Red flags in Delhi over China’s push for role in Nepal, Bangladesh projects
China First Highway Engineering was not among the five companies that qualified to bid for the Kathmandu Terai-Madhesh Expressway project and was included at a later stage.
NEW DELHI: A range of activities by China in the neighbourhood, from pushing for a role in a major project to manage Bangladesh’s Teesta river to deploying surveillance ships in regional waters and taking on a crucial road project in Nepal, have raised concerns in New Delhi against the backdrop of the dragging border standoff.
On Sunday, Nepal’s Supreme Court stayed the award of the road building contract worth more than ₹1,500 crore by the Nepal Army to the China First Highway Engineering Co Ltd and called all parties for a discussion on Tuesday, people familiar with the matter said. The court order came on a plea by India’s Afcons Infrastructure Limited, one of the bidders.
There had been concerns about the transparency of the bidding for the Kathmandu Terai-Madhesh Expressway project, which is being implemented by the Nepal Army. The project is considered sensitive as a portion will be located close to the Indian border.
China First Highway Engineering was not among the five companies – four Chinese and one Indian – that qualified to bid for the project in September, and it was included on November 6, one day before it was declared the lowest bidder, the people said. The Nepal Army officer handling the project was also changed during this period, the people added.
For several months now, the Chinese side has also been pushing the Bangladesh government for a role in a crucial project to dredge and desilt the Teesta river to improve its navigability, people familiar with the matter said. The Bangladesh government has been planning this project for some time, even as it waits for the conclusion of a long-pending agreement with India on the sharing of waters of the cross-border river.
China’s ambassador to Bangladesh Li Jiming has suggested in recent public comments – without directly naming India – that there are “some sensitivities” related to the project but Beijing is willing to invest in it. “If the Bangladesh government is really determined to do it, China would take it under very positive consideration,” he told an event in Dhaka earlier this month.
Any Chinese involvement in such a crucial project is not likely to go down well on the Indian side.
China’s deployment of two Yuan Wang-class vessels, which can track satellites and ballistic missiles, in the Indian Ocean is believed to have led to an Indian missile test, slated for earlier this month, being deferred for some time.
Beijing sent the Yuan Wang 5 to Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port in mid-August, while the Yuan Wang 6, equipped with sophisticated surveillance equipment, was deployed in the Indian Ocean around the time of the missile test planned for November 10-11. India had conveyed its strong concerns about the Chinese vessel’s visit to Sri Lanka.
Sameer Patil, senior fellow at the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), said: “In view of developments of the last few years, where Chinese investments in India’s neighbourhood had come under the cloud of suspicion, these moves would indicate Beijing’s renewed push to regain some of the lost ground. India, which has been proactive in tackling such moves, will need to closely track these developments.”