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Nepal-China relations: The changing context



"Nepal's sensitive geopolitical location heightens its importance in the shaping of the contents and quality of emerging global order. This makes its relations with China and India assume even greater significance in the changing context"

This day, fifty-eight years ago, Nepal and China formalized their ‘age-old’ ties through the establishment of diplomatic relations. The joint communiqué issued on August 1, 1955 agreed that the five principles of peaceful co-existence — mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty; non-aggression; non-interference in each other’s internal affairs for any reason; equality and mutual benefit; and peaceful co-existence — should form the basic principles to guide the relations between the two countries.

Great changes have taken place on both sides since then, but the relationship has stood the test of time respecting each other´s major concerns and core interests in a consistent manner. What has not changed as State Councillor Yang Jiechi said is “the deep, solid friendship and cooperation between China and Nepal.” He called Nepal not just a “dear friend” and a “close neighbour”, but also an “excellent partner” of China. Nepal appreciates China’s firm support to its sovereignty and territorial integrity. Chinese investment and cooperation in infrastructure projects in Nepal, are termed, to quote Yang, “a handshake, an embrace over the Himalayas.”

China as one of the founding members of the United Nations signed the UN Charter on 26 June 1945. However, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) was deprived of its lawful seat in the world body. Nepal was among the prominent Asian, African, and Latin American countries to advocate for the representation of the People’s Republic of China in the UN. Kathmandu considered the UN without PRC a morally, structurally and politically weak organization. Underlining Nepal’s position on the importance of China’s representation at the world body, the then prime minister, B P Koirala, told the 15th UN General Assembly that, ‘the United Nations can neither become universal nor can it reflect the political realities existing in the world today until the People’s Republic of China is given its rightful place in the Organization.’ He said, ‘the United Nations will not be able to fulfil effectively some of its most important purposes and functions until the People’s Republic of China is brought in.’ The 26th session of the UNGA on October 25, 1971 adopted resolution 2578, formally expelling the representative of the Republic of China (Taiwan) and restoring the legitimate rights of PRC in the UN.

Nepal remains sensitive to the sensitivities of its neighbours and stands ready to address their legitimate concerns. It does not permit any elements that are inimical to their interests from its territory. Kathmandu remains unequivocally committed to the ‘one China policy’. Nepal has carried out its commitments to its neighbours and friends under all circumstances.

China is a good friend and neighbour. Chinese leaders counsel that Nepal should maintain good relations with New Delhi, recognizing the dictates of geography and socio-cultural roots that make Nepal closer to India. Chinese Premier Li Peng visited Nepal at the height of Indo-Nepal economic stalemate in November 1989 and advised Kathmandu to work with New Delhi and settle all the matters through bilateral negotiations.

Nepal is currently undergoing multiple transitions that started with the termination of over a decade long armed conflict in 2006 and declaration of the Kingdom into a federal democratic republic through an elected Constituent Assembly (CA) in 2008. CA failed to deliver the mandate of producing a democratic constitution despite several extensions given to it. Instead, the Maoist leadership decimated the only representative institution in the country that had come into being through arduous struggles and immense sacrifices of the Nepali people for over six decades. The people of Nepal go for second CA election in five years on November 19. A second CA election in five years is a rare phenomenon in world history.

It is encouraging to see the convergence of positions of Nepal’s immediate neighbours on holding democratic elections, and bringing the larger international community to make the CA election a success.

Based on the rise of China and India, global power balance is shifting towards Asia. This makes the Asia-Pacific region ‘the world’s brightest spot for the 21st century’ and both China and India as the most important countries of the century. They have a stake in the future of global order. There is a challenge to ensure that their relations are based on mutual respect, equality and non-intervention and directed towards partnership and cooperation for greater growth and increased prosperity. Nepal’s sensitive geopolitical location heightens its importance in the shaping of the contents and quality of emerging global order. This makes its relations with China and India assume even greater significance in the changing context.

However, prolonged transition and lack of politically right institutions that are independent, respected and defenders of human rights, rule of law, dignity of people and social justice stand in the way of optimizing from these opportunities.

Nepal is the ‘highest priority for India’, and in the ‘special priority list’ of China. Their goodwill and support are crucial for the safe landing of the peace and democratic process.

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