The pragmatism of Sino–Nepali humanitarianism

Author: Galen Murton, University of Colorado

April 2017 marked the two-year anniversary of the powerful earthquakes that devastated Nepal and set the stage for China to act as a global humanitarian player. The earthquakes inflicted significant damage in Nepal’s central and northern districts and motivated Beijing to mobilise its largest-ever humanitarian effort on foreign soil. Underscoring Beijing’s immediate emergency response, in June 2015 the Chinese Foreign Minister committed 4.7 billion yuan (US$480 million) to infrastructure repair and development across Nepal. These seismic events and humanitarian responses set in motion the ongoing reshaping of relations between Kathmandu, Beijing and New Delhi.

Since 2015, ongoing Chinese efforts to provide humanitarian assistance, develop infrastructure and reopen transport corridors with Nepal symbolise an increasingly close relationship. The earthquakes, in addition to causing nearly 9000 deaths and incalculable losses to infrastructure, triggered dozens of landslides and blocked all roads connecting Nepal and China. Utilising air assets to evacuate Chinese personnel from infrastructure projects under construction in several border districts, Chinese security forces were also deployed to open overland routes and thereby alleviate an economic and mobility crisis that threatened to further exacerbate Nepal’s humanitarian emergency.

China’s earthquake emergency assistance to Nepal builds upon precedents set in 2013 and 2014. In 2013, the Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu renewed a pilot five-year food aid plan to Nepal’s northern districts in 2013. In 2014, China became Nepal’s largest source of foreign direct investment (FDI), exceeding Indian FDI for the first time ever. In November 2014, China and Nepal signed a new memorandum of understanding committing 10 million yuan (US$1.45 million) annually from 2014–2018 for the development of Nepal’s northern districts. Finally, 2014 also marked the year Nepal…

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