Dr. Upendra Gautam
Climate is improving in the Trans-Himalayan region. The Himalayas and the Bay of Bengal, geo-environmentally an integrated unit, face prospects of economic connectivity as well.
China’s President Xi Jinping is all set to engage on a state visit to Nepal reportedly on 12 October 2019. It will be two days one-overnight visit. He will be arriving Nepal at a time that would have heralded Nepal into great festivals of family reunion, prosperity, and indigenous New Year’s best wishes, rising sun, and making offerings for being more virtuous and blessed.
Nepal and China have made comprehensive preparation for the visit. The preparation has been multi-dimensional inclusive of diplomacy, politics, knowledge-ability, security, logistics, infrastructural, managerial and environmental aspects. Think tanks and policy research institutions in China along with their counterparts in Nepal have provided their respective analysis and evaluation on state of affairs in Nepal and their nexus with South Asia, the implications of major power relations in the Trans-Himalayan region and local factors of instability and insecurity to the relevant agencies in both the countries. As an integral part of the preparation, the Nepali and Chinese state and non-state organisations have helped create an environment in Nepal which gives a sense to the Nepali people that arrival of President Xi to Nepal is rather a visit of an old friend. Indeed, President Xi’s visit to Nepal is taking place in the background of grand tradition of visit of paramount leader Deng Xiaoping in 1978 and former president Jiang Zemin in 1996.
A section of media and politics in Nepal have tried to belittle the visit as a stopover or an appended one. It has also taken time to play an utterly unfair “Fear-China” card in the society by projecting that the visit will be used to interfere in Nepal’s internal affairs by infiltrating into organs of “brotherly” Nepal Communist Party-led government in Nepal. By implication, such a conspiratorial view seems to be targeted more on India to goad our southern neighbour for more extreme interference in Nepal so that the latter forever remains unstable, poor, weak and conflict-driven. The major objective of such disinformation seems to prevent Nepal from harnessing its Central Trans-Himalayan position for early harvesting of comparative social and economic benefits. On its part, under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) framework, China has designated Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) as the key region for opening up trade, transit, technology, cross-border special economic zone services and cultural exchanges between China and Nepal, and between China and South Asia via Nepal. For sharing China’s prosperity with the neighbours, China has started building free special economic zone with a public and private joint investment of 60 billion Yuan in Sigatze, extending high voltage electricity transmission line, and expansion of rail and roadways east-ward of Sigatze. In the next 10 years, Sigatze is poised to become China’s economic hub for South Asia as a whole. Lhasa’s Economic and Technological Park’s cooperation in building a Rs. 64 billion Friendship Industrial Park in Damak of eastern Nepal is a part of creating new economic opportunity in the region.
China has systematically put into practice the local measures to insure bilateral security, a prerequisite for peaceful international development, by promoting sources of local livelihood and social protection. The relocation of 2015 earthquake-affected 527 families from Zangmu-Khasa area to Sigatze speaks eloquently of these measures.
China has very well understood old Cold War tricks of fragmentation perpetuated generally through a section of media and politics. As a result, this time, Chinese government in partnership with the government of Nepal has shown sustained determination to plan and undertake the high level visit. Dialogue with China’s policy research institutions educate us that China has better understanding of South Asian colonial past and the baggage it needs to carry in consequence. The trend in China to promote the Institute of Asian Studies in general and Institute of South Asian Studies in particular in top ranking think tanks, academia, universities and autonomous centers of learning indicate China’s increasing willingness and capacity to discern and understand issues in the neighborhood.
In the changed situation in the Trans-Himalayan region mostly contributed by China’s technological and economic prowess, President Xi, top leader of an internationally friendly China, is making a state visit to Nepal. People of Nepal have very high expectation from this visit. They expect the visit will help in very considerately and strategically prioritising and critically planning joint actions of far reaching value. Due formalisation of joint actions during the visit should include a phased and mixed connectivity package of Trans-Himalayan railway, road and energy transmission system. This becomes the top singular priority in view of the Joint Communiqué issued by the Leaders’ Roundtable of the Second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation which included the Nepal-China Trans-Himalayan Multidimensional Connectivity Network on the list of economic corridors. Not only Nepal and China, the world has witnessed the declaration of the joint communiqué. Further, this becomes the top priority because unhindered trade and transit, tourism and cultural exchanges are simply a function of such efficient connectivity package based on clean green energy supply. Second top priority naturally will be cross-border special economic zones (SEZ). Employment is at the heart of quality socio-economic activity. This requires industrialization and cross-border SEZ offers the opportunity.
Matching institutional reform, reforms in relevant policy, laws and institutions, will be essential to implement the joint actions in partnership smoothly. While doing so, local people and local government units should be provided clear niche in the planning and development of the top two priority actions. Their role will contribute in maintaining cross-border social and infrastructural security and intangibly enhancing the value of investment greatly.
Nepali people would like to believe that the national will of Nepal and development opportunity offered by the BRI will come together during President Xi’s state visit to Nepal. President Xi, whatever result of this visit, seems to have already created enabling condition for China, Nepal and South Asia to establish a Trans-Himalayan air corridor of connectivity - a core theme in Xi Jinping Thought.
(Dr. Gautam is the Secretary General of China Study Centre Nepal)
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