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Contemporary Notes

» Nepal-China Rebuilding Relations On Bilateral Strength by Dr. Upendra Gautam PDF [29.2 KB]

Bilateral foundation of trilateral cooperation

Upendra Gautam

I would like to approach the present workshop theme "China-Nepal-India Economic Corridor: Feasibility and Approaches" with the following four considerations:

  1. Bilateral relation is foundation for trilateral or multi-lateral relations. A functional trilateral or multi-lateral relation is composite whole of several good bilateral relations.
  2. A bilateral relation is not, and cannot be an alternative to any bilateral relations of a country.
  3. A bilateral relation, to the extent possible, should be oriented and used to maximize a nation's independent capability, political and economic interest.
  4. Nepal is resource rich-naturally and culturally. Nepal's participation as a partner in the Trans-Himalayan China-Nepal-India cooperation framework is more a sustainable resource and cultural exchange rather than a typical donor-client relation.

The Kunming Initiative and Dehong Cooperation Model

Here is a case of Kunming Initiative. Started in late 1990s through non-state organizations from Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar (the BCIM countries) under the banner of Kunming Initiative, the four countries got together in Kunming envisioning formation and operation of a BCIM economic corridor. After about efforts of 14 years, governments of India and China, Bangladesh and China, Myanmar and China have agreed to move ahead at the inter-government level with the work on implementing BCIM economic corridor concept.


Talking even of the recent history, during the Second World War, several communication links were developed between Bengal and Yunnan. One of them was the 3218 KM long oil pipeline between Calcutta and Kunming –at that time it was known as the longest oil pipe line in the world. The great Himalaya has never been a barrier for construction of communication infrastructures, mobility of people, goods and services.


Eleven months ago, I had an opportunity to visit Dehong Autonomous Prefecture in Yunnan where I could observe the remnants of the said oil pipe line. Construction of highways, new settlements were in full swing. After eleven months when I revisited Dehong for 2nd Trans-Himalayan Development Forum in July, 2016, the construction works were largely complete adding value to the established border trade and economic zones in the Ruili City and its Wanding Town along China's Myanmar border.


These border economic zone and industrial park were founded to promote trade and economic exchanges between China and Myanmar. They included the processing, electro-mechanical, local agricultural and biological resource industries. Since China-Myanmar trade and economic exchanges has been growing fast, Myanmar has become one of Yunnan's biggest foreign trade partners.


In a manufacturing unit which was observed during the visit, the most notable feature was its labor component-all the manufacturing labor employed in the unit were from Myanmar. The goods produced in this unit also serve other South East Asian countries.


China-Nepal-India Economic Corridor

Perhaps it is immaterial who makes an initiative first. More important is whether the initiative is open and merits participation and support of the stakeholders. China-Nepal-India economic corridor has been in offing for some time. As Nepal happens to be in the middle sector that New Delhi and Beijing consider least problematic from territorial dispute point of view, Nepal's own territorial question with India and infrastructural connectivity gaps with China make it a high imperative to first regularize, modernize and strengthen the basics of the bilateral relations. For this purpose:


First, China and India may make a trade off by utilizing their positive comparative advantage in the regional cooperation outfits such as BCIM, BBIN and proposed CN-I and make the overlapping cooperation equitable within the sub-regions as well as between the regions.


Second, India and Nepal work on regularizing their international border. This will help in establishing more secure trade zone and industrial park adapting the Dehong cooperation model.


Third, China and Nepal concentrate on removing the infrastructural connectivity gaps through all round, enhanced and efficient means of transport and communication. The recently laid optic fiber link between Nepal and China can be instrumental in optimizing digital connectivity between the three countries.


Fourth, Nepal needs to introduce only those technologies that are of international standards and are internationally compatible.


Fifth, Nepal and other neighboring countries figure in One Belt and One Road vision and action document (2015/03/28) in the context of promoting "the border trade and tourism and culture cooperation" with Tibet Autonomous Region. As such, in the first phase, the cooperation area could be Nepal and adjoining Tibet plus Sichuan and Gansu provinces.


As the One Belt One Road is an open initiative, it must in parallel address the topmost issue of environmental insecurity in the Trans-Himalaya region where we all-China-Nepal and India are key stakeholders.


Nepal, Tibet Autonomous Region and parts of India in the Trans-Himalaya area face double environmental insecurity. They are in the fore front of climate change vulnerability. The other perhaps more grievous cause of this insecurity is environmentally modified weapons that can target an area with heat and jamming waves, prolonged floods and drought, and other disasters that look like natural given the climate change cover. From an environmental security perspective, destiny and wellbeing of Nepal, Tibet and parts of India as a whole in the Trans-Himalayan area is inter-dependent.


Development of significant connectivity projects should have an umbrella of environmental conservation, security and green development-in terms of both green house emission and environmentally modified weapons. Relevant Ministry and academy of sciences in Nepal, China and India may initiate the cooperative research and monitoring works in close association with the development agencies. A recently established Trans-Himalayan Research Center, a part of a memorandum of understanding signed between the Tribhuvan University, Nepal and Sichuan University, China can be instrumental in galvanizing said works in this regard. Such cooperation could also remove ill informed thinking and terror of disinformation-an element most troublesome in promoting cooperation in the region. For example, China's developmental efforts on Tibetan side of Bhramputra River (Yarlung Zangbo) are usually reported in South Asian media as an action that negatively impacts flow of the River in its downstream. Though Nepal is not a part of Brahmputra River basin, terror of such disinformation builds ill will. My conversations with Mr. Som Nath Paudel, Vice-chairman of Jalsrot Vikas Sanstha in Nepal and Dr. Nilanjan Ghosh, Senior Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation in India have expressed the facts. Dr. Ghosh who had also access to the annualized hydrographs of the Brahmputra River and its analysis for the Chinese side was categorical in his saying that as a matter of fact the river flow increased several times when it entered Indian side.


At the end l would like to quote Mr. Jin Liqun, president of Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, "you cannot talk people into believing, no matter how nice the words you have. Just forget about (convincing skeptics); just do your job." Indeed, the levels of cooperation culture we have and the quality of bilateral relations we maintain determine the level of trust and confidence in our regional neighborhood. Let us work on it. As we belong to the community of the common destiny, we cannot afford to serve only our individual interest at the cost of the others in the neighborhood.