Nepal on Tuesday appeared to reject calls from China to join President Xi Jinping’s Global Security Initiative (GSI), but agreed to take forward ambitious cross-border connectivity projects during the visit of Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda to Beijing.
A lengthy joint statement released by the two sides outlined a number of border infrastructure projects, but failed to mention the GSI.
“The Nepali side supports the Global Development Initiative (GDI) proposed by China, and will consider to join the Group of Friends of the GDI,” the statement said. It also noted the 2017 agreement for both sides to cooperate under Mr. Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), saying they would “accelerate consultations to finalise the text” on an already delayed BRI implementation plan “at an early date.”
The GDI, GSI and Global Civilisation Initiative (GCI) are three key new initiatives proposed by Mr. Xi that will underpin China’s foreign policy during his third term.
Kathmandu’s balancing act
The joint statement reflects a careful balancing act from Kathmandu which has made clear it will work with China on development projects but take a cautious approach on matters relating to security cooperation.
Nepal did reaffirm its commitment to China on Tibet and said “it will never allow any separatist activities against China on Nepal’s soil.” China, for its part, said it “firmly supports Nepal in upholding its independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity”. While Nepal refrained from endorsing the GSI in the statement, it did appear to agree to some elements of the kind of security cooperation envisaged by the initiative. The joint statement said both will “undertake joint inspection of China-Nepal boundary” and agreed that “law enforcement cooperation is of great significance to the security of the two countries” as well as “to further strengthen information exchange, capacity building and cooperation on training between their law enforcement institutions”.
The joint statement outlined the breadth and depth of connectivity projects that Nepal and China are working on, including the flagship cross-border railway from Lhasa to Kathmandu that was once dismissed by most observers as unfeasible.
They “agreed to strengthen connectivity in such areas as ports, roads, railways, airways and grids in an orderly manner” and “jointly build the Trans-Himalayan Multi-Dimensional Connectivity Network”, as the plan is called.
They welcomed the opening of the Lizi-Nechung port and the reopening of the Zhangmu-Khasa port to passenger services and agreed to maintain communication for the opening of other border ports such as Chentang-Kimathanka and Riwu-Olangchungola at an early date.
Beijing announced support for work to begin on the fourth phase of the Araniko Highway maintenance project and said it would repair the Syaphrubesi-Rasuwagadhi Highway once the demolition work was completed. An agreement was also reached to launch construction of a 220 KV Cross-Border Power Transmission line from Jilong/Keyrung to Rasuwagadhi/Chilime.
The joint statement also “expressed satisfaction over the progress of the feasibility study of the Jilong/Keyrung-Kathmandu Cross-Border Railway”. The 8th Working Meeting on China-Nepal Railway Cooperation will shortly be held while Beijing will soon begin an initiative to train Nepal railway professionals.
During the visit, Nepal also announced it would provide China with a pair of unicorn rhinos, evoking Beijing’s “panda diplomacy”, as “a gift from the government and people of Nepal to the government and people of China as a symbol for the long-lasting friendship between the two countries.”