Recent progress in China-Nepal railway hints of the Belt and Road Initiative gathering new momentum after China's party congress

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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 have made little headway.

The latest in a series of meetings between China and Nepal regarding the issue came in September – when the then Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Krishna Bahadur 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.

The meeting had also concluded with both sides reiterating that an understanding has reached to carry out a feasibility study survey for a cross-border railway link between the two neighbors as early as soon in a bid to create conditions for a possible China-Nepal-India economic corridor. However, the issue could make no concrete headway.

But barely two weeks of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) amending the constitution also to incorporate Chinese President Xi Jinping’s brainchild Belt and Road Initiative which envisions a greater connectivity and trade of Asia with Europe for shared development, a high-level Chinese delegation led by the Deputy Administrator of the National Railway Administration Zheng Jian arrived Kathmandu on November 7 for the first time to carry out the inspection on technical viability of the railway.

The 23-member delegation, which comprised of officials from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Transport, members of National Commission, representatives of banks, experts and contractors, among others, also visited Kyirong (bordering area of China with Nepal), Pokhara and Lumbini for the preliminary study of the cross-border railway network. It has been said that if everything goes as planned, the Chinese side will carry out the feasibility study soon after the inspection.

The recent development has clearly hinted that the Belt and Road Initiative has gathered a new momentum after the party congress and China is likely increase its engagement with Belt and Road countries even further to take the initiative into the implementation phase in the next five years. Given this, the only important thing now remains is that the Belt and Road countries like Nepal should also show equal sincerity and eagerness to cease the unprecedented opportunities China-led BRI provides and pave way for common development. Otherwise, it would be yet another story of missed opportunity to better future.

In case of Nepal, the Chinese side has agreed in principle to provide technical as well as financial support to Nepal for the construction of a cross-border railway link that would link Kyirong, Tibet with Kathmandu, Pokhara and Lumbini (three cities of Nepal). The Nepali government should officially move forward the project, which Nepali Foreign Ministry officials say, will spread the positive message and encourage Chinese authorities to expedite the project.

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