If there is one thing China looks for while dealing with foreign countries, it is stability. In the understanding of the Chinese leadership, countries, including China, can progress only if it has a stable polity. This can in turn be guaranteed only by strong national leaders, which partly explains President Xi Jinping’s centralization of powers in China; and it explains why the Chinese are so optimistic about the future of Nepal-China relations. President Xi and the Chinese leadership are ready to do business with perhaps the strongest prime minister in Nepal’s democratic history, who promises five years of uninterrupted reign.
Chinese scholars and diplomats alike were frustrated by the constantly changing cast of characters in Singadurbar, with the Nepali government on average changing every nine months. Earlier, China used to see the monarchy as the guarantor of stability, but after its removal, it had been on a lookout for another dependable ally in Nepal. And it has found one in KP Sharma Oli. This is what makes us optimistic that the agreements that PM Oli has signed with China, both during his first state visit in 2016 and during his second one in 2018, will be implemented.
Most significantly, President Xi expressed his confidence that the “rail network that runs through Shanghai, Lhasa and Shigatse will reach Kathmandu, helping Nepal’s quest for development and prosperity.” Never before had the Chinese leadership expressed such faith in the cross-border rail network. Other bilateral agreements are aimed at increasing people-to-people and trade connectivity and helping the Nepali government achieve its dream of ‘prosperous Nepal, happy Nepalis’. There is one on development of cross-border power transmission lines, which, if realized, would reduce Nepal’s dependence on India both for the development and market-access for its electricity. An oversight mechanism has been established to ensure the Chinese projects in Nepal are completed on time.
These are all vital developments. Even as he increases his outreach to China, PM Oli has also been able to take his Indian counterpart into confidence. He must be given credit for this deft balancing act. Even if the record of his government on the domestic front is mixed, on foreign policy, it passes with flying colors so far. Perhaps the biggest test of his foreign policy will come via the Kerung-Kathmandu rail-link project, with its attendant geopolitical and economic implications, when the feasibility study is complete in August.
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