As part of a plan to raise $3 billion to turn Buddha's birthplace in Nepal into a Mecca for Buddhists, a Hong Kong-based transnational foundation signed a memorandum last Friday with a United Nations agency that promotes industrialization in developing countries.
The United Nations Industrial Development Organization will rely on its Beijing-based investment and technology promotion office for China to offer technical support for the project in Lumbini, Nepal.
The Asia Pacific Exchange and Cooperation Foundation signed a memorandum with Nepali authorities in June to turn Lumbini into what both sides call a "special development zone" that will benefit from preferential policies adopted by the local government.
No specific timetable was given for completion of the project.
Lumbini lies 171 kilometers southwest of Nepal's capital, Kathmandu, and is the home of Buddha, who was born around 623 BC and given the name Prince Gautama Siddhartha.
As part of the project, the Asia Pacific Exchange and Cooperation Foundation has promised to bring roads, communication equipment, water and electricity to Lumbini, a poverty-stricken United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization World Heritage site that attracts about half a million visitors a year.
Mecca and the Vatican, in comparison, each draw more than 5 million tourists a year.
The Nepali town "is in dire need" of facilities to make visiting pilgrims comfortable, sources with the foundation said.
"What we're looking at here is a comprehensive project that brings together all aspects of economic development, including infrastructure upgrades, employment opportunities, environmental protection and most notably, poverty alleviation," said Hu Yuandong, head of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization's investment and technology promotion office for China.
"It can serve as an engine of growth" for Nepal, Hu added.
The joint chairmen of the Asia Pacific Exchange and Cooperation Foundation present an interesting mixture of backgrounds and interests. Among them are Steven Clark Rockefeller Jr, a fifth-generation member of the Rockefeller family; Jack Rosen, chairman of the American Jewish Congress; Leon H. Charney, a real estate tycoon and former US presidential adviser; Prachanda, leader of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) and former Nepali prime minister; and Paras, the former Nepali crown prince whose father's monarchy was overthrown by Prachanda's forces.
Xiao Wunan, executive vice-chairman of the foundation, said the project will help Lumbini "transcend religion, ideology and race" in its work to rejuvenate the culture and spirit of Buddhism.
Buddhist dignitaries from around the world, including those from the Mahayana, Hinayana and Tibetan schools of Buddhism, have expressed enthusiasm about the plans, according to Xiao.
"The value and significance of this project will increasingly become known to people as time goes on," the Asia Pacific Exchange and Cooperation Foundation said in a press release.