Our Relations With China Are Not Directed Against Our Good Neighbour India: Nepal Ambassador Nilamber Acharya

In an exclusive interview with BW Businessworld, Acharya opens up about the Nepal’s relations with neighbours in changing times. He insists that more connectivity and trade with India will bring them further closer to each other.

Photo Credit : Himanshu Kumar,

India and Nepal are not only neighbours, but they are also very closely linked culturally, socially and historically. As far as I am concerned, India should promote and encourage cooperation, encourage private sectors and investment here. All these terms will automatically make relations strong. We guided by economic interests when economic interests fulfil relations grow, says Nepal Ambassador to India, Nilamber Acharya.

In an exclusive interview with BW Businessworld’s Manish Kumar Jha, Acharya opens up about the Nepal’s relations with neighbours in changing times. He insists that more connectivity and trade with India will bring them further closer to each other. 

India and Nepal are the closest neighbours-historically and socially. And, people across have such a similar cultural milieu. How do you look at it now?
India and Nepal are not only neighbours, they are very closely linked culturally, socially, historically, climatically. So, when people say that, we are neighbours, we don't have a choice, because neighbours are natural and neighbours are given. It means that we have to endure and we have to tolerate but that's not the case with India. We have many things in common, besides our border, we share culture, heritage, history, language and arts. You see, when you say “Manish Kumar Jha” it sounds very familiar to me, it does not sound different to me. 

When people say that we are neighbours, it gives the idea that it’s only geographically, we have a close relation and it lies deep in our heart, in our feeling, in our attitude. We might have differences in political sector. But differences are common, even within a country there are differences. But even when there are differences, the feelings of closeness remains among our people. But you see, closeness should be developed, cherished, maintained wisely, respecting sensitivity and addressing the needs. 

India is changing, Nepal is changing and world is changing. World power is shifting from one area to other, we should all observe it and make necessary decisions and adjustments. So, we have to build on our traditional closeness more in the economic sphere, in science, in technology and in connectivity. We say, we our close, Manish ji tell me, are we connected enough? Do Nepal and India have good roads to connect, do we have railway routes to connect or river routes? No, not yet.

So if we are “close”, we must be connected closely, so this a new area. There’s so much to be done in Nepal in order to develop it. India could invest in Nepal and get profit from it. It could give job opportunities for our youth. Question of job is not only economic question but it's also a matter of social question. If we don't develop within 2 or 3 decades than the dividend will go. Our traditional relation, our closeness should be utilized, assessed, evaluated in the present context and our relation should be built on our closeness based on the requirement of our present time. 

What are the components of development?  You know Nepal is rich in hydro research, but our hydro research is not yet used- not yet complete. We can't imagine, today, a country without manufacture and IT industries. You know, Nepal is very rich in its natural beauty and flora and fauna, very rich in biodiversity; there are so many areas where India and Nepal can cooperate and Indian businessmen can invest. So, we can develop tourism. In 2020, we intend to develop tourism in Nepal. So, agriculture, manufacturing, IT and tourism Nepal is just waiting for the growth and prosperity. Till now, for at least seven decades, we were engaged in political struggle. Now, we have come to conclusion and we have adapted constituent assembly and have declared Nepal a Democratic Republic. There may be differences, on how you should run, there will be differences within the framework. But this framework, this system is decided. We have decided that we are federal democratic republic, now, we can think of development, accelerated development in order to give more opportunities to youth, in order to give education, in order to give skills, make them able to contribute in the development of this country and their own future. This is an opportune time and we will evolve. 

We are sending our youth in hundreds and thousands to gulf countries we have to retain them in our countries, provide jobs, and give them employment for the development for our country

Historically, India and Nepal had a very close trade relations and Nepal has had a huge dependency on the Indian side. How do you look at the overdependence on India as an advantage or disadvantage?

