Chinese-built airport inaugurated in Nepal in fresh sign of growing bilateral cooperation

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Echoing increasing cooperation between China and Nepal, a new international airport built by a Chinese company with Chinese loans was inaugurated in Nepal on Sunday, with officials from both countries hailing the project as a major success of bilateral cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The inauguration of the airport together with other recent developments in China-Nepal cooperation such as the launch of a feasibility study on a cross-border railway has attracted growing attention from Indian media, as India watches closely for a potential policy shift since Pushpa Kamal Dahal, popularly known as Prachanda, became Nepal’s new prime minister, Chinese experts noted on Monday, urging New Delhi to drop its zero-sum attitude toward China-Nepal cooperation.

Prachanda attended the new airport’s inauguration ceremony on Sunday, landing there onboard a Buddha Air flight. The Nepali Prime Minister expressed “special thanks to the Chinese government and people,” according to a statement sent to the Global Times by China CAMC Engineering Co.

Pokhara International Airport was contracted by China CAMC Engineering Co with a loan from the Export-Import Bank of China. Construction for the airport, which has been described as a project of national pride in Nepal, started in July 2017.

“After years of hard work, CAMC Engineering has finally completed this challenging project, which will help promote the economic and social development of Nepal and enhance the connection between Pokhara and the world,” Liu Shengcheng, vice president of China CAMC Engineering, said.

Calling the airport a “bright name card” of China-Nepal joint project under the BRI, Wang Xin, charge d’affaires of the Chinese Embassy in Nepal, said China stands ready to work with Nepal to expand and deepen friendly exchanges and cooperation in various fields, and jointly build the BRI with high quality.

China and Nepal signed a memorandum of understanding on bilateral cooperation under the framework of the BRI in May 2017.

The inauguration of Pokhara International Airport adds to a series of major developments in bilateral cooperation in areas such as the China-Nepal cross-border railway since Prachanda became Nepal’s prime minister last week. A team of Chinese experts arrived in Nepal last week for a feasibility study of the China-Nepal cross-border railway, widely believed critical for both the landlocked South Asian nation and regional connectivity.

The latest development in China-Nepal cooperation has prompted some critical and even fear-mongering headlines in Indian media, “because India regards other South Asian countries as its sphere of influence and is increasingly worried about regional countries making shifts,” Liu Zongyi, secretary-general of the Research Center for China-South Asia Cooperation at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, told the Global Times on Monday.

Liu said that China’s cooperation with Nepal and other regional countries do not target any third party, and India should abandon its “zero-sum mentality”, as countries understandably choose to maximize their own interests.