Confused characterPM Dahal and his govt’s approach to deepening ties with China has been lackadaisical
Prime Minister Dahal is flying to China today. After attending the Boao conference, he will travel to Beijing where he will attend important bilateral political meetings. He will then spend a day in Tibet. Among all his activities, his meetings in Beijing—especially the one with Chinese President Xi Jinping—is generally perceived to be the most important.
However, due to confusion and lack of preparations on the part of our government, the meetings are unlikely to yield substantial outcomes. The Chinese prime minister and foreign minister will both be out of the country when Dahal will be in Beijing. This seems to indicate that the Chinese have not accorded much importance to Dahal’s visit. Our government should take much of the blame.
China has supported Nepal in various ways over recent years, and a number of issues are likely to come up for discussion when Dahal is in Beijing. These include an increase in economic aid, the building of Outer Ring Road, the opening of the Tatopani checkpoint, and the improvement of the Kerung border point. But these are relatively minor matters, which could be easily handled by the bureaucracies of the two countries.
If Dahal really wants to make a transformative impact on bilateral relations, there are other areas on which he should focus. First, he could try to make headway on the Chinese government’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ (OBOR) proposal. Participating in this project would improve the odds of receiving Chinese capital and technology for our infrastructure development. Nepal’s government had signed an initial agreement on OBOR with China in 2014. But once Dahal came to power, there seems to be a certain hesitancy in taking the project forward. A proactive approach on the issue appears to be lacking.
Furthermore, Dahal should focus on building a railway line connecting Tibet with Nepal. The Chinese have often raised this issue in the past, but our government has been unable to form a coherent response. Similarly, Nepal had previously taken steps to import petroleum products from China to reduce its dependence on India, but little progress has been made on this front since the blockade ended.
Dahal has been hesitant to take a firm stance on our China policy, as he is probably worried about antagonising India. But if the government truly believes that deeper cooperation with China will be beneficial for Nepal in the long term, it should be able to take India into confidence and convince it that such cooperation would not harm India’s strategic interests. Granted, this is a difficult task, but developing deeper economic ties with the world’s second largest economy can only add wind to our sails.