Chinese Border Encroachment in Humla

0 Comments

As a small landlocked country sandwiched between two giants—India and China—Nepal’s sensitivity for territorial integrity and sovereignty stands out as particularly strong. Never formally colonized, Nepali people appear extra possessive towards their country’s natural heritages and historical richness and have a strong emotional attachment. Therefore, any sort of attack on Mt. Everest and Gautam Buddha, for instance, quickly flares up people’s sentiments and aggression. Given these dynamics, India’s perceived bossiness and occasional border conflicts often invite a huge national outburst. This was seen in the most recent India-Nepal border conflict in the Kalapani region, where all the political parties came forward to support the government’s unilateral action of publishing a new map and amending the constitution.[1] However, the government’s reluctance to confront the northern neighbor despite repeated complaints of encroachment begs the question of the ruling party’s true attitude and the intention.

Source of the Conflict

The issue of border encroachment by China in Humla surfaced when locals of Namkha Rural Municipality reported to the District Administration Office of nine new Chinese construction in Nepali land between the Pillars 11 and 12. The chair of Namkha, Bishnu Bahadur Tamang, claimed that Nepal’s territory “extends two kilometers north from where the buildings are.”[2] Responding to the locals, the assistant Chief District Officer (CDO), Dattaraj Hamal, made an initial visit to the area. Later, the Home Ministry sent a team of government officials, security personnel, and local representatives—led by Humla’s CDO Chiranjibi Giri—to inspect the situation and report to the government. The initial problem seemed to be the missing Pillar no. 11, which was “damaged during a road construction on the Nepali territory some 12 years back.”[3] Locals believed that drawing a straight line between Pillars 11 and 12 would easily show that the new Chinese constructions were in the Nepali territory.

Reportedly, the Chinese officials at the border had denied the possibility of any talks and had stressed that the constructions were on Chinese land. Even the spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy, Zang Si, falsified the ‘accusations’ of Chinese encroachment and instead accused Indian media of sensationalizing the issue. Interestingly, the border inspection team found the missing Pillar 11 in Ward No. 6 of the rural municipality in Takule,[4] and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was quick to issue a statement confirming that “the said buildings are not located within the Nepali territory.”[5] Referring to an inter-ministerial field inspection in 2016 on the same issue, the ministry clarified that the team had concluded the said buildings to be “located one kilometer inside the Chinese territory from the Nepal-India border.”[6]  According to the government, Nepal did not have a border conflict with China.

Field Investigation by Jiwan Bahadur Shahi

Nepali Congress (NC)’s Central Committee member and Provincial Lawmaker, Jiwan Bahadur Shahi, was cynical of the government’s rushed conclusion. Therefore, Shahi, who is also a resident of Humla, led his own team to Humla for further investigation. After an 11-day study from Pillar 5 to Pillar 12,[7] Shahi’s team came up with some crucial findings, which led the opposition Nepali Congress to conclude that China has, indeed, encroached on Nepali land in Humla.[8] Shahi’s team concluded the following[9]:

  1. Chinese constructions in Lolungjong near Pillar no. 12 are in Nepali territory.

The investigation team concluded that the new Chinese buildings in Lolungjong are in Nepali territory and that Pillar no. 12 lies to the north of the constructions. In addition, local residents claim that they went to Lolungjong for livestock farming and cattle grazing.  The hard evidence of the pillar’s location in reference to the Chinese buildings and local’s account of their lifestyle in the region suggest at least a possibility of encroachment, which requires further bilateral investigation.

Fig 1. New Chinese constructions in Lolungjong (bottom left) and Pillar no. 12 (right).

In addition, Shahi’s team found that the Pillar no. 12 was newly constructed. The apparent changed-orientation of the pillar, new fonts on it, and scattered remains of the old pillar indicated that the Chinese side had unilaterally built the new pillar, without Nepal government’s knowledge. If so, it violates the international as well as bilateral protocols of border management—an agreement Nepal and China signed in 1960.

As Fig 2 below shows, although the printed date of 2018 B.S. (1962) is supposed to indicate the year the pillar was built, the color, font, and its overall status clearly indicate that it was built recently. If the government of Nepal has no knowledge of it, it is crucial to investigate what happened with the old pillar and who built the new one. Why was it done unilaterally?

Fig 2. Newly-built Pillar no. 12[10]
  • China has encroached Nepali land in Kith, Hilsa

Shahi’s team found that “China has also encroached Nepali territory near the border pillars 5(1) and 5(2) in the Kith area, and removed the old Junge Pillar no 5(2).”[11] The report also states that Nepalese are restricted from entering and using their ‘registered’ land in Kith. Even security personnel are restricted to inspect the pillar.

Fig 3. Bridge between China and Nepal in Kith, near Pillar 6(1), where Nepalese are restricted to go
  • China has constructed fences in the no-man’s-land of Hilsa

The Shahi-led investigation found China to have violated the international obligation “by constructing a gate in between the Pillar 9(2) in no man’s land at the Hilsa border area.”[12] Again, this unilateral act requires Nepal government’s attention and China’s clarification on why the gate has been constructed in the no-man’s-land.

