Concerns escalate in Nepal over China's BRI claims

Synopsis

Last week, the Rastriya Ekta Abhiyan organised an awareness rally in Pokhara, highlighting apprehensions about the BRI and its potential consequences for Nepal. The focal point of the protest was the Pokhara International Airport. The group alleged that there might be ulterior motives, including the potential deployment of the Chinese army in Pokhara, using economic losses at the airport as a pretext.

China revamping Belt and Road Initiative: ReportANI
Nepal owes far less to China than many other countries in Asia as it has always been cautious about loans and has been seeking grant assistance.

New Delhi: Concerns over China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) have escalated in Nepal with civil society groups last week staging protests in the tourist town of Pokhara where China has funded creation of a new airport and claimed that it was part of the BRI in the Himalayan state.

Last week, the Rastriya Ekta Abhiyan organised an awareness rally in Pokhara, highlighting apprehensions about the BRI and its potential consequences for Nepal. The focal point of the protest was the Pokhara International Airport.

The group alleged that there might be ulterior motives, including the potential deployment of the Chinese army in Pokhara, using economic losses at the airport as a pretext.

While the airport was not officially part of the BRI, Chinese banks provided the majority of the funds, and a Chinese firm constructed the infrastructure. Beijing insisted that the project was part of the BRI despite reservations by Kathmandu.

The BRI in Nepal remains a non-starter. Nepal and China signed a memorandum of understanding on BRI in 2017. Nearly seven years since, not a single project under the initiative has either been executed or negotiated as successive governments in Nepal have been averse to borrowing loans from Beijing unlike Sri Lanka or Pakistan, according to Nepal watchers.

Kathmandu has been keen to accept grants rather than Chinese loans which are extended at high interest rates, a source said, adding that the signing of the BRI implementation plan between Nepal and China has been one of the prime agenda since early 2020 but an agreement has been elusive due to differences between the two sides over the investment terms.

Nepal owes far less to China than many other countries in Asia as it has always been cautious about loans and has been seeking grant assistance. Unlike China, India has offered benevolent grant assistance to Nepal since the 1950s. Nepal is one of India’s largest and most prominent development partners. The India-Nepal Cooperation for developing modern infrastructure in Nepal began in 1951.

Apart from taking up infrastructure development projects, India has also shared technical know-how with Nepal in various fields including education, health, archives, archaeology, irrigation, power, horticulture, development of industries and trade promotion, contributing to its socioeconomic development. The India-Nepal development partnership has continued and expanded for over seven decades. The projects under development partnership have been diverse in size and sector, spread throughout Nepal.

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( Originally published on Feb 11, 2024 )

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Harry Byrne

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