Source: Global Times Published: 2019-10-13
Editor's note: The article is based on an interview with Long Xingchun, director of the Center for Indian Studies at China West Normal University and a visiting research fellow with the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies of Renmin University of China.
Over the weekend Chinese President Xi Jinping paid a state visit to Nepal, the first visit by a Chinese president in 23 years.
"Now, it is the best time for Chinese top leader to visit Nepal. Political instability has been the dominant feature of Nepal over the past 20 years, with 10 prime ministers in power in 11 years from 2006 to 2017. Coupled with the complex relationship with India, all these have affected Nepal's economic and social development. Until last year, after Nepal's general election, the political situation stabilized and economic development became the top priority of the government," said Long Xingchun, director of the Center for Indian Studies at China West Normal University and research fellow at the Charhar Institute.
Without a doubt, President Xi's visit has lifted China-Nepal ties to new height by strengthening cooperation in several areas, among which the most noticeable is the construction of the trans-Himalayan multi-dimensional connectivity, which is also part of cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
Nepal has long hoped to speed up the construction of the trans-Himalayan multi-dimensional connectivity, because as a landlocked country, Nepal's transportation construction is crucial to the development of its national economy.
Nepal is a popular tourist destination, and its unique geographical location and latitude differences have given Nepal unique advantages. In addition, as a world famous Buddhist holy land, Nepal attracts a large number of tourists every year. However, the transportation network of Nepal, which mainly depends on road and air, is far from perfect. Due to the large altitude difference within the territory, most of the roads are narrow mountain roads with low transportation efficiency. Road traffic construction has been the bottleneck of Nepal's national economy.
As a Chinese saying goes: If you want to be rich, build roads. Inspired by China's tremendous development over the past several decades, particularly the improvement of basic infrastructures, Nepal is keen to upgrade its transportation network through cooperation with China. Therefore, the planned extension of the China-Nepal rail link from China's Tibet to Nepal's capital, Kathmandu, is a perfect choice, as many Nepalese believe that further development cooperation with the Chinese could help Nepal emulate its northern neighbor's successes.
Of course, Nepal also has its own strategic considerations in building the China-Nepal railway. As one of Nepal's two neighbors, India accounts for nearly two-thirds of Nepal's foreign trade and is the country's sole fuel supplier; Nepal sees the rail link with China as an alternative to its dependence on India.
Nepal has long mixed feelings about its southern giant neighbor-India. India is often accused of meddling in Nepal's domestic politics over the past half century by preying upon Nepal's landlocked status or imposing blockades. All these have increased Nepal's anxiety to reduce its overdependence on India as soon as possible.
"Currently, more than 90 percent of Nepal's foreign trade has access to international markets only through India. Now if the China-Nepal railway is built, it can not only do business with China, but also go to the world through China," Long pointed out.
At the same time, cooperation with China gives Nepal hope for the future. In recent years, Chinese aid and investment in Nepal has increased. China has helped build or upgrade highways, airports and power plants in Nepal under the BRI. After the devastating Nepal earthquake in 2015, China provided 140 million yuan (19.75 million U.S. dollars) worth of material assistance to Nepal and also promised to offer major reconstruction support. China is now Nepal's largest investor and second-largest trade partner. In 2018, trade between China and Nepal reached 1.1 billion U.S. dollars.
During Xi's visit, China and Nepal also agreed to upgrade their relations to a strategic partnership of cooperation featuring everlasting friendship for development and prosperity, a stride forward for the relationship between the two neighboring countries.
"Nepal is still an underdeveloped country. Economic development and poverty alleviation are the priority goals of the government. After the two sides have enhanced political mutual trust, China can provide more resources, capital and technology to Nepal. China can lead Nepal to the world through its own development," said Long.
Just as the joint statement by both sides released on Sunday said, China will help Nepal shake off the status of being a least developed country as soon as possible, become a middle-income country by 2030 and achieve the sustainable development goals over the same period. With the strengthened China-Nepal ties, it is not a faraway dream.
Long Xingchun is a visiting research fellow with the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies of Renmin University of China.