Fig 4. Chinese gate at Pillar 9(2) in no-man’s-land
  • No encroachment around Pillars 10 and 11

Finally, Shahi’s team found that there was no encroachment around the Pillars 10 and 11.

Discussion and Conclusion

China has continued to play with Nepali people’s sentiments, albeit subtly. Be it the unilateral measurement of Mt. Everest or the occasional claims over it, China has had an eagle eye on Nepal’s northern frontier and its glorious mountains. If it were not for its volatile Tibet region, which requires Nepal’s commitment to the one-China policy, China would most certainly have a bossier attitude towards Nepal and its northern territory. Nevertheless, China has occasionally projected its expansionist attitude to Nepal. Sadly, Nepal’s ruling communist party has remained worryingly silent on such occasions. The border encroachment in Humla is one such example, where the ruling NCP government rushed to falsify the locals’ claims instead of initiating a joint investigation and questioning the Chinese moves. As former Foreign Minister and NC leader Dr. Prakash Sharan Mahat dubs it, the NCP government’s silence on this issue is “irresponsible.”[13]

A Time-line of major events[14][15]:

YearEVENT
1955Nepal-China diplomatic relations formally begin
20 April 1960Anti-China protests led by NC
21 March 1960Border agreement between China and Nepal
1960Nepal China Joint Boundary Commission formed
5 October 1961Nepal China Boundary Treaty signed by King Mahendra
1979First Joint Border Inspection
1989Second Joint Border Inspection
2006Third Joint Border Inspection
2016Locals of the Lapcha-Lolung region demand border supervision for the first time after Chinese constructions were built between pillars 11 and 12. The government of Nepal concluded that the buildings were in Chinese land
2020 Locals request re-inspection of the Chinese-occupied area between Pillars 11 and 12; Home Ministry-dispatched team concludes no border dispute

Jiwan Bahadur Shahi’s investigation offers a crucial insight into what the government seems to have missed in its superficial border inspection. Based on the report, the opposition Nepali Congress has officially concluded that China has indeed encroached on Nepali land in Humla. However, the NCP government seems totally uninterested in antagonizing its communist neighbor in the north by questioning any of its moves. Instead, the NCP appears more concerned with maintaining its relationship with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) by comfortably overlooking Nepal’s national interest.

As the above timeline shows, there has been no joint border inspection since 2006. While the local residents are repeatedly claiming that China has encroached on Nepali land and when the opposition Nepali Congress already stands behind the locals with concrete proofs, the ruling party should show seriousness for the border issue in the north and work for the national interest of the country. It is about time Nepal’s government pressed China for a joint border investigation.


[1] https://kathmandupost.com/columns/2020/06/04/limpiyadhura-kalapani-lipulekh-dispute

[2] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/09/23/a-missing-border-pillar-in-humla-creates-row-between-nepal-and-china#:~:text=Nepal%20and%20China%20are%20engaged,has%20now%20constructed%20some%20buildings.

[3] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/09/23/a-missing-border-pillar-in-humla-creates-row-between-nepal-and-china#:~:text=Nepal%20and%20China%20are%20engaged,has%20now%20constructed%20some%20buildings.

[4] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/09/24/pillar-number-11-along-nepal-china-border-in-humla-which-was-said-to-be-missing-has-been-found

[5] https://mofa.gov.np/press-statement-on-news-report-on-nepal-china-border/

[6] https://mofa.gov.np/press-statement-on-news-report-on-nepal-china-border/

[7]https://english.khabarhub.com/2020/12/134763/?fbclid=IwAR0wf5nMaa4wneyanOD53rqIDOg-AJ-XD8AA_Dc1815HbVJAFqjhq3wh9WU

[8] https://english.kathmandupati.com/nepal/3035/

[9] Jiwan Bahadur Shahi & the team. Report on Chinese Encroachment in Humla: A Field Investigation

[10] Jiwan Bahadur Shahi & the team. Report on Chinese Encroachment in Humla: A Field Investigation

[11]https://english.khabarhub.com/2020/12/134763/?fbclid=IwAR0wf5nMaa4wneyanOD53rqIDOg-AJ-XD8AA_Dc1815HbVJAFqjhq3wh9WU

[12]https://english.khabarhub.com/2020/12/134763/?fbclid=IwAR0wf5nMaa4wneyanOD53rqIDOg-AJ-XD8AA_Dc1815HbVJAFqjhq3wh9WU

[13] https://english.khabarhub.com/2020/15/134980/

[14] https://english.khabarhub.com/2020/15/134980/

[15] Krishna Raj B.C (ex-Secretary, Nepal Government). Chinese Constructions in the Lapcha-Lolung Area and Resulting Border Issues in Humla: A Report.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.