China and Nepal have had several rounds of talks, both formal and informal, about possible cross-border railway connectivity under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Until recently, the talks had made little headway.
In May, at a bilateral meeting in Beijing, Chinese Vice-premier Wang Yang had told Nepal’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara that China would provide financial support for the construction of the cross-border railway link. After that, both sides had even designated focal persons for expediting the process to kick-start the project, according to MyRepublica.com.
There were further meetings between China and Nepal in September – when Mahara of Nepal had a bilateral delegation-level meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi while visiting Beijing.
Both sides reiterated their commitment to agreements on developing cross-border economic and transport links, according to the South China Morning Post. But there didn’t appear to be concrete steps taken toward establishing a cross-border railway link between the neighbors.
Then China held the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party, where the country amended the constitution to incorporate Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “Belt and Road Initiative.” The initiative is a massive infrastructure project aimed at connecting China with Asia and Europe.
Soon after, there was movement. A high-level Chinese delegation led by the Deputy Administrator of the National Railway Administration Zheng Jian arrived in Nepal in early November to carry out the inspection on technical viability of the railway, according to the Kathmandu Post.
It reported that the 23-member delegation – which included officials from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Transport, members of National Commission, representatives of banks and contractors – visited Kathmandu and areas along the China-Nepal border.
China’s National Railway Administration told officials in Nepal that Beijing has made developing the cross-border railway a high priority, according to Xinhua, China’s state-run news agency. However, Xinhua reported that Chinese officials acknowledged the project will be challenging.
Still, the developments hint that the Belt and Road Initiative has gathered new momentum after the Communist Party Congress. It could indicate that China is likely increase its engagement with nearby countries to move the initiative into the implementation phase in the next five years.