Timeline of Major Events
|December 31||The Parliament’s International Relations Committee formed a ‘Foreign Policy Study Sub-committee.|
|January 3||The Governor of the Indian State of Uttarakhand visited Nabhi, Kuti, and Gunji in the Kalapani area of Darchula without the Nepal government’s permission.|
|January 4||Minister for Energy, Water Resource, and Irrigation Pamha Bhusal has a courtesy meeting with the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) Tenzing Lekfel.|
|January 5||Secretary-general of (BIMSTEC), Tenzin Lekphell, and PM Deuba held a courtesy meeting|
|January 12||Traders and businesspersons protested the undeclared border blockade in Kerung and Tatopani checkpoints in Kathmandu on January 12.|
|January 15||The Indian Embassy stated that India’s position on the Kalapani, Lipulekh, and Limpiyadhura border issues is well-known, consistent, and unambiguous.|
Nepal’s foreign policy
The parliament’s International Relations Committee has formed a ‘Foreign Policy Study Sub-committee to study the overall foreign affairs of the country. The committee has created a five-member sub-committee under the coordination of UML MP Deepak Prakash Bhat. The sub-committee’s role is to provide suggestions and assistance to the new foreign policy, which the Foreign Minister Narayan Khadka will devise. The sub-committee will also study all the issues from the organizational and structural shortcomings in foreign affairs and submit a report with recommendations.
Several committees have been formed with the same purpose in the past. However, the reports were never executed. This is because foreign policy of Nepal appears to shift with the change of government instead of being implemented on the basis of national consensus.
Prime Minister Deuba leading a 30-member delegation, was prepared for a four-day visit to India to attend the Vibrant Gujrat Summit. Deuba was the executive heads of one of the five nations that were invited. Deuba’s itinerary also included a bilateral meeting with his Indian counterpart, Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Both countries had laid the basis for PM’s visit by signing eight memorandums of understanding in various sectors such as importing chemical fertilizers, Kurtha- Jayanagar railway, and post-earth-quake reconstruction. However, the visit got canceled due to the postponement of the summit due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The prime minister would have received red carpet treatment in Delhi had the summit taken place.
Foreign Minister Narayan Khadka and his Indian counterpart, S. Jaishankar, also discussed bilateral issues like development projects and post-earthquake reconstruction over a telephone conversation. Further, maintaining party-to-party and personal relations, Arzu Rana Deuba, the wife of PM Deuba, met with Vijay Chauthaiwale, the Foreign Affairs Department Chief of India’s ruling Bhartiya Janata Party in Delhi on January 2. While Nepal-India relations appear to be smoothening on various diplomatic and symbolic fronts, pressing matters such as the border dispute between the two countries remain unresolved.
Border Dispute with India
The outstanding border disputes in Lipulekh, Kalapani, and Limpiyadhura have again gained traction and triggered Nepal’s politicians and public. The Indian Prime Minister’s statement regarding expansion of route to China’s Mansarovar via Lipulekh in an election rally in Uttarakhand on December 30 may adversely impact the improving Nepal-India relations as the territory remains disputed without resolve. However, Nepal’s delayed response and nonchalance drew much flak from the public.
India unilaterally has been carrying out activities in the disputed territory while deferring with dialogue with Nepal. Furthermore, the Governor of the Indian State of Uttarakhand visited Nabhi, Kuti, and Gunji in the Kalapani area of Darchula without the Nepal government’s permission. The Rashtriya Janamorcha party expressed a stern objection over the Indian official’s visit without a permit. However, India has reiterated its previously held position on the matter stating, “India’s position on the border issues are well known, consistent, and unambiguous” on January 15.
The government’s spokesperson stated that the Nepal government had requested the Indian government to halt unauthorized road construction/expansion into Nepal’s territory. However, this does not suffice. The government has failed to stimulate bilateral mechanisms that have remained non-operational for years. Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba’s visit to India would have perhaps helped initiate the dialogue.
