Cautious optimism in Nepal as India and China show sign of rapprochement

Published On: April 23, 2018 07:35 AM NPT By: Kosh Raj Koirala  | @KoshRKoirala

KATHMANDU, April 23: Although it is too early to predict if there will be rapprochement between India and China anytime soon, the proposed informal summit meeting between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping in China next week is being seen with cautious optimism in Nepal. 

There are high hopes that the meeting will likely bring the relations between India and China that suffered serious hiccups due to the Doklam standoff last year back to normal, paving the way for long-term peace and stability in the region. 

"It is too early to predict if the proposed summit meeting will bring rapprochement in their relations. But I think this will certainly pave the way for creating an environment conducive to that end. Nepal should welcome this development," said former foreign secretary Madhu Raman Acharya. 

Indian Prime Minister Modi and President Xi Jinping are scheduled to hold a meeting in China's Wuhan city for an informal summit to strengthen bilateral ties on April 27 and 28, according to Indian media reports. The meeting was announced after a meeting between Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Beijing on Sunday.

Minister Swaraj, according to reports, said the summit will provide an opportunity to the two countries to discuss the whole gamut of their bilateral ties including international matters and strengthen "closer developmental partnership".

Although China and India are onboard together in various inter-governmental organizations including BRICS, Shanghai Cooperation Organizations and Asian Infrastructure Investment Development Bank (AIIB) and are also working together on various issues of global concerns such as climate change, there are several issues on which they differ sharply. One such case being India's refusal to be a part of China's ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which New Delhi claims violates its sovereignty in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). 

Nepal has chosen to be a part of the BRI despite India's displeasure. The summit meeting between Modi and Xi is taking place ahead of Modi's proposed visit to Nepal in May second week.

During the meeting with Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali in Beijing last week, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi invited India to join China-Nepal connectivity project, while arguing that the prosperity of Nepal should be a common goal shared by both India and China.

China has also been proposing the construction of a trans-Himalayan trilateral economic corridor, an ambitious plan that seeks to connect the two countries and Nepal. There are predictions in diplomatic circles in Kathmandu that the issues concerning Nepal are also likely to figure in the Xi-Modi meeting, apart from the issues concerning deescalating the tension that exists between New Delhi and Beijing. 

Foreign affairs experts in Kathmandu see the warming relation between India and China is equally likely to help remove political constraints that the Himalayan nation faces in its foreign relations and its development endeavors. Nepal currently faces a difficult situation managing 'balanced' relations as India and China appear to have more competition than cooperation in the region. 

The development may not be totally risk-free for Nepal, though. "The attention that both India and China are currently giving to Nepal may naturally go down. This equally poses a risk for Nepal to lose development dividend that it is currently receiving owing to their strategic competition," said a senior Nepali diplomat, asking not to be named. 

While China first offered to connect Nepal with its railway network via Rasuwagadhi, India came in response to link its railway with Kathmandu via Raxaul.

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