PM’s visit: No breakthrough, no notable gains, say observersNepal shifts from ‘one-China policy’ to ‘one-China principle’.
Nepal and China on Tuesday issued a 13-point joint statement as part of Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s ongoing China visit, but it is short on specifics on how it will result in greater support and assistance from China, be it executing past agreements or signing of any new deal with Beijing.
The joint statement released early Tuesday contains vague language and falls short of addressing some key issues that Nepal and China currently face, said former ministers and experts.
“Did the prime minister raise the map issue, which is directly linked to the country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, with the Chinese leadership?” said Narayan Khadka, a former foreign minister, adding, “If he did, then that should have been mentioned in the joint communiqué, so the nation would know.”
Among other things, the joint communiqué boldly mentions Beijing’s position on the Taiwan issue saying that Nepal is against the “independence of Taiwan.”
Earlier Nepali side used to commit to ‘one-China policy’, but during this visit, there was a notable shift as Dahal has committed to ‘one-China principle’.
The Nepali side reiterated its firm commitment to one-China principle, according to the joint statement, recognising that the government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legal government representing the whole of China, and Taiwan is an “inalienable part of China’s territory.”
The one-China principle has a clear and unambiguous meaning, i.e. there is but one China in the world, Taiwan is an inalienable part of China, and the government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legal government representing the whole of China, according to the interpretation offered by the Chinese Embassy in European Union.
Dahal, who reached China on September 23 from New York, held talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Saturday on the sidelines of the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou.
On Monday, Dahal met his Chinese counterpart Premier Li Qiang and witnessed the signing of 12 agreements on various areas of cooperation.
“The visit by the prime minister is an ordinary one,” said Khadka, adding, “there is nothing significant that we need to emphasise.”
The joint statement further added that Nepal and China acknowledged the ‘Strategic Partnership of Cooperation Featuring Ever-lasting Friendship for Development and Prosperity’. The statement also touched on China’s BRI where it is mentioned that both sides will pursue high-quality Belt and Road cooperation, and deepen and expand mutually beneficial cooperation in various fields.
“They also agreed to finalise the text on the BRI Implementation Plan at an early date. They expressed readiness to deepen and solidify Belt and Road cooperation. They agreed to strengthen connectivity in such areas as ports, roads, railways, airways and grids in an orderly manner, jointly build the Trans-Himalayan Multi-Dimensional Connectivity Network, work together to ensure the safety of the cooperation projects and company personnel of the two countries, and contribute to Nepal’s realisation of its development agenda including graduating from the least developed country status at an early date,” reads the statement.
In his interview with China’s Global Times newspaper, Prime Minister Dahal said, as China continues to advance, its support and investment in Nepal are continuously growing and that Nepal views China's development trajectory as an opportunity, with the BRI serving as a suitable platform for enhancing trans-Himalayan multidimensional connectivity.
“This connectivity has great potential for realising Nepal's economic goals while acting as a vibrant bridge between the two largest economies in Asia and also between China and South Asia. An MoU has been signed between China and Nepal, solidifying mutual commitment to the BRI. We are fully prepared to take the maximum benefits from this cooperative framework,” the newspaper quoted Dahal as saying.
On the Nepal-China cross-border railway, whose feasibility study will be undertaken jointly by Nepali and Chinese engineers, the prime minister said, “The primary concern associated with this project is how quickly we can bring it to fruition. You must be aware that the construction of this project requires a substantial amount of resources that Nepal alone cannot afford. In such a situation, we have no choice but to rely on external funding. However, we also share concerns that the size of the loan for this project and the terms and conditions should be manageable for the Nepali economy.
“Feasibility studies are currently underway, and we hope that the report will be available soon. Following that, we will need to explore appropriate funding modalities for the project. Under my leadership, this government is prioritising the early completion of the study, and I hope to initiate the construction of this visionary project during my tenure,” he added.
After hard negotiations with the Chinese side, Nepal successfully avoided the mention of the Global Security Initiative (GSI) in the statement. China had sought Nepal’s cooperation on the initiative, which contradicts Nepal’s policy of non-alignment.
The GSI and the Global Civilization Initiative (GCI), and the Global Development Initiative (GDI) are signature endeavours launched by Chinese President Xi. Nepal has decided to support the GDI. The Nepali side has told Chinese officials that it will consider joining the Group of Friends of the GDI.
