Exactly one month after he flew to New Delhi for a meeting, Prime Minister KP Oli will fly to Beijing next week. However, his purpose in China will be different from his India visit. While he headed south to mend fences, he will travel north to explore new frontiers of trade and transit. Oli downplayed his India visit, calling it “just an effort to clear misunderstandings between the two countries”. No new deal was signed with New Delhi, but in Beijing he will ink multiple agreements on trade, transit and development.
Oli is visiting China at a time when Nepal has not fully recovered from the Indian blockade, and there is pressure on him to begin diversifying trade away from India. China also looks keen to welcome Oli and is preparing to roll out the red carpet in Beijing.
During the Indian blockade, Nepal decided to import one third of its fuel from China. When Foreign Affairs Minister Kamal Thapa visited Beijing in December, Nepal and China reached an understanding to this effect. This time, Oli will likely take it one step further by solidifying a petroleum trade deal.
It is not clear which development projects Oli will be seeking China’s support for. But the 1200 MW Budi Gandaki hydropower project, international transmission lines and petroleum storage projects top his list. Oli has denied playing the ‘China card’ against India, but everyone is interested to find out what he brings back from Beijing.
Narayan Kaji Shrestha, Foreign Affairs Chief of the UCPN (M), says Nepal must sign trade deals with China to reduce its dependency on India and save Nepalis from future blockades. “Just because the blockade is lifted now, we should not stop whatever efforts we initiated to diversify our trade,” he says.
Oli is expected to help bridge the present trust gap between Kathmandu and Beijing and assuage Beijing’s concerns about the seemingly endless political instability in Nepal.
The China Syndrome, Editorial