The geographic proximity of Nepal and India and their multifaceted relationship may create misunderstanding and distrust in bilateral relations. Further, the Indian government’s failure to recognize Nepal’s sensitivity to certain issues and its passivity on them appears to be fueling misunderstandings and counterproductive responses in Nepal. Furthermore, due to the strong position taken by both sides in the issue of the Kalpani, Lipulekh, and Limipiyadhura, it may take multiple discussions to resolve the matter. Despite failed attempts, engaging in continuous diplomatic dialogues appears to be the only reasonable option.
Nepal and China relations
China claims it deems Nepal as an imperative strategic partner. Its relationship with Nepal is based on peaceful coexistence, respect towards Nepal’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, friendly bilateral relations based on equality, mutual benefit, and non-interference in each other’s internal affairs. However, its actions speak otherwise.
Nepal and China signed the Trade and Transit treaty protocol in 2019. Nevertheless, it has not come into force. Instead, the bilateral trade between the two countries has declined over the years, with Covid-19 being a convenient excuse. Traders and businesspersons protested the undeclared border blockade in Kerung and Tatopani checkpoints in Kathmandu on January 12. As per the customs office, only nine trucks from Kerung and 11 from Tatopani are allowed to enter Nepal on daily basis. Previously, 200 to 250 containers of goods entered Nepal daily. Earlier, there used to be correspondence with Chinese counterparts. However, it has halted since the Covid-19 crisis struck the country. The government stated that they had taken diplomatic initiatives to address this issue. However, there has been no improvement in the situation. The Chinese side has been heedless to the requests of Nepali businesspersons.
According to the 1965 Vienna Convention on Transit and Trade of the Land-locked States, the landlocked Nepal is entitled to import goods from the international market with no interference and stoppage. Similarly, Article 125 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas, 1973 (UNCLOS) confers the right to access to and from sea and freedom of transit to all the landlocked nations. As China and Nepal are signatories of both the conventions, the undeclared border blockade impeding the import of goods infringes international laws. Both the countries are also members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and are bound by WTO laws, allowing them to trade with one another.
China has also been hesitant to send chemical fertilizers to Nepal in compliance with the agreement. China inducted a policy to limit exports of chemical fertilizer on the premise of “low production.” Due to the new policy, fertilizers have been stuck at many locations across China. Three hundred metric tons of compost are also stuck near the Tatopani border. Nepal’s Ministry of Agriculture had sent a diplomatic letter regarding the issue but has not received any response from China.
Moreover, China has only been engaging politically in Nepal, recently. State-to- State bilateral engagements have tapered. A high-level officer at Home Ministry revealed that all infrastructure projects under BRI have been halted. Further, China has chosen to disregard the diplomatic notes sent by Nepal.
The border dispute with China
China has again claimed that there is no border dispute with Nepal. Chinese Embassy’s Spokesperson Xiaolong stated that Nepal has no border issues with China. Amidst the unresolved border issue, China passed a Border law on October 23, 2021, which came into effect on January 1, 2022. The new law states that PLA shall strengthen the border defense to support economic and social development in border areas. It also states that China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity are sacred and invaluable. Further, the law lays down a legal framework for border closure if needed. The law also allows China to encounter invasion, encroachment, and infiltration along with border areas.
The new border law may affect the resolution of the border dispute between China and Nepal. The new law may act as a deterrent in resolving border disputes, adding additional pressure on Nepal making it more fearful of China.
Through the law, China seeks to transform border dispute into territorial dispute by assuming the right or allowing itself the discretion to bring anything under the sovereignty ambit. It is a strategy to strengthen China’s negotiating leverage to take a tougher stance in negotiations with Nepal. China’s unilateralism is reflected in the border law, a glaring illustration of power demonstration.
Moreover, Nepal and China signed a border protocol on January 20, 1963. The protocol has details of the alignment of the boundary line. The protocol also allows Nepali nationals and Chinese nationals to cross border up to 20 KMs for trade purpose. Generally, bilateral agreements and multilateral agreements supersede domestic laws. However, China has passed domestic legislation and is asking other states to respect it. This is an approach to make its creeping expansionism lawful. It has proved that bilateral agreements and protocols hold value only if they serve China’s interest.