You see, India is an asset for us. India is an asset for others also. They’re trying to have good trade relations with India. They’re looking at the immense Indian market. So, India is a growing country and the purchasing power of India is growing. So, how can it be disadvantage for us. We can benefit from the largeness of India. We should not look at India as “it is large so it’s not useful”. India is large. India is capable, India is democratic and it means it is advantageous to us. And, it is advantageous to India, to have such a country that has so much in common. It’s not only one way. We look at where it is cheaper, where it is possible, where we can do business and also we have many partners in the world. India has many partners; Nepal has many partners. Look, when we develop relations with outer world, at the same time, our relations with India develop.

Our cooperation with India and our trade relation with India are growing. You may say that dependency is growing, that's not the case. Dependency is less than it was before. Before we had trade relations with four countries- India, US, France and Great Britain. Now, we have 165. We have relations with China, USA and also Latin American countries. This is the new world; this is the integrated world. We are members of World Community. So, India remains our neighbour, good friend, good partner at the same time we’re expanding relations with other countries. There were problems with transit because we had to develop our corporate relations through India and there were difficulties.

To do relations with other country, India is no hurdle. You know at present there is great trade deficit. 

India’s total bilateral trade with Nepal in FY 2017-18 stands $6.82 billion. What is that you are looking for as far as the trade and investment are concerned? 
More than that, we have a ratio about 1:15 or maybe 1:14. We export only one and import 14 times. Now we concentrate on developing our country and India is ready to spend to help this trade imbalance we can easily overcome this imbalance because we have to manufacture, we have to attract Indian investment and product from Nepal will enter Indian market and that will reduce our trade deficit. So, with the goodwill of the countries, with the ever building trust. Trust is not a one-time business, trust means that you have to always be aware that if you are friends, you have to maintain that relation, you have to develop that trust. When there is trust, difficulties are easily sorted out, they don't turn into conflict. So, I see possibilities, of course, there were times that there were misunderstanding, there were blockades. 

Let’s talk about Nepal’s participation in The Belt & Road Initiative. You said Nepal has every right to look for the prosperity and development and seek help from countries which are ready to provide help but there are concerned worldwide. The Chinese loans turn out to be debt trap.  When they provide you infrastructure loans, they take advantage of the situation of your stretched structural capacity to pay back. How do you respond to such concerns?
First of all, this is not the first time we’ve had relations with China. We had relations with Tibet and we had relations with China even before our diplomatic relations. Even, India had relations with China. We had to have a relation with China because China is an economic power of the world. There are big trades between India and China. There is so much cooperation between India and China. So many meetings with President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Modi. So, when you express apprehension, don’t forget, the other side that you have cooperation, good relations, even your border issue, you keep aside and say that where there are possibilities of development, we should concentrate on it and border issue should not come in the way of the development of India-China relations. So, Nepal is also aware of the history, where it is advantageous where it isn’t.  And make no mistake, we are a country which has no enmity towards any country. It means our relations with one country is not directed against any of the country.

Our relations with China are not directed against our good neighbour, India. I will explain, I see India and Nepal relations, cooperation in economic, science, culture and other fields as the essential necessity for development of Nepal. So, I don't see any negative impact of our relations with China even our involvement with BRI, because you have to have relations with all powers. It is the integrated world. When there are possibilities, when there are powers, when there are capabilities. Look we say ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ what does it mean?

Everybody is welcome, everybody is our friend, and everybody is our partner and so on. It also means that the world is my family so these possibilities, I should use, not for harming others. So, it means if there are possibilities of developing India with the cooperation of America and with the cooperation of China, then India will develop. So, Nepal is also doing this. That there are possibilities and China is emerging as mighty economic power, should we hesitate to develop relations? No one hesitates and one thing to make sure, we are not in the 20th century when ideology was prime. Now, economy is leading relations. There was much talk about national liberation movement and non-alignment movement, what happened now? So, this is the time, every nation looks for its economic interests. The other is self-respect, economic interests without self-respect, without justice, it will not be agreeable, self-respect is there, justice is there but isolation is not agenda of today. There were times when countries which were apprehensive of neighbours, so they were isolated, not to have relations. There are still some countries like that but this is not the age of isolation, it is the age of making friends, developing co operations, expanding co operations and building on traditional closeness. So with China, our relations will grow.  If our relations grow with China, it means it’s not at the expense of India.

