China’s courtship of Nepal is blooming, and India is anxiously looking on. Nepali P.M. Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli met with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on Monday in Beijing, where the two countries signed 10 agreements and called for greater cooperation.
Situated between India to the south and China to the north, Nepal is benefiting from the two giants’ competition for its favor. Ties and trade have historically been stronger with India, but Beijing has recently been making major inroads, with many more to come.
Last June Blouin News reported on Nepal’s recovery from a devastating earthquake, in which the top two donors were India and China. “We reacted as if a disaster had struck India,” said Sushma Swaraj, India’s foreign minister. But ties soured in September when Nepal adopted a federal constitution that Delhi disliked, and India imposed an unofficial fuel blockade (see Blouin News’ coverage) on the landlocked Himalayan country — whose trade is almost entirely dependent on transit through India. That ill-advised and counterproductive move (which lasted until February) was yet another example of Indian interference in Nepal’s internal affairs, in contrast to China’s perennial stance of respecting mutual sovereignty and non-interference.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Nepal is seeking China’s help in transportation connectivity to reduce its overdependence on India. One of the agreements signed on Monday was for Nepal to have transit rights through China, with the two countries establishing a strategic rail link via Tibet to major Chinese production centers.
Other agreements on oil and gas, tourism, and industrial capacity were inked as well, and the two sides will start feasibility studies on a FTA. These will all make a difference for Nepal, but just as important is the message Kathmandu is sending to India: we can turn elsewhere.