Nepal hopes high from second Belt and Road Forum

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The China proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is an economic pie, given its immense scale and multi-faceted layers of cooperation among all partners. The BRI ensures deeper cooperation and synergy effects to the participating countries, with China in the lead role. For sure, the BRI has brought people closer, with economic integration and robust infrastructure for their shared brighter future beyond their national boundaries. The large scale participation in the BRI, including G7 member country Italy to the least developed countries, has not only made this forum inclusive but has also given hope to the resolution of development bottlenecks through collaborative efforts.

Nepal, as a part of BRI, is no exception to this. Nepal formally joined the BRI in 2017 by signing a memorandum of understanding (MoU) during the premiership of Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’. The country firmly believes that such a visionary approach offers opportunities for collaboration, partnership, and cooperation for mutual benefits. Also, a large section of policymakers, diplomats, development workers, and officials believe that there remains a high chance for collaboration in propelling the country’s economy by creating a system of value-chains for mutual advantages once some projects under the BRI framework were brought into operation.

With such aspirations, Nepal’s President Bidya Devi Bhandari is paying a state visit to China at the invitation of President Xi Jinping, to attend the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation and the opening ceremony of the 2019 International Horticultural Exhibition in Beijing from April 24 to May 2. This is the first time that Nepal’s head of state will visit Beijing since Nepal abolished the monarchy 12 years ago. According to a press briefing of Nepal’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, President Bhandari will hold talks with President Xi to strike deals on key and mutually beneficial cooperation agreements. Nepal is hopeful of getting China’s support to meet its huge financing gap for building more physical infrastructure. Besides China’s neighborly gesture, Chinese FDI and collaboration for bilateral investment cooperation remain equally high.

During this visit, officials are scheduled to strike a deal on developing connectivity infrastructures under the Trans-Himalayan Multi-Dimensional Connectivity Network which was agreed upon between Nepal’s Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang during Oli’s recent visit to Beijing. This shall be the most important part of the BRI for Nepal, as rail would overhaul the existing development impasses. Regarding infrastructure, the other key area is Chinese investment in some hydropower projects, tourism, and telecom companies, among others. More importantly, Nepal has welcomed increased numbers of Chinese tourists, with China becoming Nepal’s top source of tourists, adding revenue to Nepal’s touristic sites and creating more jobs for locals.

Nepal and China have witnessed a growing number of cultural exchange programs since the BRI agreement. The China Cultural Centre has been established in Nepal, many cultural teams have exchanged bilateral visits while more people have started to learn the Chinese language. Dr. Kalyan Sharma, a Ph.D. graduate from Fudan University, said that Nepal and China have witnessed a series of cultural promotion programs, noting his confidence that Nepal-China cooperation deepened further after Nepal joined the BRI.

There are also rosy days ahead for Sino-Nepal relations in regards to people-to-people exchange. More Nepali students have been given the opportunity to study in Chinese universities since Nepal joined the BRI. The scholarship quota for Nepalis has gone up, while the number of Chinese researchers and students visiting Nepal is also on the rise. As a result, more Nepali students have been able to come to China to further their education. By offering more scholarships, the BRI is also supporting Nepal in its social engineering. Furthermore, ongoing progress on BRI projects will contribute to Nepal’s lasting peace and stability by creating jobs for Nepal’s youth, who generally leave home for the Gulf States in search of better prospects. Nepal is now hopeful that it can make a U-turn on current development bottlenecks via construction under the BRI framework.

Against this backdrop, the second BRF and President Bhandari’s visit to Beijing shall open the door for Nepal’s brighter future. China’s experience on its development path and its miraculous advancement are an example for Nepal to urge its own development. The BRI is deemed a pool of opportunity for Nepal.

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