China’s cheap loans to Nepal in infrastructure construction garb to promote trade would contribute to yet another debt trap, Indian government sources concerned said. India is watching closely the neighborhood developments and how China is allegedly trapping Nepal with an eye to increasing its influence within the Himalayan country.

News reports last year reported that China will dominate Kenya’s highly lucrative port of Mombasa. Beijing had lent enormous sums to the construction of Kenya’s rail network, which the African nation cannot pay back. Not only this, the inland container depot in Nairobi is also under pressure from a Chinese takeover.

Debt burden is increasing to unbearable levels and so is the repayment pressure on Pakistan. And the benefits from these infrastructure projects are very meager and uncertain.
So, the questions arises, are China’s cheap loans to poor nations such as Nepal, in garb of infrastructure development to facilitate trade to give a development boost or will lead to another debt trap? The answer to which many countries, paying a heavy price, know too well but perhaps Nepal’s political leadership is unaware of the cost.

Debt-trap Diplomacy

“Before we go further it is important to understand Chinese debt-trap diplomacy,” said a top government officer. The officer elaborated that poorer nations are lured by offers of cheap loans from China for transformative infrastructure projects, such as one presently proposed by China to Nepal.

“Then, if those countries cannot keep up with their repayments, Beijing may demand concessions or other advantages in exchange for debt relief,” the officer explained.

This process is known as the diplomatic debt trap. The development project at Hambantota port in Sri Lanka serves as a cautionary tale for anyone who thinks that China’s support for their infrastructure development comes with no cost.

There are seven countries in the world whose external debt to China exceeds 25 per cent of their GDP, according to research recently published by the Kiel Center for the World Economy.

Nepal’s quest for an alternate transit country succeeded with the finalization of the text for the Protocol of Transit Transport Agreement with China. China formally agreed to provide seven transit points, four sea ports (Tianjin (Xingang), Shenzhen, Lianyungang, Zhanjiang) and three land ports (Lanzhou, Lhasa, Xigatse) to Nepal for trade with third countries.

The protocol materialized after prolonged discussions following the signing of the transit transport agreement (TTA) during Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli’s China visit in March 2016.

“The huge fanfare celebrations were undertaken by both the governments to mislead the innocent people of the higher Himalayas,” said another government officer.

The new route will help Nepal immensely, according to Chinese economists, but strategic experts in other countries that bleed under Chinese debt differ.

Nepal’s BRI Railway

The proposed Belt and Road Initiative railway will link Kerung city in southern Tibet to Nepal’s capital Kathmandu, entering the country in Rasuwa district and eventually going on to India.
But locals have dubbed it as the project “kagatko rail” (paper railway) and

“sapanako rail” (dream railway) for obvious reasons. China prepared for Nepal a pre-feasibility study of the railway and this report suggested it was an extremely hard project.

It is pertinent to note that the Chinese study has not been made public despite intense debate over what’s happening. It is assumed that the report lists “six extremes”: including topography, weather, hydrology and tectonics that will make the project hugely challenging or probably impossible.

Reports also suggest that about 98 per cent of the railway on the Nepal side will be in tunnels and on bridges with about five stopovers.
Tracks will need to be built on steep terrain, as the railway climbs from an altitude of 1,400 metres in Kathmandu to about 4,000 metres in Tibet.

The proposed route also cuts through the mountains near a major fault line where the Indian plate meets the Eurasian plate to form the Himalayas so the area is very susceptible to earthquakes.

With all these limitations and challenges even the naive will understand that it is close to impossible to complete the Belt and Road Initiative dream. Even if it is completed by 2022 it will not sustain.
“Who are you fooling China? Nepalese people are much smarter and intelligent to understand your trap,” the officer said.

The Low Hanging Fruit

Nepal wants to become a vibrant force and achieve gross national happiness as Bhutan did, so it needs to connect with quicker, cheaper and easily accessible routes and facilities provided by India with its industrial and commercial hubs and other multilateral agreements in the region.

“Instead of always looking for alternatives, Nepal should focus on the low hanging fruit and continue its negotiations with India and Bangladesh both at the bilateral and multilateral levels for the well being and happiness of its people. India has always been a time tested partner of Nepal,” said a senior IPS officer.

India’s and China’s relations are connected with the umbilical cord which China is trying to bite to fulfill its vested interests. Remember “Beti aur Roti ka rishta” lasts longer than any other connection in the world.
Nepal also differs historically and culturally with China. Existing examples are Hong Kong, Taiwan.

SOURCE: The Sentinel
Tags: China, Nepal, Tibet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *