‘Gains in Nepal-China ties are irreversible’

rajan2As Prime Minister KP Oli prepares to embark on his maiden official visit to India, many are suspicious that improvement of relations with India, which have been sour for the past few months, might overshadow prospective long-term agreements with China.

But MP Rajan Bhattarai, who is a member of the recently-formed Eminent Persons’ Group to review Indo-Nepal ties, says cross-border trading points with China will open, regardless of who comes to power, and the level of political will Nepal’s leadership has.

* There is no going back on China-Nepal cooperation

* It is no longer dependent of individual will

* Important, long-term agreements could be signed during Oli’s visit to China

In an interview with Onlinekhabar’s English edition, Bhattarai, considered close to Prime Minister KP Oli, said it is now relatively easier for Nepal (than in 1990, when India enforced a blockade on Nepal) to upgrade and operate more border trading points with China. “Now the course of Nepal-China ties is beyond the will of an individual,” said Bhattarai, who belongs to the ruling party. “Anyone who does not heed the people’s opinion, and does not consider the country’s long-term interests will be swept away,” he added.

Bhattarai claimed that it would be the Oli government that will upgrade existing cross-border trading points with China, and open new ones. Prime Minister Oli is likely to visit Beijing in March after returning from India in the second/third week of February. Bhattarai said that Nepal and China could sign concrete agreements on long-term cooperation during Oli’s China visit. “Even if for some reason, this government is unable to do it, the next government has no option but to do it,” he said adding that if the central government is reluctant to do it, then provincial ones would do it.

Asked if he had evidence to support his argument, he presented three points.

* Chinese territory bordering Nepal is developing at a rapid pace

* Chinese government is willing to invest

* Locals themselves are demanding change

“First, in the past China’s regions bordering Nepal were underdeveloped in the past. But going by the pace at which China is moving, this is likely to change soon. By 2019, China’s railway network would have reached Keyrong.

“Second the Chinese government is willing to invest in Tatopani customs. Some elements may try to delay this, but sooner or later, Tatopani will be upgraded.

“Third locals have already started demanding that we open trading points in places like Korala. Even if we want to, we won’t be able to stop it from opening. ”

That is why Nepal-China ties have moved past the point of no return now.

On Indo-Nepal cooperation and the role of EPG

During Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Nepal, it was agreed that an eminent persons’ group would be formed to review the 1950 treaty and other Indo-Nepal agreements. Bhattarai, who is a member of the recently-formed group, said, the EPG will focus more on how bilateral ties can be strengthened in the future.

During the interview with Onlinekhabar, Bhattarai listed three major talking points on bilateral ties.


* India’s growing influence in South Asia

* Change in Nepal’s governance capacity

* India’s involvement in political change in Nepal

“First, there should be no comparison between Indian and Nepal in terms of geography, population, economic development and strategic importance. That is why Indo-Nepal relations is termed as being unequal. But both countries are equal when it comes to independence and sovereignty. We should discuss how to take our ties forward keeping this truth in mind.

“India is a rising power. It wants to move beyond its sphere of influence in South Asia. It also wants its influence in the neighbourhood to grow at the same pace.”

“Second, India is a rising power. It wants to move beyond its sphere of influence in South Asia. It also wants its influence in the neighbourhood to grow at the same pace. That is why there are times when a gap is created between what Nepal wants and what India wants.

“Third, India has always had a direct or indirect influence on any kind of political change in Nepal. India has supported democratic movements around the world. It also played a positive role in Nepal’s peace process. That is why they (India) believe that their role in Nepal is ever-expanding. But Nepal has changed from what it was in the past. There was a time when our state agencies were not strong enough, and India’s role was bigger. But now, Nepal is at a point when where we have realised that the future of Indo-Nepal relations should be guided by respect for each other’s sovereignty.”

Bhattarai said that Nepal should also not forget that India has its own set of concerns about Nepal. “I have observed that at times we forget those concerns, or try to forget those concerns, and this is at the root of all problems.”

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