Nepal waits to seal Kerung-Kathmandu railway deal during Chinese President’s visit

kathmandu

By Kuber Chalise
Contributor to AsiaN from Nepal

Kathmandu: Nepal is waiting to sign an ambitious Kerung-Kathmandu cross-border railway agreement during the visit of the Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs on October 9 confirmed the Chinese President’s arrival in Kathmandu on a two-day state visit accepting the friendly invitation of President of Nepal Mrs Bidya Devi Bhandari. Xi will be coming to Nepal on October 12.

“The historic visit of the Chinese President will also see signing of Kerung-Kathmandu Railway agreement,” said Nepal Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s Foreign Affairs Advisor Dr Rajan Bhattarai.

The President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping is paying a state visit to Nepal on October 12 and 13, he said, adding that during the visit, Xi will meet with President Bhandari, who will host a banquet in honour of the Chinese president and his delegation.

“President Xi will hold delegation level official talks with Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, following the talks, both the leaders will witness the signing of bilateral agreements and memoranda of understanding.”

One of the key agreements the Prime Ministers of both the countries will witness is much-talked about Kerung-Kathmandu Railway agreement, Bhattarai said.

However, the main opposition Nepali Congress (NC) leader and former Foreign Minister Dr Prakash Sharan Mahat, welcoming the high level visit from China, after 23 years since Jiang Zemin visited in 1996, said that the much-talked Kerung-Kathmandu Railway should be constructed in Chinese grant not loan.

“Kerung-Kathmandu Railway is important but more important is the road connectivity to bridge the widening trade deficit of Nepal with China,” he said, adding that the all-weather road connectivity between the two neighbour is the need of the hour, and investment (through loan) in cross border railway will not be economically feasible for Nepal at present.

There are two schools of thought currently in Nepali intelligentsia, either to construct the Kerung-Kathmandu Railway in Chinese Loan or grant.

The one who thinks China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a debt-trap, opines that the Kerung-Kathmandu Railway is not economically feasible, and Nepal will fall in debt trap of China.

But the government, led by Nepal Communist Party (NCP), has been using the Kerung-Kathmandu Railway agreement as its key to political achievement since it has failed to show its performance in the last two years.

Different Chinese officials have also repeatedly said that the detailed project report (DPR) of Kerung-Kathmandu railway will take a lot more time to materialise due to technical, engineering and geological reasons. China is yet to connect its railway to Sigatse, from where railway can be connected to Nepal-China broder Kerung to further connect to Kathmandu.

However, a joint communiqué issued after the conclusion of the Second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing in April had incorporated the Nepal-China Trans-Himalayan Multi-Dimensional Connectivity Network and Nepal-China cross-border railway.

Xi will be flying to Kathmandu from Mamallapuram near Chennai in India where the Chinese President and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be meeting on October 11 and 12 for the second ‘informal summit’ after the Wuhan Summit last April.

The press note from the Nepal’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs also stated that the forthcoming Chennai informal summit will provide an opportunity for the two leaders to continue their discussions on overarching issues of bilateral, regional and global importance.

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