Editor’s note: Chen Xiaochen, Director of International Studies Department of Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China (RDCY), was interviewed by the People’s Review, a news portal in Nepal. The article was originally published at People’s Review. Excerpts of the interview as given below:
Q. What could be the reason for taking initiative on OBOR by China?
A. OBOR, representing “One Belt, One Road”, is officially named “Silk Road Economic Belt” and “21st Century Maritime Silk Road” initiative. I prefer to call that “Land and Maritime Silk Road”, because this name conveys the message: OBOR is a Chinese initiative based on shared willing and interests of relative countries in Eurasia continent and beyond. The core idea, in my perspective, is for a better global development by international cooperation.
As is known to us, China has made a great progress in developing its economy and international trade and investment. Now, it is the time for China to share its own capacity and knowledge with the whole world, including our neighbours, to make our development sustainable and inclusive. Actually, the initiative, once progressively proceeded, would broaden the scope of multi-level coordination, i.e. government-government, business-business, people-people, and reinforce complementary advantages among relevant countries. China’s fundamental incentive is to help common prosperity both in Asia and across the world.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has raised 3 concepts of community – a community of common interests, of common responsibilities, and of common destiny.Therefore, in line with “three communities”, the goal of OBOR is to facilitate economic development and globalization in Eurasia continent, as well as in other regions, by advancing policy coordination, infrastructure connectivity, unimpeded trade, facilitating investment and people-people exchange.
In particular, China would love to extend the initiative to Nepal, to help our close neighbour and friend, develop Nepalese economy and look for business opportunities. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has raised the idea of China-Nepal-India Economic Corridor. Chinese firms are trying their best to help the post-earthquake reconstruction, including the first-step completion of Arniko Highway reconstruction project. In addition, it is wonderful to see Chinese tourists are coming back to Nepal again. I believe that with our two countries working together, people of Nepale have a better future to enjoy well-being.
Q. What is the response of foreign countries in this project?
A. Generally speaking, China’s initiative has been warmly welcomed bythe international society. According to our research report by June 2016, the initiative had been endorsed by 56 countries and regional organizations by signing OBOR MoUs and agreements with China accordingly.The figure must have risen since then.
In multilateral level, it is also endorsed by various international organizations, most notably by United Nations, for its connection with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Indeed, OBOR, with the objective of common development, has potentials in poverty alleviation. Most recently, the UN Security Council has passed a resolution on Afghanistan with mentioning OBOR as a way for regional economic cooperation.
Indeed, the implementation of OBOR strategy has already gained some notable early outcomes in the first three years. By June 2016, 39 freight train lines have operated between China and Europe. Chinese construction firms have signed 38 contracts to help 26 countries to improve their infrastructure facilities. China’s total aviation investment with OBOR countries would reach 30 billion dollars – including the Pokharainternational airport.
Last but not least, people are the driving force. They show welcome for Chinese visitors to their countries. I have visited many countries along the OBOR and I can feel the warmth. Not all of them have the knowledge on OBOR, they have potentials to benefit from the projects which may create jobs, improve incomes and open business for them.
Q. Among the South Asian countries, it is said that India is not happy with increasing presence of China in the South Asian countries. Therefore, India is reluctant in cooperating with China on this OBOR project. How have you observed on this?
A. South Asia is an integral part in OBOR. China would love to work with all the countries in the region. The reach of OBOR in South Asia would help to activate the economic dynamism in this region, promoting its overall competitiveness in the globalization. Therefore, it is warmly welcomed and positively responded by Chinese neighboring countries, including those in this region.
India is the largest country in this region. Chinese adhere to the path of peaceful development and win-win situation. Therefore, we genuinely hope towork with India to facilitate the practice of OBOR initiatives. I have personally visited India for times. One of the recent visits was Goa for BRICS Summits. To be frank, my travel still suffered from the conditions of infrastructure there. Thus, it gives rise to the need for more investment and better cooperation for roads, railways and 4Gs.
Actually, India has already been involved in some cooperation with China. Both countries are large share-holders of Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and New Development Bank (NDB), both are aiming to fund development projects.In addition, the two largest populated developing countries have already coordinated very well in global agendas, such as in G20 and climate change.
