02–04 May 2019

China in Nepal: Understanding the Politics of Development in South Asia

International Workshop at the South Asia Institute, Kathmandu

Galen Murton

Araniko Highway Project Information. Photo: Galen Murton 2019.


In the past decade, Chinese foreign direct investment (FDI), humanitarian assistance, and development aid to Nepal has reached unprecedented levels and reconfigured the geopolitical and social relationships between Kathmandu and Beijing. In 2014, Chinese FDI to Nepal eclipsed Indian FDI for the first time ever and established Beijing as Nepal’s top source of foreign investment. In the immediate wake of the 2015 earthquakes in Nepal, Beijing launched what was its largest humanitarian effort to date and Chinese relief was instrumental in both emergency and reconstruction phases of earthquake recovery. More recently, Chinese commitments to infrastructural development in Nepal have also reached new heights, especially in the current frenzy of interventions associated with the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). This turn is underscored by Nepali President Bhandari’s attendance at the 2nd Belt and Road Forum, a state visit with Chinese President Xi Jinping, and the signing of the Protocol on Transit and Transportation towards the development of the Trans-Himalayan Multi-Dimensional Transport Network (THMDTN).

While Nepal’s reliance on foreign aid and development assistance is nothing new, Beijing has recently assumed a unique donor and lender role in Kathmandu, and the social, political, and economic implications of this new relationship raise a number of key questions: In what ways has Chinese aid reconfigured Nepal’s historical relationship with, and dependence on, India? As the center of gravity between Beijing and Delhi shifts, how are Chinese actors – including state officials, aid workers, businessmen, and tourists – perceived and engaged in Nepal? As historical paradigms of western development assistance change shape in Nepal, how does Chinese aid and investment point to new models of South-South development? And, in what ways do development dynamics between China and Nepal reflect broader geopolitical and geoeconomic trends on a global scale, especially in the current moment of the BRI?

China in Nepal: An International Workshop on the Politics of Development in South Asia aims to make three key interventions in theoretical and empirical contexts. First, by critically examining the historical and present dynamics of Chinese aid and investment to Nepal, we will advance conversations in critical development and Asian studies at the intersections of social science’s ‘infrastructural turn’ (Anand et al. 2019; Harvey et al. 2017) and China’s international investment impacts (Klinger and Nairns 2018; Lee 2017; Mohan 2013). Second, we will use the case of Chinese development abroad, both in Nepal and more widely across South and Central Asia (Murton et al. 2016; Yeh 2016) to theorize the ways in which power moves spatially through infrastructure and other development interventions (Paudel and Le Billon 2018; Murton 2017). In so doing, we will bring more grounded and critical perspectives (Akhter 2018; Sidaway and Yoon 2017) to bear on the flourishing, but largely policy-oriented analyses of, recent scholarship on the BRI (Liu and Dunford 2016; Flint and Zhu 2018). Finally, we will combine both empirical and theoretical perspectives on China’s emergent role as a leader in global development to rethink and conceptualize new models of ‘South-South’ development in the 21st century.

Discussions at the China in Nepal workshop will interrogate and seek answers to urgent questions at the center of debates about the ‘rise of China’ and anxieties about Nepal’s long and uneven experiences with the global development sector. In addition to critical dialogue, the workshop aims to produce a comprehensive journal article on the geopolitics, geoeconomics, and social impacts of Chinese development in Nepal today, provisionally aimed for Economic and Political Weekly. The workshop is organized and convened at the Kathmandu Office of Heidelberg University’s South Asia Institute (SAI) and Nepal Research Bhavan, co-organized with the Kathmandu Center of the Association for Nepal and Himalayan Studies (ANHS), and supported by the European Commission Horizon 2020 Programme Marie S. Curie Action (MSCA) Individual Action grant: ROAD DIPLOMACY.


