The second meeting on border law enforcement cooperation between Nepal and China is going to be held in Beijing in the third week of July, a follow up of the previous one in Kathmandu in July 2010. In the first meeting, it was agreed, home secretary level meetings would be organized every two years and focal points at the joint secretary level designated to ensure timely and effective communication between the two sides.
On the basis of mutual respect for sovereignty, equality and reciprocal benefits, both the countries have been consolidating and strengthening practical cooperation since formal diplomatic relations were established. In the last couple of years, however, the need for bilateral security meetings related to border law enforcement cooperation has been felt.
Despite Kathmandu’s repeated assurances to its northern neighbor on its ‘One China policy’ and its firm commitment to prohibit any anti-Chinese activity on its soil, China seems unconvinced. Since 2009, a series of high-level Chinese delegations have visited the country. Tibet-related issues and security concerns are top priorities during discussions in there bilateral meetings. The manner in which Nepali security forces have controlled anti-China protests is proof that Nepal is committed to follow ‘One China’ policy and is firm about not allowing its soil to be used against its friendly neighbor.
It was believed that the official visit of the Chinese PM Wen Jiabo in December 2011 was put off because of weak security arrangements in Kathmandu valley and the government’s immature diplomacy, although the Chinese side denied this. But the motive behind repeated visits of Chinese delegations is certainly to list out their concerns on Tibet and border issues, while requesting Nepal government to implement strict measures against those involved in the ‘Free-Tibet movement’ in Nepal.
China’s concerns about Tibet vis-à-vis Nepal heightened with covert operations of Khampa rebels of Tibet against China from Nepali soil (Mustang district) in the 1960s. External forces provided training and advanced weapons to these Khampa insurgents, creating an embarrassing situation for Nepal.
It is also believed that on the pretext of ‘Tibetan government in exile’, several covert activities are being conducted in Kathmandu and northern districts that has made the Chinese government anxious. Several demonstrations of Tibetans in Nepal have been a strategic threat to China and it has also proved to be a security challenge and diplomatic concern for Nepal.
Keeping this in mind, bilateral meeting between the Home Minister of Nepal and Public Security Minister of China, held in Beijing in February, 2010, laid a foundation for establishment of a bilateral mechanism at the home secretary level on border cooperation and management. The continuity of the home secretary level meeting—to be held in Beijing this month—will seek to ensure greater cooperation for the benefit of both countries, emphasizing the need for working together in combating terrorism, cross border management, human trafficking and smuggling of arms and other materials.
Nepal should work together with China in building a strong and cohesive security framework, which is essential not just to maintain internal security but also to sustain healthy and secure diplomatic relations. However, at the secretary level meeting in Beijing, Nepal may have a difficult time convincing its Chinese counterpart that the latter’s concern would be fully addressed.
China is rapidly emerging as an economic power and Nepal needs to be in an advantageous position to reap benefits of the spill-over effect of its neighbor’s growth. Security and economic cooperation should go hand in hand so that both countries can gain from the relationship in a sustainable manner.
HUMAN RIGHTS CONCERN
An unofficial source estimates that nearly 20,000 Tibetan refugees are staying in Nepal, many without refugee documents like identity cards. In fact, since 1990, no identity cards have been issued. The Tibetan refugees living in different refugee camps in Kathmandu and Pokhara are demanding documents and though the home ministry did plan to provide ID cards to those registered with the district administration offices, no substantive effort has been made.
US officials visit Nepal and meet high level political and bureaucratic authorities, flagging the agenda of protecting the rights of Tibetan refugees. Nepal is certainly committed to this task. What, however, is highlighted sparingly is the story of those Tibetans who cross the border—both from the north and south—to reach Kathmandu. It is these people whose presence creates troubles for Nepal and who pose a serious security concern. Being sandwiched between two geographically and economically large neighbors, Nepal has to walk the tight rope and manage a diplomatic and strategic balance. The US should appreciate and understand this delicate situation.
Sandwiched between two geographic and economic giants, Nepal has to strike fine diplomatic and strategic balance.
Meanwhile, India too expects Nepal to address its worries related to security and border safety. During the Home Secretary level meetings, India has been pointing at incidents where Nepal has been the transit route for entry of fake Indian currency into the Indian market. Hijacking of the Indian Airlines from Kathmandu in 1999 added to India’s security concerns vis-à-vis Nepal. India claims that the ISI is using Nepali soil as its base to carry out its activities in India. However, by seizing a sizeable amount of counterfeit Indian currency Nepal has demonstrated its full commitment that it will not tolerate any attempt to use Nepal as a base against India, with which it has always enjoyed pleasant relations.
In the end, sandwiched between China and India, two nuclear powers with strong economies, a small and underdeveloped country like Nepal faces the challenge of taking its neighbors into confidence for its overall economic growth and stability. It all depends on how Nepal’s political leaders and government handle these delicate equations at the diplomatic level.