Connectivity Conundrum

08 January, 2018



Geographical positioning of a country can be the leverages and constraints in the economic and military power exercised by that country in the international system. The landlocked nature of Nepal's geophysical positioning between India and China itself speaks volumes about its limited foreign policy options. Accessible, advance and affordable cross-border connectivity can stimulate the economic integration process between the countries. However, connectivity is also very deeply intertwined in different layers of geopolitics and geoeconomics..

There is consensus on political and business circle as well as in the spectrum of civil society that Nepal should enhance connectivity in its southern frontiers and open up its northern frontiers. Nepal's overwhelming enthusiasm in Chinese connectivity projects is the result of bitter past experiences with India including the 2015 economic blockade. With that in mind, Nepal should effectively promote its transport connectivity with both India and China; that can be regarded as the pragmatic foreign policy choice. .

Geoeconomics as defined by Robert Blackwill and Jennifer Harris, is ‘the use of economic instruments to promote and defend national interests, and to produce beneficial geopolitical results; and the effects of other nations' economic actions on a country's geopolitical goals.' Even though both India and China are economic powerhouses there is a huge gap between the two countries in terms of the size of the economy. As per the report of IMF 2016, GDP of India is .25 trillion while that of China is .4 trillion - five times greater than India. China can now be seen playing the geoeconomic game in the regional and global stage with its ambitious Silk route projects..

Nepal also became the part of 0 billion's China-led Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which is termed as the ‘project of the Century'. President Xi articulated BRI as ‘a new model of win-win cooperation.' But, at the same time there is also a huge discourse on BRI taking place from the angle of ‘debt-trap diplomacy.' Recently, Sri Lanka handed over the highly strategic Hambantota port to China for a 99-year lease as a part of debt-reduction deal. Nepal should also explore the nitty-gritty of various projects funded under BRI. For instance, preliminary study jointly carried out by the experts from Nepal and China estimated around Rs 275 billion total cost for developing 100-km Kerung-Kathmandu cross border railway. First, the detail project report for the proposed railway links should be completed on time and should analyse the terms and conditions of the project comparing the economic outcome. Thorough inspection will support the adoption of the preemptive measures to avoid possible economic ramifications of the projects. .

Both India and China claim that 21st Century belongs to Asia and are undertaking various initiatives to interconnect Asia on their respective wherewithal. India accused China for eroding its regional dominance in South Asia thorough unilateral projects like BRI and for overriding sovereignty related issues. But, it is also equally true that India's inability to deliver some tangible connectivity projects in its neighbourhood has pushed Nepal closer to China. On the other hand, China is hugely investing in various roads, railways and port facilities in time bound manner. Primarily, international media projected the result of Nepal's provincial and parliamentary election as a victory of pro-Chinese left-alliance versus loss of pro-Indian alliance. It seems obvious that Nepal will likely face more pull and push from its immediate neighbours in the coming days. .

Now is a great time for the alliance to translate respective agreements in the action with all-embracing comparative analysis to ensure Nepal's participation in mutually-inclusive economic projects. In order to unlock the connectivity conundrum, it is very important to explore the geopolitical and geoeconomic dimensions of various connectivity proposals in Nepal. Nepal should firmly take a strong stance to promote its international connectivity links by cooperating with and receiving unique capabilities from its immediate neighbours..