Kathmandu: Scholars, researchers, government officials and other stakeholders discussed China’s engagement in Nepal’s infrastructure development in a seminar organized in the capital on Friday. The discussion was held at a national seminar to launch China’s Emergence in Nepal’s Infrastructure: Status, Issues and Challenges, a book published by Centre for Social Inclusion and Federalism (CESIF), a Kathmandu-based think tank, which shared key findings of the report for wider civic engagement and discussion.
The book is authored by Amish Raj Mulmi, Anil Giri, Raunab Singh Khatri, Arpan Gelal and Milan Acharya.
The book launch was followed by the discussion on the theme, ‘China’s Emergence in Nepal’s Infrastructure: Status, Issues and Challenges.’ The seminar brought together distinguished panelists—former Economic Development Advisor to Prime Minister of Nepal and Secretary of the Government of Nepal, Lal Shanker Ghimire, Former Urban Secretary of the Government of Nepal, Deependra Nath Sharma, Dr Sucheta Pyakuryal, Director of the Center for Governance and Academic Affairs at IIDS and former senior external affairs officer at the World Bank, Rajib Upadhya.
Vijay Kant Karna, Executive Chair at CESIF, explained why CESIF began the seminar. “Realizing the lack of a comprehensive research on China’s involvement in Nepal’s infrastructure sector, CESIF conducted research on the said topic, the report of which we are launching today. The report is expected to provide insights into the patterns of Chinese engagement in Nepal’s infrastructure. The report also discusses the nexus between the local agents of Chinese contractors and Nepali decision makers,” said Karna. According to him, China’s engagements in Nepal’s infrastructure are intended to address Nepal’s infrastructure gaps but Chinese engagement is being driven by vested interests and collusion with Nepal’s political elite, resulting in serious irregularities in contract awards, project management, infrastructure governance mechanisms, and violation of international integrity norms. “Manipulation of the procurement process in critical infrastructure has allowed Chinese companies to advance their business interests in the country while allowing the Chinese state to expand its influence within Nepal’s polity,” Karna said.
“Although the nexus between the local agents of Chinese contractors and Nepali decision makers have occasionally been reported in the Nepali media, there is a lack of comprehensive research and analysis regarding infrastructure governance and how Nepal has engaged with the Chinese companies and contractors. There is also scare information regarding the extent of China’s engagement in Nepali infrastructure.”
Amish Raj Mulmi discussed the mechanisms of the Chinese infrastructure engagement in Nepal, while providing a succinct comparison of the infrastructural investment by China, India and Japan in Nepal. Lal Shanker Ghimire said that lack of proper negotiation has led to some of the unfair deals. This lack of negotiation stems from inferiority complex and lower bargaining capacity of Nepali bureaucrats, he said.
Dr Sucheta Pyakuryal said Nepal, as a weak country, needs to look upon the knot and bolts of its government while dealing with the funded infrastructure projects. Dr Rajib Upadyay provided his opinion on how resources are finite. “The era of cheap money is now over. In particular, because of three reasons: firstly, the West is heading towards recession. Secondly, rising global tensions has brought geopolitics into the economic discourse. Thirdly, the defense budget is increasing amongst NATO countries,” he said.
Deependra Nath Sharma reflected upon the lack of definite institution to oversee infrastructural governance. He said when projects do not complete in the intended period, there is blame game, and cost overrun.