Tuesday, 19 October, 2021

Foreign policy should be conducted keeping nation's interest at centre: NC leader Dr Mahat   


Kathmandu, Oct 9 : President of the friendly country, People's Republic of China, Mr Xi Jinping is coming on a visit to Nepal in the third week of this month. This high level visit from China is taking place after long time. The Government of Nepal has made extensive preparations for the visit. In this context, Deputy Reporter of the Rastriya Samachar Samiti (RSS), the National News Agency, Bhishma Raj Ojha talked to Joint General Secretary of the main opposition party, the Nepali Congress, Dr Prakash Sharan Mahat. Dr Mahat had signed the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) brought by China in his capacity as the then Minister for Foreign Affairs. Here is the excerpt of the interview:    
1. How do you see the relations between Nepal and China?    
- China is our friendly neighbouring country. It is moving ahead on the path of prosperity and it is also a world power. The Nepali Congress does not see the relations between the two countries on the basis of which political system is in practice in China. We believe in how the relations with a particular country is going to benefit both and how Nepal's interest can be best protected, while conducting our foreign policy. The foreign policy should be conducted keeping this in the centre.    
We should not see the relations with any country with a different lens by looking at the kind of political system that country has. The Congress has been looking at the relations with friendly countries, including China and India with the same lens since the time of the first people-elected Prime Minister BP Koirala till now. The ties are fostered on the basis of how Nepal's national interest could be best served while building on the bilateral relations. The main basis of foreign policy with China is the same.    
2. How can the bilateral relations with China be further strengthened?    
- First thing is that we should put to an end our tendency to speak what the leadership of a particular country wants to hear. Every country conducts their international relations keeping what fulfills their national interest in the centre. Nobody is surprised by this. This is the appropriate approach. we should also not talk one thing while meeting the official of one country and another thing while meeting the official of another country. We should be able to put our views regarding our problems, interest and needs without inhibition even to strengthen our relations with China. We can earn the trust and support from our friendly countries only if that is done. But if we conduct our foreign policy in an immature way and without seriousness, not following this standard, the country's needs and interest cannot be fulfilled.    
3. What should be emphasized more to further consolidate the bilateral ties?    

The first thing is that we should be more sensitive regarding their interest and concerns. China has taken the issue of Tibet as the main one. On this, we should reassure China that Nepal has always been adopting the 'One China' policy and that our land would not be used against China. We are committed to this as well. The next thing is that we have our national needs and interests as well. Nepal is a land-locked country and has many development needs. China has already become a prosperous country. On the other hand, the trade deficit with China is increasing. Nepali goods should be exported to China at zero customs duty. Doing so would not have any impact on China because export of Nepali goods is only nominal volume. We can reduce the percentage of trade deficit if we could do this. Similarly, Chinese investment in Nepal should be increased and goods produced from this could be exported to China itself.    
4. How do you take the BRI project brought by China?    
- The BRI project is related to development infrastructures like transport, energy, information technology and communications among others. Nepal signed on this project when I myself was the Minister for Foreign Affairs. We had made a lot of preparations considering the country's needs and interest before signing on BRI. We signed the agreement only after making many revisions on the proposal brought by China and after we were satisfied. No much practical initiatives have moved ahead regarding the implementation of the agreement. Its implementation is an important topic.    
5. How can Nepal benefit out of the BRI project?    

- The trade deficit can be minimized if we could, while implementing the BRI project, ensure to bring in Chinese investment and export the goods produced from this investment to China. This would be in our national interest. So, we should pay attention to this. We had raised the topic of Nepali goods to be exported to China at zero customs tariff rate at that time too.    
Another, there are topics like construction of transmission line, roadways, railway and others under the expansion of the connectivity network. What we should be mindful in this is that how much benefit Nepal can get in the long run from these investments; for instance, the railway. Only talking about the investment is not sufficient. We should keep in mind whether this will give results. We cannot take loan in any sector without ensuring the returns. It is not appropriate to take loan and invest it if the investment in railway is not giving appropriate benefit. If not the agreement should be made that they (China) would construct this project on grants.    
Therefore, road is the main topic at present. More emphasis should be given to the construction of roads that can be operated throughout 12 months in northern border transit points including Rasuwagadhi. Similarly, while investing the loan in other sectors as well, things to be considered are when the investment will start giving the outcome and the loan should be taken without conditions attached and only at minimum interest rate, which would benefit the country. Attention should be given so that by investing in which project the outcome is guaranteed and the maximum number of people is benefited. It should not be like that this should be done and that should not be done without giving a serious thought. The government should make necessary preparations in this regard.    
6. The Chinese President is visiting Nepal, what should be the level of preparation for the same?    
- We are very happy that the Chinese President is visiting Nepal. We had invited him to visit Nepal from the beginning and he had replied that he would visit Nepal at a convenient time for him. We are eager to welcome him. His visit would further strengthen the relations between the two countries. Let the government be able to take proposals for the benefit of Nepal. We want that an environment is created in which China also would provide concessional support keeping in view the investment, trade, and problems in the development and construction sectors in Nepal. We should make preparations with utmost seriousness when the Chinese President comes to Nepal. We should not get stuck in petty issues. We should be focused on concessional cooperation and minimum interest rate and proper project support in important areas of priority.    
7. How will the Chinese President's visit support in strengthening the bilateral relations?    
- High-level visit from China is taking place after long. This is a matter of happiness. We are of the belief that this will certainly help in consolidating the bilateral relations. Our party always has a consistent view. We do not look at the relation with China through the party lens. We look at it from the lens of the country. We have a uniform policy since the time of popular leader BP Koirala itself that good relations should be maintained with China. Our policy is to develop the relations keeping the country at the centre.