NEW DELHI: Nepal’s minister for information and communication Mohan Bahadur Basnet and Chinese ambassador to Nepal Yu Hong inaugurated the Nepal-China cross-border optical fibre link in Kathmandu on Friday.
Before this, all internet connections in the landlocked country came via three access points or hubs run by India’s Bharti Airtel and Tata Communications in Bhairahawa, Biratnagar and Birgunj in southern Nepal.
The new internet line operated by China Telecom Global runs from Kathmandu through Rasuwagadhi into the Tibet region, and the bandwidth is from Hong Kong, which is exempt from the “Great Firewall” which monitors and blocks many websites which Beijing believes might have content critical of China, including Facebook, Google and Twitter.
Noting that the difficult high altitude terrain and the 2015 earthquake had delayed the project which was expected to be launched last year, Basnet said the link would not only help develop Nepal’s economy, it would also facilitate communication between the two governments.
“At present, China-Nepal relations are developing at the fastest pace we’ve seen,” said China’s ambassador Yu, asserting that the link would will help expand bilateral trade between the two countries.
China is also developing major rail and road links as well as oil and gas pipelines into Nepal, and these are likely to be expedited as part of Beijing’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative. These developments come after a Communist coalition with close links to China won Nepal’s election last month. The new government is expected to approve several Chinese funded megaprojects in Nepal, including the 1200 Mw Budhi Gandaki dam project which was cancelled just before the election by the previous government.
While Indian officials declined comment except to note that India’s long-standing social and cultural ties with Nepal could not be eroded by “blatantly commercial” ventures, SD Muni, Professor Emeritus at Jawaharlal Nehru University and former ambassador to Laos, believes otherwise.
“It is an erosion. There’s no doubt about it. And it has increased in the past few years since Prime Minister Modi has taken over. So it is a problem. The Chinese are far more assertive than earlier, and far more liberal in their resource disbursement. Also, we have badly alienated Nepalese of different sections, so I think it will continue unless we take some very serious measures to halt it,” he says.
What kind of measures? “Number one, we should stop alienating the Nepalese. Number two, I don’t think we can match the resources of the Chinese, so we have to persuade the Nepalese about the economic debt trap they could be falling into, by citing examples of Myanmar and Sri Lanka and even Pakistan. What we have doing so far in Nepal was to manage pliant political leaders, now that’s no longer possible. Even now are trying to see that the Leftist government there is not formed. That sort of a measure would not work. Then, we are seeking the help of the US and also Japan to help us in meeting the Chinese challenge, which only underlines that we on our own are not capable of doing this.