Back from Beijing, PM Dahal has nothing to show for Belt and Road plans

Prior to his China visit, PM Dahal had publicly stated that he would discuss the Belt and Road Initiative implementation plan, and seek a Chinese grant for a mega project, neither of which were addressed in the press statement issued.


Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal upon arrival in Kathmandu from China, on September 30, 2023. PHOTO: COURTESY OF PM SECRETARIAT/ THE KATHMANDU POST

October 2, 2023

KATHMANDU – Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal returned home on Saturday after his two-week-long visit to China and New York.

Talking to the media upon arrival at the Tribhuvan International Airport, Dahal made no mention of the Belt and Road Initiative, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s flagship project, that was tipped to be taken forward as a Nepal-China after negotiations in Beijing.

Both the 40-point press note issued in Kathmandu and the question-answer session with journalists found no mention of the term BRI as the prime minister said nothing about his discussion with the Chinese leadership on executing some projects under the BRI.

Discussions took place on connecting Nepal and Tibet through railway, road, air service, transmission line and information highway, said the press note, putting the plan under the Trans-Himalayan Multidimensional Connectivity Network.

The joint statement issued on September 27, however, mentioned the BRI. The two sides, acknowledging the signing of the memorandum of understanding between the government of Nepal and the government of the People’s Republic of China on bilateral cooperation under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative on 12 May 2017, expressed their commitment to accelerating the consultations to finalise the text on the BRI Implementation Plan at an early date, said the statement.

Prior to his China visit, the prime minister had publicly stated that he would discuss in Beijing the BRI implementation plan. He had also said that Nepal would seek a Chinese grant for a mega project. These did not figure in the joint communiqué and press statement issued on Saturday.

Nepali and Chinese officials expressed their readiness to exchange experiences on their development strategies, deepen practical cooperation in infrastructure connectivity, trade, tourism, production capacity and investment, and solidify the Belt and Road cooperation to deliver greater benefits, said the joint communiqué. The two sides agreed to strengthen connectivity in the areas of ports, roads, railways, airways and grids, jointly build the Trans-Himalayan Multi-Dimensional Connectivity Network, work together to ensure the safety of cooperation projects and company personnel of the two countries, and contribute to Nepal’s graduation from a least developed country soon.

Govinda Acharya, press adviser to the prime minister, however, said all issues concerning Nepal were discussed during Dahal’s visit to the northern neighbour. The prime minister read out the statement prepared by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “The prime minister categorically spoke about the joint statement and the 12-point agreement. There is no need to mention the BRI again,” said Acharya.

The prime minister said he had taken up the issue of Nepal’s new map in Beijing, without giving the specifics. China on August 26 released its “2023 edition of the standard map of China” that did not use the new Nepal map issued in May 2020. In the weeks since, there have been calls from different quarters to take up the matter with the Chinese side.

The International Relations and Tourism Committee of the House of Representatives also directed the government to urge the Chinese authorities to use the new Nepal map instead of the old one. After the committee’s instruction, Foreign Secretary Bharat Raj Paudyal earlier this month called Chinese Ambassador Chen Song to the ministry and expressed Nepal’s concerns over the map and some controversial remarks on Nepal-China relations by the envoy, said an official at the prime minister’s private secretariat.

“We had already discussed the map issue with the Chinese side. It figured during my visit too,” said the prime minister, responding to a query. In a statement issued on September 1, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that Nepal stands firm on its political and administrative map unanimously approved by Parliament in 2020. “The government of Nepal unequivocally believes that this map must be respected by our neighbours as well as the international community,” said the statement.

The map issue too did not figure in the joint communiqué or any statements released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the prime minister’s private secretariat and the Nepali Embassy in Beijing.

The prime minister failed to explain why there was no agreement between Nepal and China on cross-border energy trade. Before the trip, Dahal had said Nepal and China would sign an energy trade pact during his visit.

Dahal arrived in Kathmandu from Chengdu on Saturday. Sichuan Provincial Government Vice Governor Yang Xingping, Chinese Ambassador to Nepal Chen Song, and other high-level provincial foreign ministry officers saw the prime minister off at the Chengdu Airport.

In Kathmandu, the prime minister described his visits to the north and the United Nations General Assembly as successful ones.

“The visit [to China] has created an environment of mutual trust at the top political level and a conducive situation to attract more investment, expand bilateral trade and mutual cooperation while strengthening bilateral relations at the people’s level,” Dahal told reporters at the Kathmandu airport.

He said an understanding was reached between Nepal and China to open all checkpoints that were in operation before the coronavirus pandemic. Both Nepal and China agreed to bring the checkpoints used locally in the northern parts into operation after completing technical and other preparations. The Chinese side is reportedly ready to provide grants to make the checkpoints operational.

The prime minister left the country on September 16 to attend the 78th session of the UN General Assembly on September 21 and participated in bilateral meetings in New York with some foreign leaders on the sidelines of the UNGA.

Dahal claimed that Nepal’s participation in the UNGA had worked towards getting international support for taking the remaining tasks of the peace process to a logical conclusion.

On September 22, he left for the Chinese city of Hangzhou, where he attended the opening ceremony of the 19th Asian Games and held talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping. In Beijing, Dahal met his Chinese counterpart and witnessed the signing of 12 bilateral agreements and pacts.

He toured Tibet and visited Manasarovar Lake, a highly revered pilgrimage site for Hindus, Buddhists and Jains. During his India visit from May 31 to June 3, Dahal had prayed at the renowned Mahakaleshwar Temple in Ujjain.

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