Having worked in the hydropower industry for more than 20 years, Wang Ziyang, who is in his 40s, has spent half his career in Nepal.
It was a clear Saturday morning after some overnight drizzle. Wang, general manager of the Nepal Branch of China Gezhouba Group Co, a construction supervisor at the Upper Trishuli 3A Hydroelectric Project, arrived at work as usual.
The dam project is 95 kilometres north of Kathmandu and about 7 kilometres from Wang’s camp.
“It’s been a bit of a roller coaster ride since we started the project in 2011 because there’s been so many natural disasters,” Wang said.
Construction was halted for six months in 2013 and 2014 due to floods, and further paused for two and half years after it was battered by the devastating 7.8-magnitude earthquake in April 2015, he said.
“It only takes three years to build such a project in China, but it takes around 10 years here,” Wang said. “But now most of the work is about to complete, putting it on track to meet the power production deadline of April this year.”
After the 60-megawatt (MW) project is put into operation, it will help alleviate the shortage of electricity in Nepal capital Kathmandu, which often suffered power cuts of more than 10 hours a day in previous years.
“All the hard work is worth it as the sun always shines after a storm,” Wang smiled proudly.
The Upper Trishuli 3A Hydroelectric Project is planned by the Nepal Electricity Authority and funded entirely by the Export-Import Bank of China.
“Under the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), we bring our capital, technology, resources and spirit, aiming to help drive Nepal’s economic growth,” Wang noted.
Most of the heavy equipment was shipped from China through Gyirong, a border port between Nepal and Southwest China’s Tibet Autonomous Region, as the BRI encourages Chinese enterprises to export equipment when seeking cooperation in overseas markets, he noted.
“We also brought many workers and technicians to Nepal since there is a lack of well-trained skilled workers. But we also hire many workers from local villages and offer them professional training.”
The project now involves 167 Chinese employees and 486 Nepalese employees. And it has so far created more than 1,600 jobs for local people.
Changes to Locals
Around 180 kilometres northwest from the Upper Trishuli 3A Project, there is another hydropower project that was financed by Power China Resources and which started commercial operations in January 2017.
The Upper Marsyangdi-A Hydropower Project, with an installed capacity of 50MW, began construction in January 2013 and is the first hydropower project invested by a Chinese enterprise.
Shisupal Chhetree, born in 1965 in northern Nepal, is a deputy manager of the Commercial Contact Department of Sinohydro-Sagarmatha Power Co, a subsidiary of Power China Resources.
Shisupal transferred to the project in 2013. Multilingual, speaking Nepali, English, Chinese, and some Hindi, his role to communicate with local government departments has been vital for the project.
“The project perfectly showed what ‘the Speed of China’ is in these nearly four years, as the Chinese firm brings in its advanced technology, experience and management,” Shisupal told the media.
Shisupal’s bond with China can be traced back to 1991 when he was granted a scholarship to study architecture at Tongji University in Shanghai.
He also encouraged his son to study in China, who has already returned to work in the same firm.
“The Nepalese have seen how hardworking and diligent the Chinese are. China’s development has shed some light on local people and brought changes to us,” Shisupal noted.
“We local people are really thankful for the Chinese firm to help enhance our living standards by providing more electricity, more importantly, creating jobs,” he said.
The Chinese firm hired up to 800 local employees when the project was under construction and their wages are 20 percent higher than the average in other local firms.
“We welcome more Chinese enterprises to come to Nepal in the future under the BRI,” Shisupal said.
Nepal and China signed a memorandum of understanding on the BRI in May 2017.
The two countries are seeking cooperation in sectors under the initiative such as ports, highways and hydropower facilities.
“Nepalese companies are supportive of the BRI and think it is a great opportunity for their development,” Yan Hongwei, general manager of Sinohydro-Sagarmatha Power Co, said.
Nepal’s infrastructure is still relatively poor, and the BRI plays a positive role in promoting the country’s long-term economic development, said Ding Bin, general direct of the representative office of South Asia of China Railway 14th Bureau Group Co (CRCC14).
CRCC14 first tested the waters in Nepal in November 2014 when it built an aid project of the National Armed Police Force Academy. The company also helped construct Nepali Tatopani dry port and upgrade the Araniko Highway, which connects the capital with the Nepal-China border. It is slated to open to traffic by May this year.
“We Chinese often say that if a country wants to become rich, it should build roads first. Nepal not only lacks highways, but the bustling roads are often crowded, and there are no railways or large-capacity airports.”
The current capacity of the Kathmandu Tribhuvan International Airport is seriously inadequate. Approaching aircraft are often forced into holding patterns for some time before they are able to land, he said.
“Under the BRI, we will further strengthen pragmatic cooperation with the Nepalese government and actively integrate into Nepal’s national development plan through participation in Nepal’s tunnel, bridge, housing and road infrastructure construction, and make more contributions to Nepal’s economic and social development,” he said.
For small enterprises, their own strength has been growing through the opportunity to learn more advanced technology and management experience from Chinese companies in the process of cooperation, Ding said. For large companies, they can also cooperate with China’s large enterprises to achieve strong alliances, further enhance their competitiveness in the country, and also enter the Chinese market, according to Ding.
The BRI has brought benefits to Nepal’s development through improvements to its infrastructure and enhancing people’s livelihood, but there are also some challenges Chinese firms may face when seeking growth in the local market, said Zhang Fan, commercial Counsellor of the Chinese Embassy in Nepal.
An unstable political situation, tedious procedures, strict control over foreign exchange and local currency depreciation are major problems for foreign investors, Guo Jing, General Manager of branch office in Nepal under China International Water & Electric Corp Said.
For example, Nepal has released laws and regulations that encourage foreign investment, but cannot fully implement them, Guo said, noting that because of factors like tedious approval procedures and inconsistent costs, any reasonable, legal and normal approval procedure may be delayed for up to 18 months.
“Labour problems were another headache when we first entered the Nepalese market. So we set up a coordination committee, which included more than 50 representatives from local villages, to address their concerns,” Yan said, noting that the committee works well and helps solve such issues.
“We try to act as a role model for mutual cooperation, hoping to enhance locals’ confidence to pursue more ties with Chinese companies,” Yan noted.
After nearly 20 years of turmoil, the political situation in Nepal has gradually stabilised after the recent elections, and the government now has a chance to focus on economic development, Zhang said, adding that its great demand for infrastructure construction has attracted many Chinese enterprises.
Chinese companies should be aware of potential risks in the Nepalese market and learn how to manage the risks, Zhang said.
“By complying with market principles, more Chinese firms will come to Nepal under the BRI to seek high-quality and sustainable development in the future,” he said.