  • Akhter, M. (2018) ‘Geopolitics of the Belt and Road: Space, State, and Capital in China and Pakistan’. In Neilson, B., Rossiter, N. and Samaddar, R. (eds.). Logistical Asia: The Labour of Making a World Region. Singapore: Palgrave Macmillan: 221-241.
  • Anand, N., Gupta, A., and Appel, H. (eds.) (2018) The Promise of Infrastructure. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
  • Flint, C. and Zhu, C. (2018) ‘The Geopolitics of Connectivity, Cooperation, and Hegemonic Competition: The Belt and Road Initiative.’ Geoforum DOI: 10.1080/14650045.2018.1533818
  • Harvey, P., Jensen, C.B., and Morita, A. (eds.) (2017) Infrastructures and Social Complexity: A Companion. London: Routledge.
  • Klinger J. and Nairns, T. (2018) ‘New Geographies of China and Latin America Relations: Introduction to the Special Issue’, Journal of Latin American Geography 17(2): 6-22.
  • Lee, C.K. (2017) The Specter of Global China. Chicago: University of Chicago Press
  • Liu, W. and Dunford, M. (2016) ‘Inclusive Globalization: Unpacking Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative’, Area Development and Policy 1(3): 323-40.
  • Mohan, G. (2013) ‘Beyond the Enclave: Towards a Critical Political Economy of China and Africa’, Development and Change 44(6): 1255-72.
  • Murton, G. (2017) ‘Making Mountain Places into State Spaces: Infrastructure, Consumption, and Territorial Practice in a Himalayan Borderland’, Annals of the American Association of Geographers 107(2): 526-45.
  • Murton, G., A. Lord, and R. Beazley (2016) ‘“A Handshake Across the Himalayas:” Chinese Investment, Hydropower Development, and State Formation in Nepal’, Eurasian Geography and Economics 57(3): 403-32.
  • Paudel, D. and Le Billon, P. (2018) ‘Geo-Logics of Power: Disaster Capitalism, Himalayan Materialities, and the Geopolitical Economy of Reconstruction in Post-Earthquake Nepal’, Geopolitics.
  • Sidaway, J. and Woon, C.Y. (2017) ‘Chinese Narratives on “One Belt, One Road” (一带一路) in Geopolitical and Imperial Contexts’, The Professional Geographer 69(4): 591-603.
  • Yeh, E. (2016). ‘Introduction: The Geoeconomics and Geopolitics of Chinese Development and Investment in Asia. Eurasian Geography and Economics’, 57(3): 275-85.

Workshop Participants

  • Tulasi Sigdel, Instructor, Government Staff Training College
  • Manohari Upadhyaya, Director, Kathmandu Center, Association for Nepal and Himalayan Studies
  • Manoj Suji, Research Associate, Social Science Baha
  • Bina Limbu, Research Associate, Social Science Baha
  • Nadine Plachta, Resident Director, Kathmandu Office, South Asia Institute, Heidelberg University
  • Dipak Gyawali, Pragya/Academician, Nepal Academy of Science and Technology
  • Austin Lord, PhD Candidate, Anthropology, Cornell University
  • Bhaskar Koirala, Director, Nepal Institute of International and Strategic Studies
  • Emily Yeh, Professor, Geography, University of Colorado Boulder
  • Galen Murton, Assistant Professor, Geographic Science, James Madison University and LMU Munich
  • Isabelle Onians, Director, School of International Training Tibetan Studies Program
  • Nyima Dorjee Bhutia, Teaching Assistant, School of International Training Tibetan Studies Program
  • Sagar Lama, Student of Himalayan History
  • Svenja Bounin, Intern, German Embassy to Kathmandu


Friday, 3 May 2019

8.30-8.45 Arrivals
- Garden and Library: South Asia Institute/Nepal Research Bhavan

9.00-9.30 Opening: Introductions and Agenda
- Galen Murton, James Madison University and LMU Munich

9.30-10.30 Panel 1: Geopolitics and Geoeconomics: Nepal-China Relations in Historical Context
- Tulasi Sigdel, Nepal Administrative Staff College - Manohari Upadhyaya, Kathmandu Center ANHS - Q&A/Discussion

10.30-11.00 Tea Break, SAI patio

11.00-12.30 Panel 2: Chinese Aid: Education, Food, Humanitarianism - Manoj Suji and Bina Limbu, Social Science Baha - Nadine Plachta, South Asia Institute - Q&A/Discussion

12.30-14.00 Lunchbreak, SAI Garden

14.00-15.30 Panel 3: Hydropower Development: Dreams and Realities in Nepal - Dipak Gyawali, Nepal Academy of Science and Technology - Austin Lord, Cornell University - Q&A/Discussion

15.30-16.00 Tea break, SAI patio

16.00-17.30 Panel 4: BRI in Nepal: Infrastructural and Political Futures - Bhaskar Koirala, Nepal Institute of International and Strategic Studies - Emily Yeh, University of Colorado Boulder - Q&A/Discussion

17.30-18.00 Closing: Concluding Thoughts and Tasks - Galen Murton, James Madison University and LMU Munich

18.00-20.00 Group Dinner: Summit Hotel

Highland Asia Research Group
LMU, Social and Cultural Anthropology, Oettingenstr. 67
80538 Munich, Germany
martin.saxer@lmu.de | +49 89 2180 9639

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