Disputes on the Northern Border of Nepal—The Case of Humla

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Centre for Social Inclusion and Federalism (CESIF) held an event on February 9, 2021, focusing on ‘Disputes on the Northern Border of Nepal – The Case of Humla’ at Hotel Summit, Sanepa, Lalitpur.

  • Jiwan Bahadur Shahi, Karnali Province’s opposition Nepali Congress leader and lawmaker, was the chief presenter at the event. Former Director General (DG) and veteran geographer Buddhi Narayan Shrestha presented Nepal’s historical border issues with China/Tibet and discussed technical aspects of boundary demarcation. Former Director General Nagendra Jha, Nepali Congress lawmaker Pradeep Giri, and reporter JB Pun Magar also commented on the issue.
  • The seminar was moderated by Ambassador Vijay Kant Karna, who is also the chairman of CESIF and a Political Science professor at Tribhuvan University.
  • The event had about 70 participants from different walks of life such as research/academia, politics, bureaucracy, and media.

A part of CESIF’s monthly seminar series, this discussion program focused on a largely-ignored Nepal’s border dispute with its northern neighbor—China. After an introductory/welcome remark from Amb. Karna, NC lawmaker from Humla, Hon. Jiwan Bahadur Shahi presented his findings on Chinese constructions in the Lolungjung area of Humla, which locals claim to be a Chinese encroachment on Nepali territory. Following Shahi’s presentation, ex-DG commented on the issue and stressed on the necessity for a thorough investigation by the Survey Department. After Jha’s remarks, JB Pun Magar shared his experience of his field visit. Before the floor finally opened for questions from the audience, ex-DG Shrestha presented in detail a very technical summary of boundary demarcation principles, historical disputes with the northern neighbor, dispute-resolving mechanisms used in the past, border protocols, agreements, and treaties between the two countries. Highlighting the importance of maps, documents, facts, and figures, Shrestha also urged the government to launch a joint investigation team and probe into the issue without making any hasty unfounded conclusions. The major takeaways from the discussion are as follows:

Has China really encroached on Nepali land?

Lawmaker Shahi presented several evidences from his field study in Humla to show Chinese encroachment in Limi, Hilsa, and Kit areas of the district. Among others, some evidence Shahi presented include:

  • New Chinese constructions on Nepali land in Limi (Lulomjong area)
  • Nepali road from Gaptudosa in the North-West (about 2 km past the new Chinese constructions) to Limi-Lapcha built by Nepal with locals’ participation (including Shahi himself)
  • China’s unilateral fencing on the No-Man’s land near pillars 5.2 and 6.1 of Kit area
  • Complete Chinese regulation over the friendship bridge in Kit region
  • Newly built Pillar no. 12 with changed orientation and font
  • Chinese time zone in up to 35 km of Nepali territory
  • GPS indicator showing Nepali land—about 2 km south of pillar no. 12—as Chinese
  • Video recordings of Humla locals pleading for government’s attention and action against the Chinese expansion.

While JB Pun Magar validated these claims and assured that his video reporting from the ground will soon telecast the facts about the encroachment, ex-DG Shrestha was more technical and scientific with his presentation; he discussed Nepal’s history of border dispute with China and the techniques/principles used to solve the issues in the past and maintained that such a border dispute can occur with China as well. He stressed the importance of maps, figures, documents, and scientific methods in solving border-related disputes. He also highlighted the need for a joint investigation into the boundary dispute with China and criticized the government for failing to do so. Instead of hastily falsifying locals’ claim of Chinese encroachment, the government should make a transparent scrutiny of the situation and inform the people as well as experts whether China has really encroached Nepali land in Humla.

  • Nepal’s border relation with China

Discussants as well as some journalists from the floor talked about Nepal government’s unequal treatment of India and China when it comes to border/boundary disputes. Despite the history of boundary disputes with China and a rather bumpy relations with the northern neighbor until recently, as demonstrated by ex-DG Shrestha, Nepal government has ignored this particular case of Humla despite locals’ repeated complaints. There exist several Nepal-China treaties (1775, 1789, 1792, 1856), a Boundary Agreement (1960), and even a Boundary Treaty (1991) with the northern neighbor. Since the border demarcation in 1962-63, Nepal and China have signed three Boundary Protocols (1963, 1979, and 1988). However, there has been little progress for the 4th Protocol since 2006, which makes the northern border vulnerable to encroachments and disputes, thereof. Therefore, the government’s joint effort to inspect the areas of border disputes, including that of Humla, is essential to establish truth and make the locals, general public, and expert aware of any existing border dispute or a lack of the same.

  • Mainstream media and China

Another theme that emerged out of the discussion was the apparent silence and biases of major media houses when it comes to Chinese wrongdoings. Besides a general (faulty) mindset that China never encroaches border, as pointed out by author Uddhav Pyakurel, Nepali journalists and media persons seem to have victim of China’s wooing in the form of multiple state-sponsored visits, scholarships, and fellowships. As noted by multiple attendees, these activities have stripped Nepali journalists of their critical observation and reporting of China. Humla’s border issue has been a victim of the same, which was also evident from the absence of reporters from top media houses such as Kantipur, Naya Patrika, Annapurna Post, and so on.

  • Local people’s experience and perception

As Honorable Pradeep Giri stated during the event, a map is not equivalent to a country/state; it is a “necessary condition but not a sufficient condition.” The state should not ignore the grievance and voices of its local citizens because without bringing them under confidence, no sovereignty can be successfully imagined. Journalist Chandra Kishore pointed out that people on the ground, living along the border, are the first to experience and respond to any expansionist activities of the neighbor, so their patriotism and loyalty should never be questioned. Offering the example of the Madhesi community and their undeterred resilience to preserve the border, he argued that any encroachment of Nepali land first affects the local citizens because they are the ones to lose their land—a source of their livelihood and income.

The seminar concluded with a general understanding that there is an outstanding issue at the Humla border, which needs to be cleared by the government. People should know whether or not China has really encroached on Nepali land. Therefore, instead of issuing a rushed blanket statement that China has not encroached any land in Nepal, the government should send a team of experts to Humla to investigate the issue in full detail, the outcome of which should then be shared to all with complete transparency.

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