To further strengthen economic ties between Southwest China‚Äôs Tibet Autonomous Region and Nepal, China will try harder to get India to see the benefits of participating in the “One Belt, One Road” initiative, and growing border trade will help stabilize Tibet.
On a recent trip to the Tibet border town of Gyirong, I was impressed to see hundreds of trucks coming and going from Kathmandu, capital of Nepal, in spite of poor traffic conditions. Many of Chinese drivers have to spend at least 20 hours on the trip from Lhasa to Gyirong, passing through mountainous areas, which are part of the Himalayas. It‚Äôs a dangerous route, which forces them to navigate bumpy, circuitous mountain roads with altitudes above 5,000 meters. During the trip, I was stopped occasionally by construction work after landslides, which, according to local residents, have happened often since a deadly earthquake in Nepal in April 2015.
Still, the Gyirong port, about 20 kilometers from the town, recorded an increase of 582 percent year-on-year in its trading cargo last year to 3.42 billion yuan ($469.7 million), of which exports accounted for more than 90 percent. The surge in border trade reflects growing demand not only from the Nepalese market but also from India.
For instance, some crates of apples shipped all the way from Northwest China‚Äôs Shaanxi Province are transported to India through Nepal, as the fruit has become one of the most in-demand in the Indian market.
Nepal is an important place for China to access the broader South Asian market.
More importantly, the economy in this neighboring country could be further driven by China, which will push India to consider joining the Belt and Road initiative, as the main idea of this proposal is co-sharing and co-development.
The trade between Gyirong and Nepal has created hundreds or possibly thousands of jobs in the transportation industry in the country, as only Nepalese trucks carry imported and exported products back and forth. Meanwhile, some local companies in Tibet - for example, wool producers - ship materials to Nepal and make carpets there because of lower labor costs. Then those carpets are shipped back to Tibet, where they are popular products not only in the region but also in Northwest China‚Äôs Qinghai Province where many Tibetans reside.
This business model helps create jobs in Nepal, which is one of the fundamental benefits of globalization - better allocation of resources and integration into the global supply chain, which are inevitable trends.
For years, Nepal has been playing the “Chinese card” in politics and diplomacy to counterbalance India. Now, the country has another choice: enhance business ties with China, a move that would also drive up its own economic growth. By helping Nepal become active in the region, India will see benefits from participating in the Belt and Road initiative, whose main goals are expanding regional cooperation and boosting economic growth.
Tibet and Nepal may establish an industrial park along their border, which could introduce various industries ranging from garment manufacturing to food processing. In this way, Nepal will play a broader role than a “transfer station” for cargo moving from Tibet to India.
As long as the economy of border areas grows, India, which still holds a conservative attitude toward the Belt and Road initiative, will consider cooperation instead of resistance.
Further, Nepal‚Äôs economic growth, which will help improve its social welfare, will contribute to South Asia‚Äôs growth. In addition, it will be strong evidence to show that Tibetans, not only in China but also in other countries, can lead happy lives. That is highly likely to make Tibetans who have been living for a long time in Nepal and India appreciate China‚Äôs strong growth.
Separatists long to make Nepal a bridgehead for splitting Tibet from China. While pushing forward the Belt and Road initiative, which will increase the Nepalese economy‚Äôs growth and further stabilize the border area as well as other places in Tibet, growing prosperity will also squeeze the separatists¬† and make Tibetans more attached to their country.