Historically, Nepal has always been closer to India, a reflection of their cultural and linguistic affinity, political links, and the unique open border regime that exists between the two countries. But if the growing engagement between Nepal and China, its northern neighbor, in recent years is any indication, Kathmandu may become just as close to Beijing in the near future.
Nepalese Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli wrapped up his seven-day official visit to Beijing at the invitation of his Chinese counterpart Li Keqiang on March 27, after signing 10 different bilateral agreements dealing with free trade, transport connectivity, financial cooperation, and transit facilities through China. The 15-point Joint Statement issued at the end of the visit charts out a number of areas of cooperation that will greatly deepen engagements between the two countries. Oli’s visit to China took place against the backdrop of a four-month long “unofficial” Indian economic blockade – something India denies orchestrating.
“This is indeed a historic visit as for the first time the two prime ministers have spoken at length and agreed on the Chinese train from Shigatse to Rasuwagadhi in the Nepal border. Nepal has also for the first time been given transit rights from China,” said the director of a Kathmandu-based think tank, the Center for South Asian Studies (CSAS), Nishchal N. Pandey.
Although experts doubt its commercial viability, at least for now, the trade and transit agreement will give the landlocked Himalayan nation a right to trade with third countries through Chinese ports. This arrangement will break Nepal’s total dependence on India. The nearest Chinese port, Tianjin, is over 3,000 kilometers away from the Nepal-China border, while the distance to the nearest Indian port – Haldiya – is just 1,000 kilometers from the Indo-Nepal border.