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Mayor Shah's Poetic Protest: Pokhara Airport and the Shadow of Chinese Debt

Mayor Shah's Poetic Protest: Pokhara Airport and the Shadow of Chinese Debt

Kathmandu's Mayor, Balen Shah, ignited a firestorm of discussion in Nepal with a Facebook poem titled "Empty Like Pokhara Airport" back in yesterday. The airport, then an unfinished skeleton, became a potent symbol for anxieties surrounding the project's hefty Chinese loans and their potential impact on Nepal's economic sovereignty.

Shah's verse painted a metaphorical picture of the airport as a crossroads haunted by the specter of Chinese debt. It subtly critiqued government dependence while advocating for financial independence, leaving listeners both contemplative and energized.

The Pokhara Airport, envisioned as a beacon of progress for western Nepal, also cast a shadow of risk. Plagued by delays and ballooning costs, it became synonymous with the fear of heavy Chinese loans and economic vulnerability. The budget, a rollercoaster ride from $166 million to $305 million before settling at $216 million, fueled doubts about transparency and sustainability. A patchwork of loans and grants from China, the Asian Development Bank, and OPEC further complicated the picture.

Critics warned against excessive reliance on Chinese investment, fearing onerous loan terms and potential compromises to Nepal's autonomy. Proponents, however, championed the airport's potential for tourism and regional development, advocating for collaborative partnerships built on transparency and responsibility.

While Shah's poem didn't explicitly name China or raise the specter of "debt traps," its poignant imagery allowed for diverse interpretations. This opened the door to broader discussions on economic partnerships, responsible infrastructure development, and the crucial importance of safeguarding Nepal's economic independence.

The Pokhara Airport project, now complete but lacking significant regular international flights, stands as a poignant reminder of this chapter in Nepal's evolving relationship with China. As the nation navigates its economic aspirations, open dialogue and careful consideration remain paramount to ensure that partnerships, investments, and infrastructure projects serve the best interests of Nepal and its people.

Balendra Shah Pokhara Airport Debt Trap