Revisiting Nepal-China Ties : Ritu Raj Subedi

It was in November of 1999 when a Chinese delegation, led by Sun Kaohsiung, a deputy-director at the Asia Department of Foreign Ministry, went to New Delhi to hold talks on border issues between China and India. As the Chinese delegates met their counterpart in the Indian capital, the latter proposed that their bilateral talks be held in Kalapani near the border of two nations. The Chinese team leader Sun all of a sudden remembered the statements of the then Nepalese ambassador to China Rajeshwor Acharya, who had briefed the Chinese officials about the dispute between Nepal and India on Kalapani at a banquet he hosted in honour of Wang Yi, the then vice foreign minister, now the foreign minister. Sun, who also attended the event, was aware of the Nepalese sentiments on Kalapani. So, demonstrating a greater sense of diplomatic acumen, Sun immediately responded to the Indian proposal by saying that the Chinese team came to discuss the border issue in New Delhi and it would not be appropriate to deliberate on the matter outside it. Consequently, the Indian side cancelled their plan to take their Chinese officials to the disputed territory.

Avoiding Diplomatic Faux Pas

After returning home, Sun informed ambassador Acharya about the rejection of the controversial Indian proposal. “We might have gone to Kalapani as per the Indian proposal and a sense of mistrust would surface in the bilateral ties between Nepal and China if you had not informed us about the woes and sensitivity of the Nepalese on Kalapani in time. You saved our friendly ties from a possible disaster. I thank you a lot for this,” Sun said. Acharya recently revealed this interesting episode to a gathering of foreign policy experts and media persons.  Former envoy further shared his diplomatic vignette he performed during his tenure in Beijing. “As I assumed the ambassadorial post some 17 years ago, I had a strong desire to secure the support of Chinese government to restore sovereignty of Nepal in Kalapani in addition to promoting the centuries-old warm bilateral ties with the northern neighbour at different levels. Accordingly, I ramped up rapprochement with high Chinese officials. The banquet was part of this effort. I was restless as Chinese officials were not making their views public on Kalapani. I frequently told them: You are well acquainted with the sensitivity of the Nepalese over the Kalapani area and I am waiting for your opinions and reactions on it.  

The day came when the Chinese government broke its silence on the sensitive topic. Speaking at a regular press briefing in Beijing on November 15, 2001, the spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Ministry said: We have noted that the territorial dispute over Kalapani between India and Nepal. Nepal and India are both our friendly neighbours. It is our sincere hope that the two sides will seek a fair and reasonable solution to this issue through friendly consultations and negotiations.”

Not only these, there are other evidences that attest the fact that the Chinese government knew about the status of Kalapani region. According to Wikipedia, Chinese ambassador to Nepal, Zeng Xu Yong, told in an interaction organised by the Reporters’ Club in Kathmandu more than one and half decades back that Lipulekh was regarded as the tri-junction boundary point among Nepal, India and China by which Kalapani lies in the Nepalese territory as the boundary agreement between Nepal and China was signed three and half decades ago. Don’t these proofs speak volumes that Chinese government had full knowledge of the status of Lipulekh that falls under the Kalapani-Limpiadhura region in Darchula district of Far West Nepal? Who could believe that China forgot it so soon as it went to sign an agreement with India that allows trade to pass through Lipulekh? It would have been better if China had consulted with the Nepal government while inking such an accord as it clearly knew the truth that the Nepalese have attached their deep patriotic sentiments to the Kalapani-Limpiadhura region. The Nepalese have been pinning their faith on China as a trustworthy neighbour and the one that helps us in time of need. When we become fed up with paternalistic behaviour of the southern neighbour, we tend to turn to China for solace, encouragement and moral support. But, with the India-China accord that puts Nepal’s nose out of joint, this faith seems to be fading fast.

As per the maps of 1816 Sugauli Treaty, and documents of 1827 and 1856, the Kalapani-Limpiyadhura region lies in the Nepalese territory and Lipulekh is a part of this zone. As the fallout of Sino-India war, the Indian troops set up their camp in Kalapani since early 60s without Nepal's notice. Kalapani is 10-km west of Lipulekh pass and Limpiadhura further 53-km west of it. The border experts argue that the authentic maps that show the encroached land in Nepal are preserved in the Library of Congress and the British museum. It is up to the Nepalese authorities and experts to find these maps, thereby reclaiming Nepal's sovereignty over this area.

Time-tested ties

Imbued with the historical and cultural feelings, Nepal-China relations are time-tested and guided by the Panchasheel (the five principles of peaceful co-existence). They are - mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, non-aggression, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs for any reason of an economic, political or ideological character, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful co-existence. On August1, 1955, Nepal and China signed an agreement that contains the elements of Panchasheel and established their diplomatic relations.  As a reliable friend, Nepal had helped China secure its due position in the United Nations, and maintain stability in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China by crushing Khampa revolt in Mustang that borders with China. Chairman Mao, Premier Chou Enlai and paramount leader Deng Xiaoping highly praised Nepal for its crucial support to new China. During his visit to China in March of 1960, Nepalese Prime Minister BP Koirala had a lively conversation with Chairman Mao over the demarcation of borders between the two friendly nations. Mao said: “We have a vast land of 9.6 million square kilometres, with a large part uncultivated. It would be a crime if it tries to take other’s land and not run one’s own country well. We do not want a single inch of Nepalese land.” At present too, the Nepalese want that the Chinese side should rectify the controversial provision of 41-point joint communiqué and respect Nepal’s territorial integrity and sovereignty on the basis of the Panchasheel principle.










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