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China in Nepal: another proxy war with India?

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By Lieutenant General Shokin Chauhan

“If China succeeds in replacing India as Nepal’s key economic and security partner…it would have crossed the Himalayan borders that separate the Indian mainland from China.” Shashank Shukla

Historical perspective

Nepal’s relationship with China’s first recorded official engagement dates back to the mid-seventh century, when Nepal’s armed incursions into Tibet led to Chinese intervention favoring the latter. This culminated in the signing of the Sino-Nepalese Treaty of 1792, which provided for a Nepalese tributary mission to China every five years, a symbol of China’s political and economic supremacy in the region.

Tibet was the focal point of their on-and-off relationship for many years until 1814-16, when British India entered as another significant contender for Nepalese loyalty. In the First Anglo-Nepal War of 1814, China refused to come to Nepal’s aid and voluntarily ceded its dominant position in Nepal to growing British influence in the region.

The Chinese addressed the king of Nepal with the title “Wang”. China seemed to use this title for the Nepalese monarch since they considered him a vassal of the Chinese Empire. The first treaty between Nepal and Tibet dates back to 1789, when Tibet, defeated by Nepal, agreed to pay an annual tribute to Nepal. In 1791, Nepal again invaded Tibet, but this resulted in a Ch’ing victory over Nepal in 1792, forcing Nepal to pay a continual five-year tribute to China. The treaty required the Nepalese to send diplomatic missions with gifts to the Manchurian Emperor every five years. This tribute was viewed differently by the Prime Minister of Nepal, Chandra Shum Shere (1863–1929), while clarifying this matter in his letters to the British resident in Nepal, John Manners Smith. He said this “tribute” was a simple exchange of gifts between two independent countries. “We have always considered our relations with China to be long-standing, simple, friendly and innocent in nature. This country’s missions in China were embassies from one court to another, which were invariably treated with the honor and consideration due to foreign guests of honor”.

China’s main interest in Nepal

China’s primary interest in Nepal has always been guided by its concerns over Tibet, which China has ruled since 1950. Beijing’s involvement with Nepal intensified much after the March 2008 Tibetan ethnic uprising. against Chinese rule, which deeply embarrassed the Chinese government on the eve. of its 2008 Olympics. An estimated 25,000 Tibetans live in Nepal, but with China pushing Nepal to tighten its border with Tibet, the number of new refugees reaching Nepal has dropped to a trickle from the previous annual figure about 2,500. China has also placed more emphasis on economic ties, with trade between China and Nepal quadrupling since 2003.

Nepal, on the other hand, has always looked to either China or India, depending on what it sees as crucial for its survival at that time, given its delicate position wedged between the two Asian superpowers. Maintaining a balanced relationship with China remains Nepal’s key and critical element in its “China” foreign policy.

When India gained independence in 1947, the vacuum created in the power equation after Britain’s departure sought to be filled by India trying to emerge as Asia’s premier power. from South. This resulted in the initiation of two binding treaties with Nepal, firstly the Indo-Nepal Peace and Friendship Treaty of 1950, and secondly, the Trade and Transit Treaty. These treaties served as the basis for the initiation of bilateral relations between a newly independent India and Nepal and resulted in the articulation of the identification of too many cultural and historical similarities between the two nations, which although well intentioned , have created suspicion in the minds of the Nepalese. politicians about India’s long-term intentions. They also felt that these treaties reminded them of their perception of their inferior status vis-à-vis India.

Subsequently, a series of events including the Indo-Soviet Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation in 1971, the Indo-Pakistani War and the establishment of Bangladesh, the merger of Sikkim into India in 1974 and later, India’s unofficial support for the political opposition in Nepal and finally the beginning of the Naxalite movement along the Indo-Nepal border”, in the Siliguri and Naxalbari regions of West Bengal, caused apprehension in the mind of the King of Nepal and his coterie of advisers, who believed that the overflow of this Naxalite movement could lead to a bigger problem in Nepal, given the great disparity in living standards among the Nepalese. Later, India’s nuclear explosion in 1974 and its decision to emerge as a declared nuclear power added to Nepal’s discomfiture and fueled its insecurity about the impact of India’s growing stature in as a regional power and to its intentions towards Nepal.

It is in this context that Nepal has restarted and reshaped its ties with China as a possible counterweight to India. Certain international events also influenced this decision to return to China; most significant was India’s defeat in the Indochinese Border War in 1962 and the beginning of an aggressive Chinese stance regarding continued disputed border claims with India. This event caused alarm within the Nepalese power and political structures, which felt that China would do the same to them sooner or later if it was not influenced now. Moreover, this insecurity of Nepal has also pushed China to start thinking about consolidating its presence in Nepal. He felt that it would be reasonably easy to support the Nepalese power structure against India if and when the need arose, given Nepal’s insecurity and apprehensions.

Nepal’s relationship with China is needs-based and practical. It lacks the warmth and depth of Indo-Nepalese relations, however imperfect. It is clear from the past that both China and Nepal are inclined to distance themselves whenever circumstances change and the power situation demands it. On the other hand, India and Nepal share a deep and enduring relationship cemented by a common history and culture.

(This is Part 1 of the article. The author, a veteran soldier, is a second generation officer of the 11th Gorkha Rifles and served in the Indian Army for almost 40 years. He was the former Chief Executive of Assam Rifles and was later appointed Chairman of the Ceasefire Monitoring Group located in Kohima where he was tasked with bringing the various insurgent groups to agree to an ongoing ceasefire with the government Indian. The views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online.)