China is shoring-up its connectivity projects with Nepal and Myanmar, including a trans-Himalayan network, a cross-border railway venture and an economic corridor under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
The Nepal-China Trans-Himalayan Multi-dimensional Connectivity Network, including the Nepal-China cross-border railway, have been named under the list of projects under the BRI.
The naming of the bilateral projects with Nepal coincided with Beijing dropping the BCIM or the Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar Corridor from the BRI projects’ list.
Instead, China has now named the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor under the BRI, an indication that Beijing will go ahead with infrastructure projects in south Asia bilaterally.
Simultaneously, visiting Nepalese President Bidhya Devi Bhandari said in Beijing that the BRI is offering new opportunities for Nepal and she hopes Chinese investors and enterprises can invest more in Nepal.
China has plans to extend a railway line from Tibet to Kathmandu.
The Chinese railway link will eventually be extended to the western tourist city of Pokhara and to Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha, near the border with India on the southern plains, said media reports in Kathmandu.
According to the Nepalese embassy in Beijing, China is Nepal’s largest source of foreign direct investment and its second largest trading partner.
The trade between the two countries in 2018 was US$1.29 billion, said an embassy publication.
It is clear from China’s approach to projects in South Asia that it will strike bilateral deals with countries in India’s neighbourhood.
The new list of projects under the BRI was released over the weekend at the end of the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation (BRF).
India skipped the forum because of sovereignty concerns over the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) passing through the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
China now has bilateral projects with Pakistan, Nepal, and Myanmar and is separately building, or pumping in money, into ports, bridges and railway networks in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and the Maldives.
Until recently, the BCIM was one of the six economic corridors that China had named under the BRI. The BCIM aims to connect southwest China’s Kunming city with Dhaka in Bangladesh, Mandalay in Myanmar and Kolkata.
The BCIM was conceived before President Xi Jinping launched the BRI in 2013 but it was subsequently included among the six major economic and transport corridors under the multi-billion dollar collectivity project.
In Chinese academic and expert circles, India has been blamed for the slow progress in the BCIM as New Delhi is said to be apprehensive about the security situation in the northeastern states.
In November, China, and Myanmar signed a renegotiated deal to develop a multi-billion dollar deep sea port in Kyaukpyu on the coast of Bay of Bengal, third in India’s neighbourhood.
China has already helped build a port in Gwadar in Pakistan and Hambantota in Sri Lanka. It is also funding the development of the Chittagong port in Bangladesh.
Located on the western coast of Myanmar in Rakhine state, the scaled-down port, part of a special economic zone (SEZ), when developed will not be far away from a submarine base India is developing on its east coast, close to Vishakhapatnam.