BRI boasts tangible prospects for South Asia's prosperity

By Ritu Raj Subedi
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, November 30, 2017
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The BRI is a concert for all players but not a platform for a single country or actor. [Xinhua]

South Asia and China have enjoyed steady growth in trade and investment with the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) four years ago. With the projects executed under the BRI framework starting to deliver results, China's global project is being seen as a viable instrument to spur infrastructure development, create jobs and boost people-to-people relations across the region.

India has snubbed the BRI owing to its own parochial and imperial interest. It thinks China wants to play in its own backyard through the BRI but facts prove that such thinking is not only outdated but detrimental to investment, trade and connectivity in the region.  

The trade volume between China and South Asian countries increased by 14.8 percent to US$110 billion in 2016 after the launch of BRI in 2013. The direct investment by China in South Asia in 2016 reached US$1.46 billion dollars, an increase of 114.7 percent compared to 2013. South Asia has seen the growth of free trade zones and overseas cooperation zones, which have contributed to raising local incomes and job opportunities.

Viewed from the commercial point of view, it is a quid pro quo between South Asia and China. The region will undoubtedly accrue benefits from the BRI through economic corridors, trade, investment and tourism. At the same time, China will enjoy an extended market for business, investment and construction of ambitious projects in the region which houses the largest number of poor people in the world.

China shares a cumulative 5,000-kilometer border with five South Asian countries – Nepal, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Afghanistan. Both South Asia and China are seats of ancient civilizations and have been in contact since time immemorial. South Asia also facilitated the ancient Silk Road that used to pass through Kathmandu, Patana, Calcutta, Delhi, and Taxilla.

A string of South Asian nations have already joined the BRI to bring about shared prosperity. South Asia and western China have huge potential in road and railway connectivity and trade. The BRI projects such as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) Economic Corridor, the Qinghai-Tibet Railway connecting to Kerung, as well as the development of Lhasa-Kathmandu-Lumbini railway are expected to help integrate the economies of South Asia and China.

A China-South Asia Expo was recently held in Nepal for the first time with a view to increase economic and trade links between China and South Asia. Both have of late witnessed an increased number of exchanges at commercial, cultural and academic levels.

Shafqat Munir, president of the Journalists for Democracy and Human Rights, Pakistan, said that his country is benefiting from the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor in terms of connectivity, investment, trade and job creation. Professor Atiur Rahman of Dhaka University and former governor of the Central Bank of Bangladesh said that South Asian countries should focus on development cooperation by striking a balance between two economic giants – China and India. 

Chinese ambassador to Nepal Yu Hong said that South Asian countries need infrastructure investment, including power generation, communication and road construction. "Therefore, there is great potential of project contracting cooperation between China and SouthAsian countries," said the Chinese envoy and urged the South Asian nations to actively participate in the first China International Import Expo to be held in Shanghai in November next year. 

Nepal's former ambassador to the U.S. Dr. Shankar Sharma said the BRI sought to end the prevailing inequalities of development in north Nepal and the southwest region of China through connectivity and infrastructure development. "The BRI has opened up the trans-Himalayan route to Central Asia, South East Asia and beyond."

Being an immediate neighbor, Nepal is expected to immensely benefit from the BRI. Chinese tourists visiting Nepal have increased by 60 percent in 2017 compared to last year. The two nations are going to complete the feasibility study for a China-Nepal Free Trade Agreement this year. 

Meanwhile, Nepali officials are close to deciding on the projects to be constructed under the BRI framework. A meeting of the Project Development and Facilitation Committee, formed to implement the agreement on BRI assistance, has recently discussed the Kerung-Kathmandu Railway, Kerung-Rasuwagadhi Electricity Transmission Line and Sunsari Diversion Irrigation project. 

"We should select such projects which offer maximum advantages, and boost productivity and bilateral ties," Gyan Chandra Acharya, the Prime Minister's economic advisor. 

It is beyond doubt that the BRI will play a significant role in ushering peace, stability and prosperity in the region. It requires South Asia and China to enhance mutual trust, exchange of ideas and cooperation to achieve win-win results.

It is suitable to conclude this writing with a statement by Professor Su Changhe from Fudan University in China: "The BRI is a concert for all players but not a platform for a single country or actor."

Ritu Raj Subedi is an associate editor of The Rising Nepal.

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of

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