Of course, I also heard some comments that some Indians voices concerns over the initiative which brings benefits to both India and its neighbours. However, those comments are based on zero-sum assumptions. In contrast, OBOR is by nature an open and inclusive way to bring various countries together. For instance, the idea of China-Nepal-India economic corridor is such a trilateral initiative. Indian side has also already endorsed Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) economic corridor, which is an important one under OBOR. I hope this openness and inclusiveness with win-win perspective could be increasingly understood and welcomed by all friends.
Q. The present coalition government in Nepal is under the strong influence of India. Therefore, even after receiving Chinese proposal on OBOR, the Foreign Ministry of Nepal is said to have not responded it. Is this true?
A. China and Nepal have continuously kept close friendship since establishing diplomatic relationship in 1955. Since then, we have respect independence and sovereignty integrity for each other. We are in comprehensive cooperative partnership now. One of the successful stories behind is that China always adheres to non-interference policy for not intervening into others’ internal affairs. On another word, internal affairs should be decided by the people on their own, rather than other countries.
Of course, this non-interference policy does not mean that Chinese will stand aside when you get in tremendous trouble and ask for assistance. China has firmly supported the rescue and reconstruction after the earthquake. Within our ability and on the call of your government, it is also natural for Chinese firms to provide residential and automobile fuels for daily use. As we Chinese say, “goodneighbours are better than far relatives.”Neighbours are to help each other.
Q. During the visit of the then Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli to Beijing, in ten areas, memorandum of understandings, including transit and transportation to Nepal, were signed. They are yet to be endorsed. It is said that, the present government in Nepal, under the pressure of India, is delaying to endorse these understandings. Do you have any idea on this?
A. I am delighted to see the signing of the joint statement of our two governments in March last year in Beijing which endorsed OBOR with recent development in specific projects in and connecting Nepal. The ten-point agreement, shown in the joint statement, serves as a blue print for OBOR and Nepal. Of course, I understand on implementation part, it may take time. Nevertheless, it makes me more inspired to see, during my recent visit to Kathmandu this January, the major political parties, dynamic business and friendly local people have a growing consensus on working with China on OBOR. Therefore, I feel optimistic on the implementing of the agreed projects.
I fully understand Nepal’s long-term cultural, economic, historical and religious ties with India. That is why China is looking for three-party-cooperation in an inclusive way.
In all, OBOR is an idea working for the people. Longer roads, more convenient airports, better tourism, more trade and jobs, they are all for the people. Therefore, the best way is to create opportunities for the people, which will in turn get people’s support.
Q. The Khasa trade route has been closed since the devastating earthquake in Nepal on 25 April, 2015. When is this trade pass going to be reopened by China?
A. On 3 March, Arniko Highway Maintenance Project, a project with the Chinese aid, has been successfully completed. It marks a big move under the after-earthquake reconstruction. The closure after the quake in 2015 has already generated a diverse shock to the border trade between China and Nepal. That is why Chinese government and construction firms have worked hard to restore the facilities.
Yetas far as I knowthe remaining work still asks for more effort and closer contact, especially in dealing with some technical problems. It is estimated if everything goes smoothly, the Khasa trade route is expected to reopen this year.
As Chinese State CouncilorYang Jiechi said in an interview, China would spare no effort to help Nepal on its reconstruction.And we regard the work as a critical step to strengthen the physical interconnectivity and regional integration.
Q. Is there any possibility of Nepal becoming the transit route in trade between China and India?
A. It is a very promising idea. I think provided with Nepalese distinctive geostrategic location and the upgrading facilities network in its border area, China would be more likely to treat Nepal as an open channel or a transit route to South Asia, with the respect to your sovereignty and territorial integrity as one.
To further develop the trilateral partnership among three countries, China would love to proactively explore more possible fields for cooperation that suit the real condition of each respect. Moreover, Chinese side is doing a lot in order to build the trust.
For example, when I hosted the first-ever China-Nepal think-tank dialogue on OBOR last year in Beijing, I specifically opened the discussion on the trilateral economic cooperation. It is helpful to have such talks among think tanks in the three countries.
In particular, China has already planned to expand the Qinghai-Tibet railway to the Nepalese border, which would further enhance economic cooperation and cultural exchanges between China and Nepal, while facilitating regional interconnectivity as well.
In all, we are trying our best to assist your economy and people’s well-being within our ability. This is what OBOR means to Nepal on one hand. On the other hand, I would also encourage my Nepalese friends to find and seize the opportunity to “catch up with the fast train”. It would help your daily lives, your business and, at last, your future.