“The prime minister went to China with a long wish list, but if we go through the joint statement, most of the issues mentioned there are old pacts. During my visit to China in August 2022 and earlier bilateral exchanges, we had reached consensus and signed several agreements, understandings, and pacts. Only if these agreements are implemented can we truly make a difference. I don’t see any meaningful impact even after signing so many agreements and after repeated assurances,” said Khadka.
The two sides also agreed to open more border points, utilise highways in China to help turn Nepal from a land-locked country to a land-linked country, expedite the work on the feasibility study of the Tokha-Chhahare Tunnel project, speed up the implementation of the second phase of the Kathmandu Ring Road project, connect Pokhara with various Chinese cities, finalise the text of China-Nepal Electric Power Cooperation Plan, and launch the construction of the Jilong/Keyrung-Rasuwagadhi-Chilime 220 KV Cross-Border Power Transmission line at an early date.
The joint communiqué encompasses several other bilateral issues, programmes, projects and partnership in areas like trade, commerce, agriculture, energy, connectivity, high-level exchanges, accommodating each other’s concerns and core interests.
It also mentions exchange of experiences on development strategies, practical cooperation in infrastructure connectivity, trade, tourism, production capacity and investment, and further deepening and solidifying the Belt and Road cooperation.
“During his China visit, the prime minister has not been able to honour the commitments he made in Parliament,” another former foreign minister Pradeep Gyawali quipped.
“Speaking in Parliament and in public mass meetings, the prime minister had publicly said that a new power trade agreement and BRI implementation plan would be signed during his visit. He had also claimed that he would request grant funding for a mega project, and sign additional infrastructure projects,” said Gyawali.
“For some time, the trust level with China has nosedived, but we don’t know if Dahal was successful in regaining the lost trust. No significant agreement was signed. The agreement on the cross-border transmission line is neither new nor a breakthrough,” said Gyawali.
After completing his political engagements in Beijing, the prime minister and his delegation left for Chongqing city on Tuesday, visited a modern agriculture centre and met some leaders of the Communist Party of China. After Chongqing, the prime minister will visit Lhasa, and Manasarovar, weather permitting.
“The two sides agreed to strengthen connectivity in such areas as ports, roads, railways, airways and grids in an orderly manner, jointly build the Trans-Himalayan Multi-Dimensional Connectivity Network, work together to ensure the safety of the cooperation projects and company personnel of the two countries, and contribute to Nepal's realisation of its development agenda including graduating from the least developed country status at an early date,” said the joint statement.
They have also agreed to conduct joint inspection of the China-Nepal boundary and implement the bilateral agreement on the Boundary Management System as soon as possible.
The two sides agreed to continue consultations on the ‘Protocol between the Ministry of Public Security of the People’s Republic of China and the Ministry of Home Affairs of Nepal on the Establishment of Boundary Contact System at Three Levels’, so as to boost border management and cooperation.
The two countries have also agreed to maintain communication for the opening of Chentang-Kimathanka, Riwu-Olangchungola ports at an early date, and expressed satisfaction over the progress of the feasibility study of the Jilong/Keyrung-Kathmandu Cross-Border Railway, said the statement.
Also, the countries have agreed to continue working toward the finalisation of the China-Nepal Electric Power Cooperation Plan and cooperate in the fields of hydropower, wind power, solar power, biomass power and hydrogen.
“At a time of great geo-political turmoil, Prime Minister Dahal has paid a visit to China and I feel it will act as a propeller to develop modalities to implement major projects signed between the two neighbours,” said Nishchal Nath Pandey, director of the Centre for South Asian Studies.
With Global Times, the prime minister said he is confident and optimistic that China-Nepal relations will be further consolidated and reach new heights.
“We have accorded priority to develop cross-border connectivity networks, including roads, railways, transmission lines, airways, and telecommunications. Our top priorities include establishing cross-border economic zones, expanding trade and investment-related infrastructures at border points, and early implementation of previously agreed bilateral agreements and understandings,” the paper quoted Dahal as saying.
Pandey added: “The Post-Covid world has proven to be unkind to the developing countries as we are facing challenges on multiple fronts—from the economy to fewer jobs to pressures from major countries to join their respective blocs.”
“The prime minister has managed to walk the tightrope delicately. But we need to develop a new blueprint to enhance connectivity between Nepal and China,” Pandey said.