At an investment promotion conference held at the Four Seasons Hotel in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, Alice Cao squeezed through the crowd of besuited Nepalese businessmen to shake the hand of Krishna Bahadur Mahara, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Nepal. They shook hands, smiled, looked at a camera, and a few seconds later, Cao was already posting the photo on her WeChat.
Cao is sales director at the Shenzhen-based GatoCam Technology, which exports and trades cameras. She was among the hundreds of businesspeople — most of whom are Nepalese working and living in China — invited to attend the conference, which took place right after the Consulate General of Nepal in Guangzhou was formally opened last Sunday morning. The office is the third Nepalese consulate general in China, after Hong Kong and Lhasa in the Tibet Autonomous Region.
Mahara said at the event that the establishment of the consulate reflects the increased level of economic and commercial engagement and deepening people-to-people relations between the two countries.
Phanindra Nepal, Chairman of the Greater Nepal Nationalist Front, told the Global Times that China-Nepal relations have always been harmonious and cordial. "Even before the establishment of diplomatic relations, these two nations had close ties," he said.
In the present day, the improvement of relations is mostly reflected in trade and business.
Ravi Bhattarai, Consul General of Nepal in Guangzhou, agreed that enhanced economic relations are on the horizon due to the opening of the consulate. He said at the event that Guangdong has always had strong trade relations with Nepal and around 60 percent of Nepalese trade with China originates in the province.
Cao said her company has been trading with Nepalese partners for years. Besides cooperating with retail traders in civil security, GatoCam has also established long-term relations with one of Nepal's largest security companies Gadgiz & Gizmos.
"In these years, we could see that the activeness of the Nepal market keeps growing, as well as their demand for products," she said. "Starting in 2009, we went from having almost no Nepalese clients, to having Nepalese clients ask us about prices every day. We have an optimistic outlook about the market."
Besides exporting electronics to Nepal and cooperating on opening up the Indian market, Cao is also considering setting up factories in Nepal, because manufacturing costs there are far less than in Shenzhen.
The sentiment is shared by her Nepalese business counterparts. Prakash Pun, President of Hong Kong Nepalese Business Association and Chairman of the Gurkhas Group Holdings Limited, said his company has been engaged in construction in Hong Kong for the past 20 years.
"Business is beneficial for both parties because we know the culture and management, can maintain quality, safety and progress, and all the Chinese contractors are comfortable dealing with us," he said. This year, he's establishing a China-Nepal Business Association in China to further strengthen cooperation.
In May, China and Nepal also signed a Belt and Road cooperation memorandum. At the ceremony, Mahara told the media Nepal needs investment and cooperation from China. The Belt and Road initiative is playing an important role in improving Nepal's infrastructure and reducing its trade deficit.
Besides trade, China and Nepal can bring many mutual benefits to one another. A Chinese expert on international relations told the Global Times that Nepal has found itself becoming a popular travel destination among Chinese. Whether it's the country's snow-capped mountains, lakes and forests, or cultural sites like temples, all are new favorites among the young. Politically, Nepal is also an important country in preventing Tibetan separatist activities and China and Nepal should strengthen cooperation on this front.
Phanindra Nepal, Chairman of the Greater Nepal Nationalist Front, said Nepal can benefit even more from China. Most of the projects China has invested in and is investing in are related to infrastructure.
"With Chinese government support, many projects of long-term value are in progressing here in Nepal. The ongoing construction of Pokhara International Airport is one such example," he said.
Another long-awaited for project is the country's first high speed rail line. At a Beijing press conference held by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Mahara last week, it was confirmed that the countries have agreed to carry out a survey, design and feasibility study for the rail link between China and Nepal, via the Kerung border crossing, under the framework of the Belt and Road initiative.
"Completion of this mega-project will be milestone in the bilateral relations between the friendly countries. Not only for China but using this connectivity, Nepal can engage in trade with other overseas countries as well. This high-speed railway connectivity will connect Nepal to rest of the world," Nepal said.
Nepal said China has recently declared it will upgrade the Kerung border point, opening it up for greater international trade. If the Kerung road connecting Nepal's Rasuwagadhi reaches up to Lumbini, the Kerung border crossing will also be used in future by India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Bhutan to trade with China. Therefore, both Nepal and China should make the rail project a top priority.
Prem Sagar Poudel, Chairman of the Nepal-China Mutual Cooperation Society, said there are other infrastructure projects welcomed by the Nepalese. For example, the first ring road constructed by China in the Kathmandu valley best demonstrates China's beneficial projects for Nepal. The first electric trolley bus service from Tripureshwor of Kathmandu to Surya Binayek of Bhaktapur is another project launched by China for Nepal.
"China always respects Nepalese national sovereignty and territorial integrity. China never puts pressures on Nepalese politics. That is why our two countries have a better and much smoother relationship now than before," Poudel said.
Bridging China and India
The Chinese international relations expert said that many people in Nepal are against India's control and interference. Some Nepalese believe Nepal must strengthen its cooperation with China, otherwise it will become another Bhutan or Sikkim.
"Nepal is controlled by India first of all because Nepal doesn't have sea ports and is separated from China by the Himalayas, so Nepal's imports and exports need to be transported through India. Furthermore, most of Nepal's high-level officials and party leaders studied in India," he said.
During the press conference, Wang Yi said he hopes Nepal, which is situated between China and India, can be a bridge connecting the two economies. He points out that in its diplomatic relations with Nepal, China never interferes with Nepal's domestic politics, doesn't attach additional political conditions to economic cooperation and doesn't demand Nepal choose sides in diplomatic policies.
"Previously, because of the mountainous terrain between Nepal and China and flat land between Nepal and India, there was no option left for Nepal than to get close to India. But now with the up-gradation and proper functioning of border points located in geographically difficult parts and signing of a free trade and transit treaty, Nepal is gradually getting close to China as well," Nepal said. "Nepalese are now fed up with the micro-management of Delhi in Nepal's politics and economy sector. Not with Indian influence but with Delhi's big brotherly attitude has sparked anti-Indian sentiment among large numbers of Nepalese."
Nepal's relations with India are characterized by compulsion. Going against international law, India has thrice imposed an economic blockade. But it failed every time because of the strong support and presence of China, he said.
However, he notes that Nepal doesn't take China as a replacement for India and vice-versa.
"India should understand that growing Sino-Nepalese ties are not against the interests of India. Politically stable and prosperous Nepal can be a vibrant bridge to connect countries north and east of the Indian sub-continent. This will not only benefit Nepal and China but a lot to India as well," he said.
This article was originally published in The Global Times.