China's Nepal policy: Equal treatment & mutual support

International Cooperation
Nepal needs to follow consistent policy and show strong political will to specify and implement the projects under the BRI framework.

By Ritu Raj Subedi September 22, 2017

With Nepal providing momentum to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China has unveiled its Nepal policy in a bid to "elevate comprehensive cooperative partnership between the two countries to new heights." Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi had presented three basic principles with regard to China's relations with Nepal during Nepal's Foreign Minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara's visit in Beijing in the first week of September.

Yuba Sahabhagita Secondary School donated by Suning and China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation was completed on Sept. 19, 2017. [Photo/Xinhua]

They are equal treatment, mutual support and common development. Wang said, "China has always adhered to the equality of all countries regardless of their size. So in the exchanges between China and Nepal, China will neither suppress Nepal nor interfere in Nepal's internal affairs; China will never affiliate political conditions in bilateral economic cooperation or ask Nepal to take sides in foreign policies."

Wang reaffirmed China's commitment to Panchasheel (five principles of peaceful coexistence) that underpins the Sino-Nepal ties. China's non-interference policy sharply contrasts the hegemonic behavior of Nepal's southern neighbor. India always presented itself as one of stakeholders of Nepal's domestic politics. It has continued this policy since 1950. As a result, anti-Indian sentiments have been running deep in Nepal for years.

Just some weeks ago when Indian Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj came to Nepal, she called for bolstering the current coalition of Nepali Congress and the CPN-Maoist Centre, while praising Maoist Centre's chair Prachanda to skies for passing the baton to the incumbent PM without any political hiccups. China has refrained from meddling in the internal affairs of Nepal.

Elaborating the second principle, the Chinese foreign minister noted that China will continue to firmly support Nepal's efforts in safeguarding national sovereignty and territorial integrity and strongly back up Nepal's continuous exploration of the development path that suits its own national situation. China is fully satisfied with Nepal's adherence to One-China policy, which is China's core interest related to territorial sovereignty and national security. Every successive government in Nepal has committed not to allowing any force to be involved in any anti-China activities.

Under the third principle comes the agenda of common development. Wang observed: "Over the years, China has attached great importance to expanding cooperation with Nepal on the basis of mutual benefit and win-win results. China welcomes Nepal to continue taking the express of China's economic development, and is willing to strengthen cooperation with Nepal under the 'Belt and Road' framework."

On May 12, Nepal and China signed a Memorandum of Understanding on the framework agreement on BRI ahead of Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing. Nepal aspires to boost road and railway connectivity with the northern neighbor by participating in China's global project.

Mahara and Wang agreed on conducting project investigation, design, feasibility study and personnel training for building the cross-border railway. Likewise, they concurred carrying out the comprehensive repair work of the Araniko Highway and the restoration and re-opening of the Syabrubensi – Rasuwagadi Highway.

Prior to signing the trade and transit treaty with China, Nepal had to solely depend on India for access to the sea. But, now Nepal can reach the sea via the Chinese territory. However, the infrastructure of the three border ports, namely the Zhangmu, Gyirong and Purang is yet to be improved. China has agreed to speed up the geological assessment and scientific design of Zhangmu port for an early resumption. The two sides also decided to upgrade the other two ports so as to construct a cross-border economic cooperation zone.

In yet another positive development, they agreed to finish the joint feasibility study on the China-Nepal Free Trade Agreement within the year, to complete 17 post-disaster reconstruction projects as scheduled and to help Nepal strengthen the capacity building of disaster prevention and mitigation. In order to enhance the people to people ties, two neighbors also agreed to successfully hold the "Nepal Tourism Year" in China.

This sort of bilateral understanding is expected to translate the BRI dream into reality. Nepal has been often nudged to come up with concrete proposals under the BRI. The construction of Budhigandaki and West Setihydro power projects and construction of two cross-border transmission lines with Chinese investment are seen as the specific projects being executed under the BRI.

Nepal needs to follow consistent policy and show strong political will to specify and implement the projects under the BRI framework.

Ritu Raj Subedi is an associate editor of The Rising Nepal.