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Nepal’s Empty Airport: A Monument to Debt and Diplomatic Spats

Nepal walks a tightrope.
June 3, 2024
Nepal's Empty Airport

Nepal’s Pokhara International Airport, a gleaming symbol of progress funded by China, stands eerily quiet with almost no international flights. This multi-million dollar project touted as a gateway to tourism, has become a source of controversy and financial strain for the Himalayan nation.

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Built with a $215.96 million loan from China, the airport’s viability is shrouded in question. Journalist Gajendra Budhathoki raised concerns about a potential discrepancy in the interest rate, claiming it to be 5% instead of the reported 2%. This sparked a public spat with the Chinese ambassador, who demanded an apology from Budhathoki, a move seen by many as an attempt to silence criticism.

This incident highlights China’s increasingly assertive “Wolf Warrior” diplomacy. The loan itself raises concerns about transparency. The New York Times reported allegations of inflated costs by the Chinese construction firm and lax oversight by Nepali authorities. Additionally, the airport’s location presents challenges for airlines due to payload restrictions, further hindering its profitability.

A Debt Trap in the Making?

Nepal’s predicament mirrors situations in other countries that have fallen into China’s “debt trap.” Sri Lanka serves as a cautionary tale, struggling to repay loans for infrastructure projects built by Chinese firms. Critics warn that these loans come with hidden strings, pressuring countries to adopt policies favorable to China.

The Pokhara airport resembles Sri Lanka’s Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport, another white elephant project financed by China. With minimal traffic, these airports become financial burdens, draining resources needed for development.

Nepal walks a tightrope, seeking to navigate its economic needs with concerns about China’s growing influence. The Pokhara airport stands as a stark reminder of the challenges and potential pitfalls of such large-scale infrastructure projects financed by foreign powers.

Ditible Staff

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