Self-reliance in Nepal’s peace corridor

Photos: DOI NEPAL

The visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Nepal is a watershed moment that concretely brings to the fore Nepal’s importance as a critical component of the rise of Asia within a dramatically shifting global order.

The long-term symbolism of the visit may very likely lie in the fact that a new pivot is emerging which slices through the heart of Asia encompassing two of the most populous nations on earth and connecting Beijing, Kathmandu and New Delhi. This ‘peace corridor’ can potentially be a massive engine of global growth, and serve as an anchor of regional peace and stability.

Read also: What is Xi Jinping's 'Big Surprise'?, Saindra Rai and Irtika Bajracharya

A predominating narrative that views Nepal as a ‘small’ and ‘poor’ country that is constantly buffeted by geopolitics or conflict could well be turned on its head by historians who look back on this visit 20 years hence. Nepal is not small, it has a population greater than Australia, and resources and human potential to see it into a more prosperous future.

The diplomatic breakthrough that arises with President Xi’s visit to Kathmandu opens a new vista for Nepal which has enjoyed universally good relations with virtually all great powers through history. The evolution of Sino-Nepal relations to that of a strategic partnership as enunciated by the Presidents of the two countries carries a significant implication that propels the relationship beyond the purely bilateral plane. Nepal must grasp this opportunity to leverage the goodwill she enjoys across the world, and promote greater cohesion and understanding.

Enhanced connectivity between China and Nepal as envisioned by the leadership of the two countries that particularly features a cross-border railway across the roof of the world would represent a once-in-a-generation development that shrinks geography and brings people together.

On the other hand, apart from the technical and engineering challenges that a China-Nepal railway poses, the onus will be on Nepal to decipher and decode how to what extent this sort of infrastructure is going to relate with the open border regime that is in place between India and Nepal. In other words, nurturing the Indo-Nepal relationship must go hand-in-hand with preserving a positive Sino-Nepal relationship.

While Chinese assistance for the development of Nepal is important, the Nepali leadership would do well to take advantage of the rapport established during the visit of President Xi to genuinely understand the remarkable growth and transformation of China over the past 70 years since the establishment of the People’s Republic.

Read also: What China wants, Editorial

China’s rise is founded on self-reliance which Nepal should learn from and strive to emulate. One of the points that should have been given greater emphasis by the Nepali leadership during meetings with President Xi and his delegation is that Nepal is still a predominately agriculture-based economy, and how this might this be linked with the Belt and Road Initiative.

There are possibilities for Nepal to not just learn and borrow from China’s experience with agricultural modernisation drive, but also request for blanket duty-free access for Nepalese agro-produce in the Chinese market. A potential consumer base of 300 million people in China would create conditions for an agricultural revolution in Nepal and open up huge job opportunities that can lay the foundation for self-sufficiency. Nepal needs to hone in on the nuts and bolts of this possibility and discuss with China the finer points of appropriate customs and quarantine infrastructure along the Sino-Nepal border.

Read also: 

Nepal now has to balance not just India and China, but also the west, Bhairaja Panday

Yam between three boulders, Editorial

One of the issues that loomed large for Nepal during this historic visit of President Xi Jinping (and will continue to reverberate) is how the country is going to navigate between the two large overarching geopolitical constructs of the day -- the BRI and the Indo-Pacific Strategy. How will Nepal balance BRI and IPS? It will be complicated, and for a country that is still undergoing a political transition, will be difficult to resolve.

Nepal’s ability to manage this balance will determine whether a ‘peace corridor’ that harks back to an earlier incarnation of King Birendra’s ‘zone of peace’ proposal can gain traction or not. This will be an opportunity for Nepal to positively leverage its international goodwill. The main prerequisite for this appears to be Nepal’s ability to stand on her own feet.

Bhaskar Koirala is the Director of the Nepal Institute of International and Strategic Studies.

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