Nepal not part of China’s strategic gateway to South Asia
Beijing not likely to invest in the Lhasa-Kathmandu train route
Quote: “Lhasa to Kathmandu train route may yield returns in 100 years. However, if we build infrastructure through Myanmar, it can give results within 40 years” — Ai Ping, Vice Minister of the International Department of Central Committee of Communist Party of China
Ajaya Bhadra Khanal
Kathmandu, September 2
Senior Chinese officials and academics say Nepal is not part of China’s strategic gateway to South Asia.
Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai has positioned Nepal as a bridge between China and India, however, given the topographical terrain, China’s engagement in South Asia is being planned through a completely different route.
China is carrying out massive infrastructure projects and logistics in Yunnan province in southern part of China to connect not just to Southeast Asia, but also to South Asia and East Africa as well, Ai Ping, Vice Minister of the International Department of Central Committee of Communist Party of China said.
“Nepali people must get realistic,” Ai said. He was answering questions raised by the media during a recent banquet at the IDCPC to honour a group of visiting Nepali media delegates.
The Gateway Strategy started in December 2009, after Chinese President Hu Jintao announced that China would turn Yunnan into a social and economic corridor towards South and Southeast Asia.
Construction has begun on 12 railroads connecting Yunnan with other parts of China as well as Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam. The connection to South Asia is through the Southern Silk Route and consists of the Kunming-Myanmar Road, China-India Road and Guangtong-Dali railway. The route through Myanmar connects to Bangladesh and northeastern part of India.
As a result, China is not likely to invest in the Lhasa to Kathmandu train route, which may yield returns in 100 years, says Ai Ping. “However, if we build infrastructure through Myanmar, it can give results within 40 years,” he says.
“Nepal, however, is still very important as a bridge between South Asia and western part of China,” Prof Wang Hongwei of the Institute of Asian Pacific Studies told THT. Given the difficulty of connecting western regions to the mainland, China could prefer the region’s trade with South Asia,” Prof Wang said.
The view was shared by Hu Shiseng, Director of Institute of South and Southeast Asian and Oceania Studies of the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations said.
“Nepal can be a very important tourist destination for Buddhist pilgrimage,” he said. “Its role for stability of Western China is also important.”
According to Chinese officials, transport is an important part of the Gateway Project and the government is investing more than 500 billion yuan.
Other than for the stability of Tibet, Nepal does not figure prominently in Beijing’s plans. “China does not have a specific interest in Nepal,” Ai said. “We want the country to succeed economically,” he said. “What we want to see is just stability. If you don’t have stability, you won’t be able to help China’s stability, particularly, Tibet,” he said.
“It’s not only a moral policy, it’s also a realistic policy,” he said.