
The high level entourage includes Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa, Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali, Energy Minister Barsha Man Pun, Infrastructure Minister Raghubir Mahaseth, PM’s Chief Advisor Bishnu Rimal.
Observers say China-Nepal step up towards cooperation for connectivity with India may eventually lead Delhi to prioritize South Asia’s good over anxiety against Beijing. These two consumer market giants realize their interests are more aligned than divided, and Nepal’s geographical position (a yam between two boulders’) could be the step-stone for the two to tango.