By Santosh Ghimire
New Delhi, August 30: China recently informed the Nepalese government that it would not be able to reopen two main border crossing points with Nepal for bilateral trade until the COVID-19 pandemic is fully contained in its Tibetan Autonomous Region. (RAT), announced the Kathmandu authorities.
Nepal’s trade with China is largely through the border points of Tatopani-Zhangmu and Rasuwagadhi-Kerung. The country’s bilateral trade with China came to a screeching halt after the northern neighbor closed these two border points without notice.
As a result, Nepalese importers who do business with China suffered huge losses as container trucks bound for Nepal carrying their goods ran aground in different towns in Tibet including Nyalam, Kerung and Shigatse.
“The Chinese side has unofficially let us know that they cannot reopen the border points until the coronavirus is under control in Tibet,” an official with Nepal’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in charge of China told India Narrative on Sunday. .
The official, referring to the Chinese side, informed that the number of coronavirus infections in Tibet currently stands at 6,000. Likewise, more than 40,000 people are under home quarantine as the number of coronavirus cases is increasing.
In diplomatic correspondence to the Foreign Ministry, the Nepalese consulate office in Tibet’s capital Lhasa said that at least 60 container trucks bound for Nepal carrying goods were stranded in cities across Tibet, including Kerung and Shigatse, over the past three weeks. This is of course not the first time that trucks have been stuck along the border areas between Nepal and China.
Ram Prasad Mainali, chief officer of Nepal’s Rasuwagadhi customs post, bordering the Chinese town of Kerung, said they still do not know when the Chinese side will reopen the border for bilateral trade.
“It has been almost three weeks since container trucks crossing Nepal carrying goods were not allowed to enter Nepal from the Tibetan side, due to the pandemic. We do not know when the border point will reopen. “, Mainali told India Narrative by phone. on Sunday.
Nepal imported goods worth 233.9 billion Nepalese rupees while export of goods was only valued at 1 billion rupees in 2021. China remained Nepal’s second largest trading partner after India.
Some officials are smelling the rat if there is another political reason behind the sudden closure of the border with Nepal.
During a recent meeting between Nepali and Chinese foreign ministers Narayan Khadka and Wang Yi in the city of Qingdo in China, the former reportedly expressed reluctance to speed up development projects already finalized under the Beijing’s flagship Belt and Road (BRI) initiative, fearing the possibility of a “debt trap” similar to that of Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
“It is our undeclared policy now that we cannot receive commercial loans from China like Pakistan and Sri Lanka. We only preferred grants from China. Coming back to the point of closing the borders , we cannot say categorically that the Chinese side is giving us a cold response because of our reservation in receiving commercial loans under BRI projects,” the official said.
On average, every day, 14 container trucks loaded with goods would arrive in Nepal from China via the Rasuwagadhi-Kerung border points before the border was closed, officials said.
As the major Hindu festivals Teej and Dashain draw closer, traders from Nepal have already placed their orders in China. Nepal receives most of the goods targeted for the festive season through the Tatopani-Zhangmu and Rasuwagadhi-Kerung border points with China.
China last reopened Tatopati-Zhangmu trading point in March 2020 amid the pandemic. But it didn’t last long. China immediately closed the border post due to the rising number of COVID-19 infections in Nepal.
Nepalese traders say some container trucks loaded with goods have been redirected via sea to the city of Kolkata in Indian West Bengal after China recently shut down major trading points.
It takes at least 35 days for re-routed containers to reach Kathmandu via Kolkata while it takes only 15 days from overland.
Nepal shares a 1,414 km border with the Chinese region of Tibet. This is not the first time that China has closed its borders with Nepal. Immediately after the devastating earthquakes of 2015, China closed border points with Nepal for two years. The border points came into operation in March 2017. However, with the onset of the pandemic in 2019, China imposed various restrictions along the border points, which limited trade between the two countries.
Even though Nepal and China agreed to set up a joint pandemic control mechanism at border ports when Nepalese Foreign Minister Khadka met with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in the second week of August, no work has been done. was made for this purpose.
“The two foreign ministers decided to establish a joint pandemic control mechanism at border ports. They also agreed to open Rasuwagadhi-Kerung and Tatopani-Zhangmu ports for bilateral trade and the port of Hilsa-Purang for one-way trade which will take place as soon as the new wave of COVID-19 pandemic in China’s Tibet Autonomous Region is brought under control,” read a statement released by the Nepalese side after the meeting between the two sides. two foreign ministers.