Monday, 27 September, 2021

Connectivity Key Agenda

Chinese President Xi Jinping has stayed the night in Kathmandu Saturday on his first day of Nepal visit. He is bracing for delegation level talks with Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli Sunday morning. His meeting with Nepali counterpart, President Bidya Devi Bhandari, Saturday evening covered a wide-gamut of bilateral issues. It was cordial and instrumental in carrying forward the mutual bond. The two leaders had a fruitful meeting during the second Belt and Road Forum in Beijing this year. In a similar manner, President Xi held meetings with main opposition, Nepali Congress president Sher Bahadur Deuba in an indication that the Chinese government wants to get engaged with all constitutional forces irrespective of their ideological orientation.

The two sides are expected to develop consensus on the core components of bilateral relations and ink accords having broader implications for boosting trade, investment and mutual understanding. In his article published in this daily the other day, the Chinese President has outlined four priority cooperation areas -- trade and investment, post-disaster reconstruction, energy and tourism. At the heart of the cooperation lie greater efforts to develop a Multi-dimensional Connectivity Network across the Himalayas. According to the news report of this daily, Nepal and China will basically focus on the connectivity issue when the highest political leaderships sit for negotiations. The lack of modern connectivity infrastructures such as road, railway and transmission lines have posed big obstacles to the smooth and unhindered movements of people and goods between the two nations. The mighty Himalayas straddle both the nations. They serve as the natural borderlines as well as a symbol of friendship and fraternity between the two nations. Yet, the tall and tricky snowy mountains have hindered the desired level of bilateral trade and other physical interactions.

According to the news report, the delegation level meeting will deliberate on Kerung-Kathmandu Railway, Kimathanka-Leguwa, Korala-Palpa and Hilsa-Surkhet road with border development, Chhahare-Tokha tunnel, up-gradation of the Arniko Highway, hydroelectricity development, cross-border fibre optics connectivity and establishment of Madan Bhandari Science and Technology University. These projects fall under the framework of Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a signature development drive of President Xi. As an active BRI participant, Nepal expects generous Chinese support to implement these schemes.

The construction of cross-border railway and opening of other vital entry points will greatly improve the bilateral connections and augment trade, investment and tourism. The Kerung-Kathmandu railway carries wider economic and geopolitical implications. It is expected to play a vital role to bring South Asia and China closer. It will support Nepal to end excessive dependency on the southern neighbour and achieve economic sovereignty. Nepal signed trade and transport and other deals with China in 2016 but these agreements are unlikely to gain ground until Nepal has robust connectivity with China. Likewise, Nepal needs competitive Chinese technical and technological expertise in building roads, railways, tunnels and hydroelectricity plants. Nepal has also urged the Chinese side to allow more Nepali products that have competitive and comparative advantage in the Chinese markets in order to reduce soaring trade deficit with the latter. In view of Visit Nepal Year 2020, it is natural for Nepal to anticipate more Chinese tourists to make the upcoming national tourism campaign a success.