The forward march
After the spectacular informal summit with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chinese President Xi Jinping brought to the table matters of grave significance and consequence for his the Nepali leadership upon his subsequent visit to Kathmandu. An interesting piece of information is that Xi had shared with Modi that when he lands in Kathmandu for a State visit, he would become the first Chinese President to visit Nepal in 23 years, and, incedently, when Modi visited Nepal in 2014 for a bilateral summit, he was the first Indian Prime Minister to visit the Himalayan kingdom in 23 years as well. Ironically, this does indicate a status of near equivalence of both India and China for the small but strategically crucial state of Nepal. With respect to India, Nepal had been a very close and bankable friend but the equation underwent some changes in the past years. As matters stand, Nepal's increasing closeness with China and distance with India is an undeniable cause of concern. Talking of deeper defence ties and offering help to make Nepal land-linked are, in fact, very favourable elements directed towards Nepal's growth and Nepal has every reason to collaborate with China. The concern is that such a close collaboration between China and Nepal will come with a price which India will have to pay. Xi expressed that he would use the two-day visit to "renew friendship and explore cooperation with [his] Nepali friends", and that "It is important that we adopt a strategic and long-term perspective and draw up a blueprint for our bilateral relationship to take it to a new height in this new era." Taking matters forward and promising NRs 56 billion to Nepal over the next two years for development programmes is a significant first step in taking Nepal further away from India. Additionally, the two Asian countries inked 20 agreements on Sunday to bolster their bilateral ties. The Chinese President and Nepali Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli held delegation-level talks, following which, the two sides signed 18 MoUs and two letters of exchange in various sectors including transport, agriculture, industry, commerce, and supply. It figured very prominently that the meeting between the two leaders focused on all aspects of Nepal-China relations. The Chinese President also pledged to upgrade the Arniko Highway linking Kathmandu with Tatopani transit point which was shut down after the devastating earthquake of 2015, and to open more customs points facilitating connectivity. Facilitating better connectivity in a lesser developed country is an undisputably good way of taking it in confidence. Although China is infamous for its debt-trap diplomacy, seeking to colonise smaller and relatively weaker nations that are strategically very crucial, but for any nation refusing favourable help which will likely do it much good in the short run will amount to a bad decision, especially when terms and conditions are not those to create pressure in the foreseeable political and governmental future.
Xi Jinping said that a feasibility study of trans-Himalayan railway will soon start and China will also support the construction of the Kerung-Kathmandu tunnel road. "We have model friendship in the world, and there is no issue between the two countries," Xi Jinping said during a state banquet hosted by his Nepali counterpart President Bidya Devi Bhandari on Saturday in his honour. Both the Presidents agreed to develop relations, friendship, and partnership that would help in bringing development and prosperity for Nepal. What also reflects is that this event is more than a one-to-one leadership exercise, unlike the case with the Indian Prime Minister, and a structural approach in its entirety for the purpose of nation-building and Nepal's national interest. Xi saying that "We want to support Nepal in realising its dream to become a land-linked country from the landlocked country" and facilitating more reliable and easier connectivity between the two countries point to concrete actions to be taken and specific results looked forward to. China's assurance to provide further support in the post-quake reconstruction in promotion of 'Visit Nepal Year 2020', support to education sector and urban development in the country are all steps to make significant developments in Nepal credited to Chinese assistance. Further, Nepal's President Bhandari reiterated Nepal's commitment to 'One-China policy' and said Nepal will not allow any force to use its territory against China. This factor is one of grave repercussions for India as border disputes with China and matter of Trans-Karakoram Tract prevail and having an immediate neighbour pledging support of this kind does not bode too well for India. Nepal shares a long border with Tibet and is home to nearly 20,000 Tibetan exiles. It is a fact that very year, close to 2,500 Tibetans illegally enter Nepal crossing Tibetan border on their way to Dharamshala to meet the 84-year-old Dalai Lama. But, that apart, as matters of hard, cold development take precedence, political exchanges between Nepal and China displayed an important feature when Xi Jinping also met with the president of the main Opposition party Nepali Congress Sher Bahadur Deuba and they discussed ways to strengthen bilateral ties besides meeting Nepal Communist Party co-chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda. It is definitely to Nepal's credit that political differences among their politicos was absent and the main stream leadership got together for the sake of Nepal's national interest. One-on-one rapport between leaders is certainly to be appreciated but when it comes to matters of national interest, it is the leadership collectively that counts as a nation.