Kathmandu: There are concerns regarding the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)'s lack of momentum in Nepal even six years after the signing of a memorandum, The Kathmandu Post reported.

China had nothing to show for a real project for six years of the signing of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) with Nepal. That changed after the inauguration of Pokhara International Airport earlier this year when China announced to keep the airport built with Chinese aid under the BRI framework, as per the news report.

Nepal and China signed a memorandum of understanding on One Belt One Road later known as the Belt and Road Initiative. BRI is a flagship initiative of Chinese President Xi Jinping. China considers BRI its top foreign policy priority, according to The Kathmandu Post report.

The initiative gets attention during every meeting between Nepal and China. However, no substantive discussion has taken place on the initiative on the Nepal side after the formation of the Pushpa Kamal Dahal-led government. The Nepal Prime Minister's aide even did not realise that the second term of the BRI has ended and the third term has started.

"We have no idea about the end of the BRI term and overall discussion on how to take the initiative forward," Surya Kiran Sharma, press coordinator of Nepal Prime Minister Dahal said as per The Kathmandu Post report.

"Probably the Ministry of Foreign Affairs knows better. I cannot recall any discussion on the BRI," Surya Kiran Sharma added.

Even though there is no provision on whether the two nations should renew the agreement by exchanging correspondence. However, officials described diplomacy as the correct way to go about it. According to the Sub-clause IV of Clause V of the BRI agreement, the MoU shall be automatically renewed every three years unless terminated by one side by giving written notice to the other at least three months prior to the expiration of the MoU, as per the news report.

There are concerns over the BRI's lack of momentum in Nepal even after six years of the agreement with its focus on connectivity, trade, development strategies, and policy dialogue for cooperation in the economy, environment, technology and culture sectors, as per the news report.

The agreement also aimed to facilitate transit transport, logistics, transport network security and related infrastructure development through joint study and promote cross-border projects including railway, road, civil aviation, power grid, information and communication, as per the news report.

Ram Karki, deputy chief of the CPN (Maoist Centre) foreign and international department who recently travelled to China, said the BRI is not a priority for Nepal. Nepal also had a shaky stance on the Belt and Road Initiative in the past.

After the deal was signed in 2017, the Nepal government set up two committees headed by the foreign and finance secretaries to negotiate with China on the projects chosen under the BRI. The Nepal finance secretary-led committees chose 35 projects to be funded under the BRI.

Later, the Chinese side called on Nepal to reduce the total number of projects to a single digit. A former finance ministry official who was involved in several negotiations with the Chinese side revealed that the majority of those projects were connected to connectivity and infrastructure.

The BRI issue resurfaced after Sher Bahadur Deuba took over as Nepal's PM in 2021. During the visit of the former Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in March 2022, Kathmandu said that it prefers grants and aid to loans for the BRI projects.

As per the news report, the Nepali side during its discussions with Chinese officials has made it clear that due to Nepal's own compulsions and grim economic situation, it cannot afford to take loans with high-interest rates.

"The country's economic situation has not improved. We are not in a position to take loans from anywhere including China as they would increase pressure on the Nepali economy," said an official at the Prime Minister's Office, The Kathmandu Post reported.

"Until the third BRI Conference in China and a possible Beijing visit of Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, I do not see any chance of a breakthrough in this [financing modality]," the official said further.

Some experts consider geopolitics as the reason for the stagnant BRI process while others have blamed Nepal's poor preparations and the lack of interest on the Chinese side. Sundar Nath Bhattarai, chairman of the China Study Centre, a Kathmandu-based think-tank, said the third BRI summit is likely to be held in China later this year. According to Bhattarai, some of Nepal's concerns might be discussed during the summit.