Dahal in ChinaThe PM did not compromise on Nepal’s core interests. But he didn’t secure major concessions either.
That Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal will claim to have taken Nepal-China relations to newer heights upon his arrival at the Tribhuvan International Airport is a ritual all too familiar to Nepalis. The 13-point joint statement released Wednesday, before Dahal left for Tibet en route to Nepal, is diplomatic sweet talk for the most part. In the first six points of the statement, the two sides have just reminded each other of the historical relationship, congratulated one another where deemed appropriate, and vowed to deepen the relations further by accommodating each other’s concerns. As expected, Nepal expressed its firm commitment to the one-China principle and Taiwanese independence while failing to extract a similar commitment from the Chinese side on Nepal’s concerns as Dahal failed to take up the controversial new Chinese map that undermines Nepal’s territorial integrity.
From the seventh point upwards, though, there are some substantial, if not pathbreaking, commitments. These include the reopening of border points, solidifying the Belt and Road Initiative cooperation, and the Trans-Himalayan Multi-Dimensional Connectivity Network, among others. The countries have agreed to continue working toward finalising the China-Nepal Electric Power Cooperation Plan and cooperate in hydropower, wind power, solar power, biomass power and hydrogen. The two sides have also agreed to complete the Kathmandu Ring Road project, cooperate in developing hydropower and transmission lines and expand air rights arrangements.
What is conspicuously missing, though, is any word on converting the loan for Pokhara International Airport into a grant, something Dahal desperately wanted from the Chinese this time. This is one area where Dahal could have shined and relieved the country of the huge financial liability caused by the construction of the airport. It’s a missed opportunity. Instead, Dahal agreed to give continuity to the feasibility of the Jilong/Keyrung-Kathmandu Cross-Border Railway, which runs the risk of turning into another white elephant. That seems to leave Dahal with nothing much to talk about except, perhaps, water buffaloes once again, as he did with India in May-June. Apart from the export of cooked buffalo meat products and citrus fruits from Nepal to China, expected to reduce the existing trade imbalance, the two countries have also agreed to cooperate on the variety breeding of Yak, Nak and mountain goats, which could help uplift the economic status of the people living the Himalayan region.
To his credit, Dahal has not given much fodder to Nepali foreign policy pundits waiting for him to fumble. To his credit, Dahal has coyed away from signing two of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s doctrines of the Global Security Initiative and the Global Cultural Initiative. He has, however, decided to support the Global Development Initiative, a solid balancing act, as he does not want to be seen as favouring one bloc over another in international security initiatives while he does not want to burn bridges as well.
All in all, the whole visit smacked more of ritualism than substance. That Nepalis have to consider the prime minister not compromising on Nepal’s core interests as a measure of success speaks of the low bar of our modern-day diplomacy.