Trans-Himalayan Connectivity: A great future ahead of Nepal

02 October 2019, Kathmandu

Dear Chair and the distinguished participants,
It is my great honor and a privilege to be here today from Nepal representing the Himalayan people and sharing some of the learning from the region in this important gathering. IN this opportunity I would like to offer some of my remarks on the prospect and possibilities of the globally most transformative Belt and Road Initiative, which I consider as a milestone for achieving sustainability and prosperity in Nepal and the Himalayan region.

Before I begin, I would like to thank Yunnan University for organizing this Trans-Himalaya Development Forum and the 10th Southwest Forum. I am grateful to the the event organizers, exhibitors, performers, researchers and all the Chinese people for extending this invitation and organizing the series of events to highlight the impressive development of China and enhance the friendly cooperation between China and other countries. The trans-Himalayan connectivity is a perhaps the most significant for us to demonstrate the win-win development of the region under the BRI framework.

Historical Nepal China Relationship
Nepal and China have a long history of connectivity, friendship and interdependence. Eminent scholars such as Buddhabhadra from Nepal and abbot Fa Xian from China in the early 5th century; Nepali princess Bhrikuti and Chinese explorer Xuanzang in 7th century, and Nepali architect Araniko (Anige) in 13th century have profoundly contributed for creating strong foundations of cultural, historic and people-to-people relations between the two great civilizations. After the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1955 both Nepal and China have been carrying forward their time-honored and trouble-free relations based on mutual friendship, understanding and good neighborliness.

In spite of numerous geopolitical hurdles, Nepal has signed the Memorandum of Understanding on BRI on 12 March 2017 in the ground created by the landmark first visit by Nepal’s PM KP Oli on 23 March 2016.

The recent state visit of the President of Nepal Rt. Hon. Bidhyadevi Bhandari during the second BRI Forum for International Cooperation, the visit of Prime Minister Rt. Hon. KP Sharma Oli in 2018, the most recent visit by the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and several other high level visits both ways in the recent years have elevated out relations to newer heights.

The official Visit of the Foreign Minister from China earlier this month has paved the way for the implementation of BRI projects in Nepal with new momentum. In this regard, Nepal is eagerly waiting to welcome the president Xi in the earliest time possible.

Nepal adheres to one China policy and practices unflinching commitment for not tolerating any anti-Chinese activities in her soil. On the other hand, China has always supported Nepal’s sovereign independence, territorial integrity, and peace and is also providing much needed development assistance without preconditions. Nepal and China enjoy exemplary relations existing between the countries of different sizes and social systems anywhere in the world.

BRI and Its Contribution
The Belt and Road Initiative is a transformative and visionary undertaking of the President Xi Jinping launched in 2013. It is a significant milestone that aims at promoting comprehensive connectivity and cooperation among the countries and people in the region and beyond. More than 130 countries have signed the MoU and some others have expressed their willingness to join this landmark initiative. We do believe that it will transform the development landscape of the region and beyond and will be the most significant historic event of the 21st century.

The trans-Himalayan BRI encompasses the cross-border road networks, the railway lines, oil pipelines, information highways, energy grids, skyways and transmission highways. This initiative aims at utilizing the rich resources along the Himalayan range, and improving the quality of lives of peoples in the entire Himalayan region. It will create a new connectivity for the long-term investment and growth, and also at the same time allows for the revitalization of the Himalayan region with its own plan for prosperity informed by unique Himalayan cultural, ecological and social features.

The connectivity projects of the Initiative will help to support the development strategies of the countries along the Belt and Road in keeping with their national priorities, tap market potential in this region, promote investment and consumption, create demands and job opportunities, enhance people-to-people and cultural exchanges, and mutual learning among the peoples of the relevant countries. Since the multilateralism and collective efforts are facing some challenges, and the tendency towards self-centeredness and protectionism is emerging, initiative like BRI can play an instrumental role to develop collectivism and to protect the spirit of economic globalization with more substantive value addition.

