Why is Nepal lagging Behind the BRI Connectivity despite High-Level Participation?


The third International Belt and Road Forum will be held in Beijing on October 17-18. This year’s BRF will have the theme “High-quality Belt and Road Cooperation: Together for Common Development and Prosperity,” and officials from more than 130 nations and 30 international organizations are anticipated to attend, according to Chinese officials.

Chinese President Xi Jinping will deliver the keynote address at the opening ceremony of the forum and will hold a reception for guests attending the summit including Russian President Vladimir Putin. Putin is leaving Russia for the first time since the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague issued a warrant in March following the Ukraine war last year.

More than 30 international organizations, including 150 countries, have signed the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which was launched by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013. According to Chinese media, three high-level sub-forums including connectivity, green development, digital economy, and six seminars will be held along with the opening of the forum to mark the 10th anniversary of BRI.

Before the Forum China issued its white paper on BRI entitled ‘Building the Belt Road: A Key Pillar of the Global Community with a Shared Future for Humankind’ presenting the Chinese solutions to global development issues.

In the 10 years since the launch of the BRI, the cumulative value of imports and exports between China and other BRI participating countries reached $19.1 trillion, with an average annual growth rate of 6.4 percent, the white paper said. Two-way investment between China and other BRI countries has reached $380 billion, including $240 billion from China. The BRI connects the dynamic economic circle of East Asia with the developed European economic circle.

The BRI, which started with Xi’s idea 10 years ago, has evolved into a reality from a perspective and into a concrete project from a general framework, the white paper said. White Paper claims that China is a country that adheres to peaceful development and the Chinese Communist Party is the largest party keeping the whole world in mind. 

The BRI has taken initiatives to end inequalities in development with globalization.” he economic globalization dominated by a few countries has not contributed to the common development that delivers benefits to all. Instead, it has widened the wealth gap between rich and poor, between developed and developing countries, and within developed countries. Many developing countries have benefited little from economic globalization and even lost their capacity for independent development, making it hard for them to access the track of modernization. Certain countries have practiced unilateralism, protectionism, and hegemonism, hampering economic globalization and threatening a global economic recession. ……….. The BRI targets development not only for China but for the world at large”- reads the whitepaper.

Nepal Still Behind in BRI Connectivity

The BRI’s guiding principles, according to China, are comprehensive consultation, combined effort, and shared benefits. BRI is a collective project including all stakeholders, not just China alone.  

China has kept infrastructure connectivity as an important direction of BRI; also people-to-people contention, connecting their heart. Nepal and China had well bonding people-to-people contact with connecting hearts, but lagging behind in infrastructure connectivity.

Nepal and China signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in 2017 ahead of the first edition of the International Forum to partner under the BRI framework between the two countries. It has been six years since Nepal signed the agreement. However, Nepal is not being included in the BRI project.

In every high-level talk between the two countries, the topic of ‘quality construction of belt and road’ is discussed. But, not a single project under the BRI framework has been carried out.

President Bidya Devi Bhandari participated in the second BRI forum. Joint Communiqué of the Leaders’ Roundtable of the 2nd Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation had included the Nepal-China Trans-Himalayan Multi-dimensional Connectivity Network, including Nepal-China cross-border railway as its Economic corridors and other projects catalyzed and supported by connectivity. The Trans-Himalayan Multi-dimensional Connectivity Network also came to light during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Nepal in 2019. Xi pledged to transform Nepal ‘land-linked’ from ‘land-locked’.

The recent visit of Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ to China on September last week brings this issue once again to Lights. Chinese leadership adheres to their commitment on their support to Nepal on her aspiration of development and transformation of Nepal land-linked from land-locked. But, due to the lack of preparations of Nepalese officials, no concrete progress has been made.

China’s white paper released on October 10 indicates this. In the white paper, Nepal has been placed in favor of the construction of the Air Silk Road. “China has signed bilateral air transport agreements with 104 BRI partner countries and opened direct flights with 57 partner countries to facilitate cross-border transport. Chinese enterprises are active participants in civil aviation infrastructure cooperation with partner countries including Pakistan, Nepal, and Togo, helping to develop the local civil aviation industry,” the White Paper reads.

Pokhara International Airport was built on a Chinese loan. China wants this project to be kept under the BRI framework, but Nepal has rejected it. The whitepaper includes Chinese assistance in emergency management during the 2015 earthquakes in Nepal.

The white paper counted the number of projects under the BRI. Of these, the construction of economic corridors and international corridors has been described as fruitful. The constructions of infrastructure connecting Europe and Africa, the Peshawar-Karachi Expressway, the Karakoram Highway, and the Lahore Rail Transit Line have come into operation under the China-Pakistan Birthik Corridor.

Similarly, the China-Mongolia-Russia Economic Corridor, China-Thailand Railway, China-Laos Railway China Kyrgyzstan-Ukraine Road have made progress in operation, the white paper said. In addition, the direction of the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar economic corridor has also progressed, the white paper says. The feasibility study of the China-Myanmar Railway has been completed and the construction of the China-Bangladesh Friendship Bridge and Jali-Cox’s Bazar Railway has achieved positive progress. The Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar corridor was discussed in the whitepaper. However, the whitepaper doesn’t read about projects in Nepal.

Nepal was represented in the first forum in 2017 through the then Finance Minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara and then President Bidya Devi Bhandari in 2019. Similarly, there will be ministerial participation this time as well. Nepal has been facing the fate of zero achievements due to a lack of concrete initiative to participate in the conference every time. The current ruling coalition has a dispute on BRI inside its cabinet. Nepali Congress has its reservations about BRI. Nepali media had reported that the finance minister Prakash Saran Mahat, was against carrying out the BRI project during the cabinet meeting before the highly anticipated visit of Prachanda to China. To be clear Mahat was foreign minister in Prachada’s cabinet while Nepal and China signed MoU on BRI.   

Nepal has ratified MCC agreements with the US and has come in implementations and BRI is lagging behind. China has also not been able to be positive towards Nepal’s attitude due to the lack of implementation of agreements.  So Nepal close to China, sharing a 1,414 km long border, is lagging behind the cross-border connectivity.

Bidhur Dhakal
Bidhur Dhakal
Doctoral Student at School of Politics and International Relations, East China Normal University


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