Do you think in economic sense, India has serious rivalry with Nepal. I don't think so. So India is an advantageous position, so, India should not withhold cooperation. India should be promoting, encouraging cooperation, encouraging private sectors and encouraging investment so automatically our relations with India will grow faster than with other countries. Because, we all are now guided by economic interests, so when economic interests are fulfilled relations grow.

In recently held BRI summit in China, among the 9 projects, one is the Nepal-China Trans- Himalayan -Multidimensional Connective Network. How feasible is the project as under the circumstances, it is seen as unviable?
We should not jump to the next stage. You see, it is at the preliminary stage; it is under the study. It is just planted.  It’s a possibility so I can't say. I'm not a technician, I’m not an expert, I’m not an engineer. There will be a report and there will be talks and negotiations. Then, we’ll come to a conclusion.  It will not be without study, without calculations and without detailed report, there can't be any construction. Let us finish the first stage primary stage, then, we’ll go the second and third stage. So, it is understood because of the topography; the Himalayan topography it is not easy to develop the connectivity 

Nepal has always maintained the higher ground in terms of the concerns for the environment. How will you ensure the standards in light of such projects crisscrossing the Himalayan range?

Correct! So that's why connectivity, developing connectivity with India is far easier, far cheaper than to develop road connectivity with China. That's why I say that India, we are close but we are not adequately connected according to 21st century requirements. So, if there are possibilities of river ways we should explore. We should build modern roads. No problem. We’ll be more connected and our closeness will be supported by our roads, our railway lines and our petroleum pipelines. So, we should look at the future of our cooperation.

As India and Nepal look to strengthen ties under their respective leaders Narendra Modi and KP Oli, an eminent person’s group (EPG) which was set up by both countries concluded recently that the 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship needs to be revised. There are some issues under consideration. Would you like to comment on how important is the treaty for India- Nepal future bilateral relations?
The attitude was important when it was made, time is changing, and India is changing. There was so much ideology at a time, there was so much suspicion about the countries, now we say that our interests are primary, ideologies are secondary. In 1950 Europe was on the rise, leading the world economy after that United States became world power. Now not only United States and other powers have risen now, India itself is an economic giant though it has problems to solve like poverty. But India is an economic might. It has a very attractive economic growth- continuous economic growth. It has power not only in economy, it has power in science, it has power in technology, now it has power in space technology. So, this world is changing, can you remain in the time of 1950. We are not Nepal of 1950, India is not India of 1950, and the world is not in 1950, so look forward. 

You know Manish, if we want to preserve our self we have to change. If we don’t change, we can’t preserve. In order to live, we have to grow, in order to maintain good relations, we have to change our relations according to the change of time. Look, for example, Nepal had no universities. Patna University was the nearest university.  Now, we have many universities.  Nepali students are also acquiring knowledge in Indian universities. It has not stopped, because when we develop our capabilities, avenues of cooperation also expand. For example, we had no teachers in many schools, now we have educated teachers. Time changes and it should be recognized, that doesn't mean our economic relations, service relations, social relations go absent rather they expand. The economic data will show you. So, you should not remain in 1950, what is good, what is positive, we should retain. This is how, we move forward. So when we review that treaty, when we review our regulation that doesn’t mean that we want to narrow our cooperation, we want to expand it, develop it in order to be in tune with the time.

In 2017-18, the aid to Nepal was 375 crores which has been doubled to 650 crores under the Aid to Nepal budget for FY 2018-19, which is a 73% increase. How do look at the contribution in terms of growth and development in Nepal?
Now, the time is different you see. Now, we should stress, we should emphasize on developing capabilities, investment and cooperation. There was a time when aid was primary. Now trade is primary, aid is secondary. We are thankful to the aid, it should be a component in our cooperation. We need aids for big projects where we can't get enough funding for the projects. So, here and there, there is need for aid but our main focus is developing our own economic situation and for that we need economic cooperation, we need investment, we need trade relations, manufacture sector development, tourism development and so on. So, we should look toward new avenues and confidently encourage development in Nepal, encourage intermingling of the people, encourage tourism, encourage interaction of people. So these are the areas.

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