Nepal to be a ‘bridge of cooperation between India, China, says Oli

23 Jun 2018

With Nepal prime minister K P Oli during a five-day visit to Beijing going on an overdrive in signing agreements and memorandums of understanding with Chinese president Xi Jinping, mandarins in the South Block could be wondering if India has been left out in the cold.
As if to assuage Indian concerns, Oli on Sunday made a statement in Beijing that Nepal would maintain close ties with both of its neighbours while maintaining an independent foreign policy.
According to PTI reports from Beijing, Oli said since the formation of his government, Nepal has intensified engagements with both neighbours. "We have made it clear that we pursue an independent foreign policy and a balanced outlook in the conduct of international relations," he said. "In foreign policy conduct, our two neighbours naturally receive top priority and with both of them, our relations are broad, comprehensive and multi-faceted."
In an interview to China's state-run Global Times, asked whether Nepal will be the "land of the competition" or "bridge of cooperation" between China and India, Oli said Nepal had remained a sovereign and independent nation throughout history.
"We are firmly committed to not allowing our territory to be used against the sovereign interests of our neighbours. We have the resolve to maintain this and we naturally expect similar assurance from our neighbours," he said.  Given this policy percept, "I see a good prospect of cooperation among our three countries," he said.
Oli said Nepal's developmental needs were immense and needed meaningful and mutually beneficial economic partnership with both its neighbours. "We believe that Nepal can serve as a bridge between our two neighbours. In fact, we want to move from the state of a land-locked to a land-linked country through the development of adequate cross border connectivity. Our friendship with both neighbours places us in an advantageous position to realize this goal," he said.
The most important initiative that Oli and Jinping have taken in the past few days is an agreement on building a railway link connecting Tibet with Kathmandu, which Nepalese Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli saw as an alternative trade route for supply of commodities to the landlocked Himalayan nation. Indian concerns are, however, understandable because such a trans-Himalayan railway link has obvious strategic implications.
On the railway link, Oli said: "Cross-border connectivity is our top priority. Both sides have discussed developing a multidimensional trans-Himalayan connectivity network. This will enhance overall connectivity between our two countries." The Kerung-Rasuwagadhi-Kathmandu-Pokhara-Lumbini railway project had received priority in the partnership between India and China. According to reports, the new railway line would connect the Gyirong trading port in the city of Xigaze in Tibet with the Nepali capital Kathmandu. The detailed project planning report (DPR) of the Kerung-Kathmandu rail line would be completed in about a year and a half. The construction would be completed in another five years. From Lhasa to Xigaze in Tibet was connected by rail in 2014.
In 2016, Oli signed a transit trade treaty with China to reduce dependence on India for transportation of goods to Nepal. This was in the wake of the Madhesi agitation in Nepal when it was alleged that India had enforced a blockade on the border to ensure that essentials did not flow into the landlocked Himalayan country.
The other major Indian concern about Oli’s visit is taht Nepal has agreed to intensify the implementation of MoU on China's Belt and Road Inidiative. India has expressed strong reservations over the BRI as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) traversing through the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) is its flagship project. On BRI Oli said: "This is an important initiative launched by President Xi Jinping with the aim of promoting connectivity and cooperation among the countries in the region and beyond. We believe that the BRI should be beneficial to all the participating countries.” (EOIC & Written with PTI reports)