Nepal, China Move Forward on BRI Implementation Plan

115

Nepal and China on Tuesday reiterated their commitment to ‘very soon’ sign the implementation plan of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which will pave the way for working out financing and investment modality of the projects to be executed in Nepal under the initiative.

During the delegation-level talks between Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs Narayan Kaji Shrestha and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Beijing, the two sides agreed to sign the BRI implementation plan “as soon as possible,” according to a Nepali participant in the talks.

No specific date has been finalised, but it could happen during the upcoming foreign secretary-level meeting in Kathmandu or on the seventh anniversary of the signing of the BRI on May 12, or during any other high-level visit between Nepal and China, said the participant.

In the meeting, Wang stressed the need for early conclusion of the BRI implementation plan in order to execute the projects.

“Things remain stuck with China due to our delay in signing the BRI implementation plan,” the Nepali official said. “Once Deputy Prime Minister Shrestha returns home, we will further discuss signing of the plan.”

In recent meetings, Chinese officials and authorities have made it clear that signing the BRI implementation plan is a prerequisite for extending economic cooperation with Nepal as well as executing the projects that China had committed to in the past, the official said.

Nepal and China signed the BRI framework agreement seven years ago, on May 12, 2017, and the Chinese side had forwarded the text of the plan at the end of 2019.

After Nepali side expressed serious reservations about the text, arguing that Nepal is not interested in commercial loans from China, and set several other conditions to accept support under the BRI framework, negotiations over the BRI projects and implementation plan were halted, according to officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Nepal is yet to table the BRI framework agreement signed in 2017 in Parliament, nor has it disclosed the proposed terms and conditions of the BRI implementation plan. The main opposition Nepali Congress and other parties have asked the government to table the agreement in Parliament and make public the terms and conditions of the BRI implementation plan before signing it.

Ahead of Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s China visit in September 2023, a meeting of high-level government officials entrusted the National Planning Commission to finalize the draft of the BRI implementation plan.

All these exercises have been kept secret, and very few government officials and ministers are aware of what is written and proposed in the BRI implementation plan, according to officials.

On Tuesday also, member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and Chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) Wang Huning had stressed the need for swift conclusion of BRI negotiations and expediting the agreements signed during the Nepal visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2019.

“During the meeting both the leaders assessed the state of bilateral relations and expressed commitment to work together to further elevate the ties,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated in its account in X formerly known as Twitter. “In a warm and cordial meeting, two leaders emphasized on the swift implementation of projects.”

According to the Nepali side, both Shrestha and Wang discussed the entire gamut of bilateral ties and the status of implementation of the various Chinese-funded projects in Nepal including reopening of the traditional trading points between Nepal and China.

“The Chinese side also expressed happiness over Nepal’s joining China’s Global Development Cooperation’s group of friends, but did not ask Nepal to be part of the two remaining initiatives—the Global Security Initiative (GSI) and the Global Civilizational Initiative (GCI). Nepal’s request for waiving the visa fees for Nepali citizens and making it reciprocal was also discussed, and the Chinese side was positive,” the Nepali official said. “Plus, the agreements and understandings reached during Prime Minister Dahal’s China visit last year figured in the meeting.”

Before having the delegation level talks, DPM Shrestha and Wang had held one-on-one for almost an hour.

According to another Nepali official, the Nepali side proposed elevating the secretary-level bilateral mechanism to the ministerial level.

“But no decision has been made yet,” said Suresh Kaji Shrestha, chief personnel assistant to the DPM over the phone from Beijing. He said the Chinese side has taken the Nepali proposal seriously.

As of now, there is a foreign secretary-level bilateral consultative mechanism that oversees the bilateral relations between Nepal and China.

Just as with India, Nepal and China will also have a ministerial-level bilateral mechanism if China agrees to Nepal’s proposal, Nepali officials said.

Nepal and India have a joint commission at foreign minister level in order to oversee the entire aspects of the bilateral ties.

The foreign secretary-level mechanism between Nepal and China was formed in 1996 and the next and 16th meeting is planned in Kathmandu this year.

Likewise, both sides also agreed to carry out the joint inspection of the border as per past agreements and expedite the establishment of agro-industrial parks in Gorkha and Dhading districts as agreed during Prime Minister Dahal’s visit to China in September.

In the meeting, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Wang said DPM Shrestha’s first visit to China after the formation of the new government in Nepal reflects the tradition of China-Nepal friendship and the new Nepali government’s clear stance on strengthening cooperation with China.

“As a friendly neighbor and strategic partner, China has always placed Nepal in the important direction of its peripheral diplomacy, has always adhered to the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence towards Nepal, and has always insisted that all countries, big or small, are equal,” the Chinese statement said.

“We firmly support Nepal in safeguarding its national sovereignty, independence, and national dignity, and in exploring a development path that suits its national conditions,” the statement further said.

The statement added that China would continue to help with Nepal’s economic and social development.

In a usual fashion, Wang said Nepal and China are good neighbors connected by mountains and rivers, good friends who help each other, and good partners seeking common development.

“In 2019, President Xi Jinping paid a historic state visit to Nepal, which pushed the relationship between the two countries to a new level and entered the fast lane,” said Wang. “Prime Minister [Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s] Prachanda’s visit to China last year was also very successful, and the leaders of the two countries reached important consensus on developing China-Nepal relations.”

The Chinese foreign ministry statement further said that China is willing to work with Nepal to carry forward the traditional friendship between China and Nepal, consolidate political mutual trust between the two sides, jointly build the Belt and Road with high quality, and promote China-Nepal strategic cooperative partnership to a new and higher level.

Shrestha highlighted the traditional friendship and interdependence between Nepal and China.

“China has provided selfless help to Nepal in response to the earthquake and epidemic, which the Nepali government and people will always remember,” the Chinese foreign ministry said, quoting Shrestha.

“Nepal firmly adheres to the one-China policy and will never allow any force to use its territory to engage in anti-China activities…The new Nepal government is committed to developing the economy and improving people’s livelihoods, and hopes to learn from China’s successful experience,” the Chinese foreign ministry statement further said quoting Shrestha.

“…Nepal is willing to strengthen cooperation with China in jointly building the BRI and to join the ‘Group of Friends of the Global Development Initiative.’”

The two sides agreed to reopen 14 traditional border trade points and strengthen practical cooperation in trade, investment, tourism and other fields. They also exchanged views on other issues of common concern.

Shrestha also extended an invitation to Wang to visit Nepal, and in response Wang said he will make a return visit to Nepal by the end of this year.

DPM Shrestha is currently in China on a nine-day official visit and will be meeting three secretaries of the Chinese Communist Party from Chongqing, Sichuan and Lhasa provinces in order to discuss various aspects of Nepal-China relations, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

These three provinces oversee the various aspects of Nepal-China relations. Shrestha is scheduled to return home on April 1.

Source: Kathmandu Post- Anil Giri