In Nepal, Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has become almost synonymous to ‘Rail and Roads’. Some even assume that the success of BRI typically means Chinese Rail coming to Nepal.
Inclusion of ‘China-Nepal Trans-Himalayan Multi-Dimensional Connectivity Network’, including ‘cross-border railway’, in the Joint Communiqué of the Second Belt and Road Forum (BRF) held in Beijing from April 25 to 27, further boosted such presumptions.
As Nepal is yet to finalise the concrete BRI projects and their investment modality, a visiting Chinese scholar in Kathmandu has tried to create conceptual clarity on the most talked project of the present time.
Dr. Wang Yuzhu, the Director of the Department of Regional Cooperation Studies, National Institute of International Strategy, Chinese Academy of Social Science was in Nepali capital last week for a lecture on BRI.
Dr. Wang defined BRI as a regional extension of an internally driven initiative to address the disparity among Chinese provinces in terms of infrastructure development, economic growth and people’s living standard.
“The beginning of BRI was internally driven but by the time it has been expanded in regional level as China wants to share its development experiences cultivated during past forty years of opening up and economic reforms”, said Dr. Wang during the lecture organised by Kathmandu based China Culture Center (CCC) on Saturday.
According to him given its current confidence in infrastructure development, Chinese commitment for ‘Trans-Himalayan Railway’ plan is genuine, but BRI is not limited to Rail and Roads. Dr. Wang advanced US$34 billion energy deal struck between China and Pakistan in 2015 under BRI as the best example to cite for a diverse scope of the initiative.
“BRI is a platform where participating countries can choose their priority projects and China is there, in the end, to assist, however, every single project can have exclusive investment modality of its own”, clarified Dr. Wang.
Connectivity is the Key, BRI is the Bridge
Asia is suffering connectivity deficit and imbalance in development patterns in comparison to other continents across the globe.
The infrastructure shortfall has become chief characteristic in this region.
It is a less integrated region where sub-regional cooperation falls below the mark.
China thinks BRI is the bridge to address this very gap as connectivity is the key to regional integration.
According to Dr. Wang China is focusing on infrastructures as a key area of BRI because it is the most crucial element for identification and utilisation of resources in any country or region and more importantly for the connectivity.
He defined prospect rail connectivity between China and Nepal as vintage for a paradigm shift.
It can be an entrance of land route for the whole world to reach South Asia which according to him offers an alternative to the existing dependency on sea and air roots to enter the region.
Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and Silk Road Fund according to Dr. Wang are better alternative fund providers for desperate countries like Nepal since west promoted organisations like International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank pursue strict standard leaving poor countries out of their reach.
BRI is not Bilateral
Though BRI began as internally driven initiative to address the development disparity within China it has gone global within a very short span of time.
It includes 1/3 of world trade and GDP and over 60% of the world’s population. According to Global Times (22 April 2019), China has signed a total of 174 BRI cooperation documents with 126 countries and 29 international organisations within 5 years.
Second Belt and Road Forum in Beijing was attended by more than 5,000 participants from around 150 countries and 90 international organisations, including heads of state and government from 37 countries.
The secretary-general of the United Nations and the managing director of the International Monetary Fund were among the global dignitaries to be present in the forum.
This volume evidently demonstrates the magnificence of the BRI.
“It is often mistaken as a bilateral initiative but actually BRI is an initiative with regional and global scope”, stated Dr. Wang during the lecture.
The pioneer of BRI Chinese president Xi Jinping often emphasises on a four-pronged approach to address the ‘deficits’ in global affairs.
fairness and reasonableness to address the governance deficit while promoting multilateralism, consultation, and understanding between different civilisations so as to increase trust and mutual recognition, joint efforts and mutual assistance to address the peace deficit in the world and win-win results to address the development deficit.
BRI is accumulated expression of this philanthropic philosophy. Xi has defined BRI as a thorough and solid global cooperation venture that offers a new solution to improve global governance.
Through physical or digital connectivity (railroads or 5G technology) BRI offers connection and integration among the nations in the age of division. Chinese immediate neighbours like Nepal should not get late to realise the potential of the project and assimilate it.