Nepal Tibet Economic Corridor – a good example
The Nepal Tibet Economic Corridor is one of the examples of much needed connectivity and joint economic prosperity promoted under the BRI framework in the Himalayan region. If we look back to the History, the trade corridor of  Bangladesh China India and Myanmar also known as Southern Silk Road, had received a negligible attention  but now with the Belt Road Initiative discussion they are coming up strong, developing higher level of connectivity between  China and South Asia and East Asia. To connect the Tibet Autonomous Region to Nepal and extend it into South Asia and beyond by both rail and road even later by energy grid would be a game changer in terms of connectivity.

Nepal has made it clear that it can be a Himalayan land-bridge between Central and South and Southeast Asia. Thus, it would a great new path to connect the southern belt road initiative with already existing connection to Europe via China. At the heart of these connectivity, particualry in the Himalayan region, the extension of the Chinese Railway to Kathmandu and Lumbini, the birth place of Lord Buddha, would be a historic development. Such a rail link would make it possible for the countries like Nepal to trade with Pakistan and Afganistan by land. This would also ensure that the Lord Buddha’s birth place is connected with the global networks of BRI. This would play a central role in revitalization and provide a foundation for renaissance of Asian civilizations.

The Himalayan Economic Corridor was initially a bilateral proposal between Nepal and China, with Nepal signing off on a Belt & Road MoU with China in 2017, having held numerous bilateral discussions with China on creating a corridor across the Himalayan Mountains. All bilateral projects along the Himalayas today form a part of the Himalayan Economic Corridor and by implication, the Belt & Road Initiative.

7 points related to bilateral and Council agreement
Kathmandu meanwhile has been enthusiastic about receiving larger amounts of Chinese investment. Nepal is reliant on India for the movement of its goods, and now Nepal is keen to reduce that dependence and wishes to present itself instead as a transit hub for cross-Himalayan trade. That would link Nepal with China’s Yunnan, Sichuan and Gansu Provinces as well as with Tibet and allow it to process trade between China and India.

China has been keen to develop outlying towns of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), and has done so with the Beijing-Lhasa railway being extended to Shigatse in 2014, Tibet’s second largest city. The Nepali government has requested China to expand the Arniko Highway as a four lane highway connecting Tatopani, near Shitagse to Kathmandu. Along that route are seven proposed trading points –

Yari, Korala, Kerung, Larke, Lamabagar, Kimathanka and Olangchungola.

At least four economic corridors are possible in Nepal that can link both Tibet in the north and India in the south. They are:

  1. Karnali Economic Corridor: Connects  the Far West Region of Nepal with Tibet as well as Kumaon, in Uttarakhand as well as Lucknow.
  2. Gandhak Economic Corridor: Connects the West Region of Nepal with Tibet, and Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh.
  3. Bagmati Economic Corridor: Connects the Central Region of Nepal with Tibet and Patna in Bihar.
  4. Kosi Economic Corridor: Connects the Eastern Region of Nepal with Tibet, Sikkim, and Darjeeling.

Commencement of these economic and trade corridors China can present an alternative to Nepal and South Asian nations as well and cultivate the means to challenge India’s role as a South Asian power.

New challenges emerged in implementation of BRI although the initiative was accepted by the increasing number of countries as some Western Media outlets have spread negative stories about BRI Projects.

The Indo-Pacific Strategy on the other side has been one of the  geopolitical hurdles in South Asia in successful implementation of BRI. Indo-Pacific Strategy sponsored by the US has grasped the attention of scholars, strategists, diplomats and international policy analysts.

We must be clear about the difference between BRI and Indo Pacific Strategy.  BRI is complete social, economic, cultural and diplomatic cooperation whereas Indo pacific Strategy is rather based on security and military activities.

That is the reason the developing countries (more than 130) countries are in favor of BRI projects implementation in their respective countries.

