Nepal follows Russia into the Silk Road project

Nepal to soon ink a “deal’ with China to be part of the Belt and Road Initiative—a project India has been opposing and has refused to join

Photo by Ajay Aggarwal/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by Ajay Aggarwal/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

NH Political Bureau

Just when it seemed that India and Nepal relations were getting back to the previous level of friendship, after the apparent misunderstandings over the Madhesi issue, China has wooed the Himalayan nation into the Silk Road project.

Nepal will soon sign a “deal” with China to be a part of the Belt and Road (BR) Initiative—also known as the Silk Road project. “I expressed commitment on behalf of the Government of Nepal that we would like to become the part of the Belt and Road Initiative during my meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing recently,” China's official Xinhua news agency quoted Nepal’s Prime Minister Prachanda as saying.

Chinese media reports were on Thursday quoted by PTI as saying, "New Delhi may also feel embarrassed as Moscow has actively responded to the Belt and Road initiative and will build an economic corridor with China and Mongolia," it said, adding Russia and Iran were seeking to join the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), putting "India in a more awkward position".

The Belt and Road Initiative is a pet project of President Xi, which was proposed by him in 2013. It aims to build a trade and infrastructure network connecting Asia with Europe and Africa along the ancient trade routes. It includes the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road to connect China with ports across the world as well as the CPEC and the Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar Economic (BCIM) corridor.

India has reservations over the Maritime Silk Road as it impacts the Indian Ocean, which is important to India's security interests.

India has protested to China over the $46-billion (CPEC), which connects western China's restive Xinjiang region with Pakistan's southern port of Gwadar through Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (PoK). India is also opposed to Pakistan’s attempts to declare Gilgit-Baltistan as its fifth province, which is also seen as part of the plan to implement the CPEC project.

However, except for the CPEC, the BR Initiative has struggled to make headway in the region and China apparently is keen about India's participation.

Meanwhile, Chinese state-owned media on Thursday alleged that India was using the Kashmir issue as an "unfounded excuse" to oppose the ambitious Silk Road initiative.

“The official reason the Indian government rejected the offer to join the initiative (Silk Road) is that it is designed to pass through Kashmir. However, it is just an unfounded excuse as Beijing has been maintaining a consistent position on the Kashmir issue, which has never changed,” one of the two articles on India by state-run Global Times said. “Whether to continue to boycott or join the Belt and Road remains a conundrum for New Delhi," said a Global Times article.

Countering the Dragon

Though in 2014, Narendra Modi was the first Indian Prime Minister to have visited Nepal in 17 years, India’s ties with the Himalayan nation have hit many lows. There has been, for instance, misunderstanding with the perception that India was supporting the Madhesis in their revolt against the new Constitution of Nepal.

There’s the May 14 local elections, which is being opposed by Madhesis—mostly of Indian-origin—who say the polls should be held only after their demands regarding the re-demarcation of provincial boundaries and other issues are addressed by an amendment to the new Constitution.

India has pledged support to Nepal for holding the contentious local elections, and this could be a great opportunity to make amends. Interestingly, China has promised $1 million to the Himalayan nation for these polls.

Besides highways, China is extending a railway link to Khasa in Nepal. There are talks also on the Qinghai-Tibet railway being extended to the Nepalese border.

India perhaps needs to do more, like perhaps improving its railway links to Nepal, and have a grander plan with the Himalayan nation in mind when huge infrastructure spends are planned for the north-east regions in particular. India has helped Nepal to set up hydroelectric projects such as Pokhar, Trishuli, Western Gandak and Devighat. More perhaps needs to be done.

With PTI inputs.

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