Nepal’s trade with China via the land routes has been disrupted once again with the Chinese side halting the trade through Rasuwagadhi-Kerung till February 3. The Chinese side has cited the celebration of Chinese New Year, which kicked off on January 22 and will be celebrated through February 5. The abrupt decision of Chinese authorities to close the only border point that is currently operational between the two countries comes barely a month after the northern neighbor opened the border point following its decision to ease COVID-19 related restrictions it enforced to contain the spread of the virus. The border point was opened after a hiatus of three years after the outbreak of COVID-19 in China. The latest decision of Chinese authorities to close the border point again does not only bring significant hardships for Nepalis but also sends ripple effects on the country’s ailing economy. Needless to say, the decision has significantly eroded the trust of Nepali businessmen that the land routes with China can be used as a viable option to import and export goods to and from China. No matter what may be the reasons cited, the closure of the border point by China comes at the expense of Beijing’s own reputation as a good neighbor.
Nepal shares its border with the Tibet autonomous region of China in a vast stretch of 1,414 kilometers along the Himalayan range. Although China has officially announced opening of six border points, namely Kodari-Nyalam (Tatopani-Khasa), Rasuwa-Kerung, Yari (Humla)-Purang, Olangchung Gola-Riwu, Kimathanka- Riwu and Nechung (Mustang)-Lizi checkpoints, for bilateral trade, only two border points-- Tatopani-Khasa and Rasuwagadhi-Kerung—are brought into operation till date. But with the decision to close Tatopani-Khasa border point, which is often cited as an epitome of the unique friendship between the two countries, indefinitely since the 2015 earthquake, the Rasuwagadhi-Kerung is the only border point that is in operation between the two countries. Nepal mostly imports ready-made clothes, footwear, apples, motor batteries and plastic products, among others, from China, while Nepal exports Pashmina products, carpets, bamboo stools, wheat, vegetable ghee, noodles, pasta, biscuit, juice, jam, beaten rice, sugar, Nepali hog plum candy, chocolates and chewing gum to China through this land route. The frequent closure of the border has also affected the livelihoods of many Nepali traders who rely on trade with China for their income. The loss of this income has led to financial difficulties for these individuals and their families, and has also had a negative impact on the Nepali economy as a whole. Following China’s decision to close the border for three years after the COVID-19 outbreak, there were reports in the Nepali media that a few businessmen who sought to import goods through the land route were forced to take a harsh decision to commit suicide after the goods they imported were stuck in China for years, making them unable to pay back the loans. The severity of hardship that people living in bordering areas face as a result of the border closure is much worse.
Nepali traders have long been complaining that China often imposes stern clauses for cross-border movement of Nepali traders even when limited trading is allowed. While the Chinese side unilaterally let go of their trucks in larger numbers in many cases, Nepali cargo trucks are denied the same privilege. Understandably, China has some security concerns– something the two countries can sit together and find mutually agreeable solutions– as Nepal shares a border with its Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). But it is imperative that a solution is found to re-open the border as soon as possible to mitigate the impact of this decision on Nepal's economy and the livelihoods of its citizens. The onus also lies on China to provide easy transit access to the country that is landlocked. Keeping in view of the fact that Nepal and China have a long-standing relationship as friendly neighbors, we urge Chinese authorities to reconsider their decision to close the border point that could potentially harm this relationship. It would be in the best interest of both the countries to keep the border point open and maintain the existing trade and economic relationship. Else, there is no point in developing the trade related infrastructures that are either completed or are under construction on either side of the border.