Chinese foreign minister visiting on March 25-27Nepal and China are expected to make a few announcements, sign some agreements.
With the announcement of a three-day visit of Chinese Foreign Minister and State Councillor Wang Yi to Nepal, now all eyes are on what would be a major takeaway from the visit.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Monday said Wang will be visiting Nepal from March 25 to 27 and will be the highest-level foreign dignitary to visit Nepal after Sher Bahadur Deuba came to power on July 13 last year.
“At the invitation of Minister for Foreign Affairs Narayan Khadka, State Councillor and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China Wang Yi is visiting Nepal from March 25 to 27, 2022,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement on Monday.
Since high-level visits and interactions between Nepal and China had stalled after the October 2019 visit to Nepal by Chinese President Xi Jinping owing to the Covid pandemic, officials said their plates are full in terms of issues and agendas to be discussed and taken up during the visit.
Also, Wang’s visit to Nepal comes on the heels of Nepal’s ratification of the Millennium Challenge Corporation compact against which Beijing has publicly expressed its displeasure. The Nepali side, according to leaders, will assure the visiting delegation that Nepal will not harm China’s legitimate interests in any way.
“Nepal will attempt to assure the Chinese side that the current government will not work against legitimate interests of Beijing, but will continue to partner with major powers and neighbours in the national interest and development needs of Nepal,” according to a senior leader of the ruling Nepali Congress.
Nepal’s lower house of Parliament ratified the $500 million American grant on February 27.
“We will listen to what the Chinese foreign minister has to say,” said Prakash Sharan Mahat, spokererson of the ruling Nepali Congress, adding, “We will continue to enhance our relations with major powers and neighbours based on equality and national interest.”
Mahat was foreign minister when Nepal in 2017 signed up to the Framework Agreement on Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), an ambitious multi-billion-dollar infrastructure initiative undertaken by China that seeks to connect Asia with Africa and Europe via land and maritime networks with the aim of improving regional integration, increasing trade and stimulating economic growth. But not a single project under the BRI has taken off in Nepal even five years after the signing of the framework agreement.
China has proposed a project implementation plan of the BRI with the Nepali side for its final nod. But Nepal has yet to approve the plan as officials are discussing the plan with line ministries and stakeholders before coming up with a decision.
“We should focus on developing road networks under the BRI but we cannot do so through costly loans. So our priority is to secure grants or soft loans. Also, the projects should be implemented through international bidding so that firms from other than Chinese can also compete for the projects,” said Mahat.
Also, the Nepali side plans to call for a joint inspection of the boundary that remains stalled for over a decade, full-fledged reopening of the northern border points–Rashuwagadhi and Tatopani, which are major trading points between Nepal and China, resumption of flights between the two countries, problems faced by Nepali students enrolled in various Chinese universities who had to return home abruptly due to the pandemic, and implementation of the past agreements signed during the visit of Chinese President Xi in 2019 and China visit of former Prime Minister K P Oli to China in 2018 among other things, said officials.
Discussions and negotiations are ongoing to set the agenda for the high-level meetings to be held during the Chinese foreign minister’s visit, said officials privy to the visit.
A Cabinet meeting on Sunday has already approved a memorandum of understanding to sign a protocol related to exporting a kind of processed grass to China.
“A team of Nepali and Chinese entrepreneurs have cultivated the processed grass in Chitwan which will be exported to China,” a senior official at the Ministry of Agriculture said, adding, “As the Chinese side has agreed to address some of our technical concerns, we are going to sign a formal agreement.”
Another agreement is about additional Chinese grants to Nepal under the Technical and Economic Cooperation and negotiations for this are still going on, said officials.
Senior officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Finance on Monday also held a meeting to give the government’s final comments regarding Chinese annual assistance to Nepal.
The Chinese side has already shared a draft agreement of Technical and Economic Cooperation, but China has not disclosed how much and under which project cluster will it provide assistance to Nepal, according to a senior Finance Ministry official.
The Chinese side has hinted that it will increase annual grants to Nepal from this year but we have yet to work out the details, officials from both ministries said.
Foreign Minister Khadka and his Chinese counterpart on March 26 will hold bilateral talks where some announcements are expected to be made and some agreements signed, according to officials.
The Chinese side has requested for holding a function during the visit to mark the completion of the physical infrastructure of the Pokhara airport, which is built with Chinese assistance, according to a joint secretary at the Ministry of Culture, Civil Aviation and Tourism.
Meanwhile, a senior Finance Ministry official said they expect some progress with regard to the Rs56 billion grant announced by Chinese President Xi during his meeting with President Bidya Bhandari in 2019. Further negotiations on the grant assistance, which will be extended over two years, were disrupted after the Covid pandemic hit China.
Nepali officials said another agreement related to signing a “technical scheme” on the cross-border Kerung-Kathmandu railway is “very much” possible during the visit as the last round of negotiations for the same is ongoing.
During his stay in Kathmandu, Wang will also meet CPN-UML chair KP Sharma Oli and CPN (Maoist Centre) chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal, according to the Foreign Ministry.