Nepal and China appear to be close to signing a protocol on the Belt and Road (B&R) Initiative "very soon." Nepalese government officials say they're working full throttle to finalize the protocol document for such a signing.
Delegates from Nepal and China sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) during the One Belt One Road Initiative International Trade Platform in Kathmandu, Nepal, Nov. 19, 2016. [Photo/Xinhua]
"It's now full steam ahead to get the protocol on the B&R ready and signed with the northern neighbor," said Dr Rishi Raj Adhikary, foreign affairs advisor to Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda.
Adhikary said officials from the foreign and finance ministries are currently discussing the protocol "point-by-point."
This careful approach was justified by the fact that, "we want to make it sure the agreement will guarantee Nepal's rights as a Least Developed Country (LDC)."
During his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing last month, Prime Minister Prachanda expressed his commitment to sign a B&R accord prior to the global summit on the Initiative scheduled for May 14-15 in the Chinese capital.
The long delay in reaching this stage has been attributed in some quarters to "Indian pressure" on Nepal not to become part of China's flagship global project that seeks to boost connectivity and cooperation across continents.
However, Dr. Adhikary denied the accusation that India was playing a behind-the-scenes role in the procrastination over signing the crucial document.
"Once Nepal becomes part of the Belt and Road, it will boost connectivity, investment, transit and tourism," he said, adding that Nepal will welcome a growing number of Chinese tourists as it becomes "a viable route" for Chinese tourists to go to India.
However, the media have also reported that Nepal wanted to sign an accord on the Belt and Road with "conditions," which had cast doubt on the speedy conclusion of the landmark agreement.
"Talking about conditions amounts to an excuse to delay the deal," said Dr Upendra Gautam, general secretary of the China Study Centre.
"Nepal has to clearly present matters related to its interests before the Chinese side. It should tell the public which points of the protocol do not benefit the country. Since the Belt and Road is an open framework, the interested parties should adopt a transparent process."
So far, around 60 nations and 100 international organizations have reached formal agreement to be part of B&R, with the United Nations endorsing it as beneficial project for the global community.
"When these nations and organizations sign the B&R without any conditions, it makes no sense for the Nepalese government to bring forth conditions for it," Dr. Gautam said.
According to him, LDCs will reap immense benefits from the Belt and Road since it is about enhancing connectivity and economic integration.
"Many of the LDCs are landlocked. The Belt and Road helps them get access to the sea, which is the key to promoting trade with other nations," he said.
Meanwhile, China is developing the Rasuwagadhi-Kerung checkpoint along the Nepal-China border to meet international standards. This is likely to be a vital entry point to link China with South Asia, also. The Nepalese government has been asking the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) to build international-standard infrastructure at border crossing northwest of Kathmandu.
The TAR government is also building a 27-km two-lane road that will connect Rasuwagadhi with the highway to Kerung (Gyirong). Goods from Shigatse and Lhasa arrive here after completing a 700-km journey by train. Imports brought from Kerung will be cheaper than those transported from Kolkata port of India.
The Nepalese government is also pressing ahead with matching infrastructure on its side of the border. After the modernization of Kerung entry point, it will be used for the movement of goods and people from the third countries also, according to the Chinese authorities.
By year 2020, China's railway network will reach Kerung. This will also include building of settlement clusters around the railway stations with water supply and sanitation facilities, vocational education, health facilities, industrial business park, communications, sports and cultural complexes.
This will then provide the necessary impetus to extend the railway tracks from Kerung to Kathmandu and then Pokhara to Lumbini. Thus, the Rasuwagadhi-Kerung entry point stands to be China's gateway to South Asia via Nepal.
Wang Ping, deputy chief of the commerce bureau of Tibet, said that his office is encouraging local enterprises to invest in Nepal.
"We're planning on building a joint industry park. The most important thing is to create more business opportunities for people in border areas," he told the Global Times recently.