Nepal and other smaller countries of South Asia are facing difficulty in following out an independent course of national development, safeguarding their sovereignty and independence. An unspoken pressure is being brought to bear on them for choosing Indo-Pacific Strategy to meet their aspiration for political stability and economic prosperity.

Nepal has been receiving clear hints of disapproval from the US about its endorsement of BRI in 2017. Washington made a proposal to Nepal to play a ‘central role in free and open Indo-Pacific’ in December last year.  Nepal declined to be part of the strategy during his visit to Washington for reason of Nepal being committed to the principle of non-alignment and in favor of BRI.

Such changes in the situation demand a change of strategy, too, to implement the Belt and Road projects in Nepal and What the Chinese government steps will be in countering these obstacles and hurdles will guide the path how the BRI Implementation will be executed in the host countries.

With all being said,
Chinese vision of connectivity and shared prosperity is at the heart of this grand initiative and it has the potential of transforming the Himalayas and the entire region toward growth and development. In Nepal, the BRI has triggered a new developmental imagination and has already helping us to redefine the country’s developmental trajectories by conceptualizing various infrastructure projects

I am fully confident that as the Himalayan range re-emerges as a vital connecting link, Nepal’s trajectory of economic development will witness a rapid and positive transformation. And I am sure that Nepal and China share the common views on developing a trans-Himalayan multi-dimensional transport network with long-term vision for uplifting the living standard of people living in those regions.

Nepal has abundant natural resource endowments, whereas Chinese enterprises have the technological and financial resources for investments. We need to work tirelessly to realize this vast potential opportunity for development. For example, hydropower has the potential to fundamentally transform Nepal’s developmental landscape, if exploited properly. Chinese enterprises have rich experience, capability, technology and fund to harness water resource for mutual benefit.

The trans-Himalayan region faces challenges of geography, poverty and illiteracy that exacerbate it. Natural disasters, climate change, massive under employment, and other security threats such as shortages of water, food, health and energy are common in the sub Himalayan region. With the prospect of BRI, the people of the Himalayan regions, especially from Nepal, are hopeful to relish the anticipated outcome of the initiative bringing rapid improvement in the quality of their lives. That is why we believe the BRI is going to be a significant historical milestone of 21st Century for us.

This historic opportunity created by the BRI should be realized without any delay. Historic moments arrive but do not wait. The government of Nepal and the Nepali people are eager and enthusiastic about the possibility of a new railway lines to connect us both. I believe the respective governments will begin integration of BRI in their development strategy for the Himalayan region. We are awaiting to practically implement it in land bridge concept, create a multi layered relationship not only government to government, but also at B to B (Business to Business) and P to P (people to people) exchanges which will bolster in connecting trans-Himalayan region creating massive economic opportunity and reducing poverty.

In conclusion, I propose that we pay a close attention to the following points for the successful implementation of BRI in Nepal and the Himalayas:

First, the trans-Himalayan railway line is at the heart of the regional connectivity. It is under study and once the detailed project report is prepared I urge both countries to implement it with utmost priority. This historic opportunity cannot be missed.

Second, both countries have jointly identified at least 12 economic and trade zones across the Himalayas. Our priority should be quickly opening them up and operationalizing them to enhance economic activities in the region.

Third, the concept of BRI should help us to conceptualize a framework for the development of unique Himalayan landscapes that are vast and unique. It will revitalize the region to achieve self-sufficiency.

Fourth, most importantly a forum for creating a people to people relationship on BRI and mobilizing intellectuals from both countries to develop a regional discourse on this initiative is necessary. I would like to propose that we create a Trans-Himalayan BRI Forum involving intellectuals from both countries, which will act as a think tank for the overall implementation of the project.

( Mr. Pokharel Speech on The 5th Himalayan Development Forum and The 10th South-West Forum at Dehong prefecture Yunnan province in PR China)

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