Nepal and China to sign at least half a dozen deals during President’s visit to Beijing
- Pacts on transit protocol, traditional medicine and projects under BRI on cards, officials say
Apr 16, 2019-
Officials from Nepal and China are working to sign at least half a dozen agreements during the first visit of President Bidya Devi Bhandari to the northern neighbour beginning April 24.
Bhandari will be leading a Nepali delegation to Beijing in the second international conference on the Belt and Road Initiative, a flagship foreign policy initiative of Chinese President Xi Jinping, which kicks off on April 25.
Bhandari is scheduled to deliver a speech at the conference where she is expected to make a strong pitch for Nepal’s full participation in the global infrastructure initiative.
Nepal signed up to China’s BRI in 2017, but no substantive progress has been made so far.
The President’s visit to Beijing, according to officials, holds much significance as Nepal will be making a strong commitment to the BRI initiative, with the Trans Himalayan Multi-Dimensional Transport Network encompassing roads, railway lines, aviation, optical fibre and some north-south corridors at its core.
Over 50 heads of the state and government will participate in the conference. After participating in the conference, Bhandari will meet with her Chinese counterpart Xi for the delegation level talks.
“After the delegation level talks, both sides will sign some agreements related to various issues,” Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali told the Post. “Paperwork for the same is being done.”
The main focus of the meeting between Bhandari and Xi, according to officials, will be expediting the Kerung-Kathmandu Railway project, by preparing its detailed project report. Discussions on the pre-feasibility study of the Kerung-Kathmandu-Pokhara railway and Kerung-Kathmandu-Lumbini railway are also on the cards, an official familiar with the preparations for the presidential visit told the Post requesting anonymity because he was not authorised to speak with the media.
Though the National Railway Authority of China handed over a report of the pre-feasibility study of the Kerung-Kathmandu rail in December last year, the Nepali side is awaiting a date for holding the fourth Nepal-China railway talks to agree on preparing the detailed project report of the cross-border railway that crosses one of the most difficult geographical terrains.
The railway meeting should have taken place last month but due to some technical reasons, it was postponed until further notice, said a senior Nepali official who is familiar with the developments.
The crux of the matter is Nepal has requested China to fully fund preparation of the detailed project report of the Kerung-Kathmandu rail that will cost approximately Rs 35 billion. But the Chinese side is awaiting a green signal from its political leadership. The Chinese side, the Post has learned, is of the view that the detailed report should be prepared by dividing the cost between Nepal and China.
Nepal’s Ministry of Physical Infrastructure has already sought Rs17 billion for conducting the joint feasibility study, which will cost around $2.57 billion at current prices.
The Nepali side is looking for some kind of funding modality or arrangements to prepare the detailed project report of the Kerung-Kathmandu railway and carrying out the pre-feasibility study of two other rail sections, said officials.
The meeting between Bhandari and Xi is expected to remove the bottlenecks in funding, said sources.
Also high on the visit agenda is signing of the Protocol on Transit and Transportation, a landmark agreement signed by the two countries in 2016 during the first visit of Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli to Beijing. Once the protocol comes into effect, it will allow Nepali traders to use Chinese sea and land ports for third-country trade.
The major takeaway of the agreement is that Nepal can use four Chinese seaports and three land ports for third-country trade through six dedicated transit points between Nepal and China.
According to the agreement, Nepal will utilise China’s four seaports in Tianjin, Shenzhen, Lianyungang and Zhanjiang and three dry ports in Lanzhou, Lhasa and Shigatse.
In the immediate future, though, only two Nepali entry points--Rasuwagadhi and Tatopani--will be able to conduct trade and business with China and third-country trade via Chinese ports because other trading points are yet to be opened.
Nepali officials are also working to sign a deal on easing the customs process between the two countries.
Yet another area of interest for Nepal, officials said, is cooperation between Nepal and China on traditional medicine.
Besides, the physical infrastructure and energy ministries have already forwarded some projects related to hydropower, transmission lines and construction of the north-south corridors, Sunkoshi Marine Diversion multi-purpose project and opening of three border points--Hilsa, Korola and Kimathanka.
Apart from reviewing bilateral ties, Nepal will also put proposals on various projects under the Belt and Road Initiative on the table for discussion, officials said.
This is the first visit by Nepal’s President to Beijing. President Ram Baran Yadav visited China twice but he was not welcomed in Beijing.
President Bhandari will lead a delegation of over three dozen individuals from various sectors, including the business community.
Foreign Minister Gyawali, Minister for Physical Infrastructure and Transportation Raghubir Mahaseth and senior officials from the Office of the President and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will accompany her.
A senior Foreign Ministry official, who sought anonymity, told the Post that the nature of the presidential visit is yet to be determined. “We are still discussing whether it will be a state visit or an official visit,” said the official.
Bhandari is also expected to extend an invitation to her Chinese counterpart to visit Nepal.
Published: 16-04-2019 07:12