China nudges Nepal on One-China policyBeijing seems to be wary amid a series of visits from the United States and a senior official’s recent meetings with Tibetan refugees in Kathmandu.
Amid a flurry of arrivals from the United States and a senior official’s recent meetings with Tibetan refugee leaders in Kathmandu, Beijing has, albeit obliquely, conveyed to Kathmandu that Nepal’s One-China policy should not be affected by any other factors—internal or external.
During the 14th meeting of Nepal-China Bilateral Consultative Mechanism, according to at least two participants, the Chinese side expressed their reservations about US Under Secretary of State Uzra Zeya’s visits to at least two Tibetan camps in Nepal.
“The Chinese side stopped short of mentioning the meeting but the message was by and large clear,” a participant of the meeting told the Post on the condition of anonymity.
Nepal-China Joint Consultation Mechanism is led by the foreign secretary of Nepal and the vice minister of the Foreign Ministry of China.
According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the forum is instrumental in discussing the entire realm of bilateral relations.
Foreign Secretary Bharat Raj Paudyal and Assistant Foreign Minister of China Wu Jianghao led their respective delegations. The meeting was attended by officials from over a dozen ministries, according to the Foreign Ministry.
Zeya, who is also the special coordinator for Tibetan refugees for the Joe Biden administration, during her three-day visit to Nepal on May 20-22, had met with Tibetan refugee leaders in Kathmandu despite Nepal’s wish against the same.
Hours before her arrival, the Foreign Ministry had said it had no idea about her meetings with Tibetan refugee leaders. Nepal is home to around 15,000 Tibetan refugees and many of them have not received refugee cards, a lack of which has created some problems for them like pursuing education, travelling abroad, doing business and getting other benefits.
The Nepali side, according to officials, reconveyed to the Chinese side that Nepal strongly adheres to One-China policy and it is committed to not allowing its soil against its neighbours.
“The Chinese side appreciated Nepal’s commitment,” said the official.
Before arriving in Kathmandu, Zeya had met with the Dalai Lama and other senior officials of the Tibetan government in exile in Dharamshala.
Ahead of Zeya’s arrival, Chinese Ambassador to Nepal Hou Yanqi had met with Home Minister Bal Krishna Khand and communicated to him that Nepal should respect and adhere to the One-China policy.
Zeya, who met Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, Foreign Minister Narayan Khadka, Home Minister Khand and other officials, had raised the issue of documentation of Tibetan refugees living in Nepal.
The Nepal government stopped issuing refugee cards to Tibetan refugees in 1995, and according to Tibetan refugee leaders, as many as 7,000 Tibetan refugees do not have the identification document.
In recent months, the Chinese have been wary of America’s renewed interest in Nepal, especially after the ratification of the Millennium Challenge Corporation Nepal Compact by Nepali Parliament.
In the lead up to the American grant’s passage, Beijing had, at least on two occasions, warned Nepal against the assistance. It termed US insistence that Nepal ratify the MCC a “coercive diplomacy” and even asked how a gift to Nepal can be delivered with an ultimatum.
Nepal signed the MCC agreement with the United States the same year it signed up to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Not even a single project, however, has taken off in Nepal under the BRI.
When Nepali parties were vacillating on the MCC grant, Washington had even conveyed to Kathmandu that it could review its Nepal ties if the grant fails to get through the House. Since the grant’s ratification, there has been a flurry of visits from the United States, which Washington says are part of celebrations of 75 years of Nepal-US ties.
Amid increased US-China rivalry, Washington’s growing interest in Nepal has become a cause for concern for Beijing.
The Tibetan refugee issue has been prickly for decades for Nepal, as Beijing views it through a security lens.
Despite pressure from Beijing, Nepal has been honouring the “gentlemen’s agreement” reached between the Nepal government and some UN agencies and the West regarding the safe passage of Tibetans to Dharamshala. Nepal is also following the principle of non-refoulement, which means Nepal does not send back Tibetan refugees to China in case they are apprehended by Nepali security forces.
During his meeting with Zeya, Home Minister Khand had communicated that Nepal is sensitive towards security concerns of India and China, according to officials.
At Wednesday’s meeting, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Nepali and Chinese sides discussed the entire spectrum of the Nepal-China ties including expediting China-funded projects in Nepal and projects under the Belt and Road Initiative, among others.
“We exchanged views on the BRI but there is no concrete progress on it,” said a Nepali participant of the meeting. “Since the project implementation plan remains uncertain, no progress will be achieved on the BRI front in near future.”
The Chinese side, according to another Nepali participant, said that they are waiting for the comments and recommendations from the Nepali side in order to agree on finalising the text of the project implementation agreement plan.
“We discussed issues related to transit and transportation, tourism, poverty alleviation, disaster management, people-to-people contact, resuming flights from Nepal to China, sending back Nepali students to China who are stuck here after arriving in Nepal following the Covid pandemic, cooperation in the health sector, exchange of high-level visits, opening of the Rasuwagadhi-Kerung and Tatopani trading points and purchasing chemical fertilisers from China, among others,” said one official.
China has agreed to resume two flights from Kathmandu to Chengdu and Kunming starting May 31 in order to resume air connectivity between the two countries which remains halted since the start of the pandemic. By the end of June, China is taking back 250 Nepali students who were waiting to return to China for completion of their higher studies.
Similarly, the two sides have also reached an agreement, in principle, to allow Nepal to buy chemical fertilisers from China, according to another Nepali official.
“The Ministry of Agriculture will work out a proposal and send it to the Chinese side for further process,” said the official.
Amid concerns from Beijing, the main opposition CPN-UML on Wednesday hit out at the Sher Bahadur Deuba government over Zeya’s visits to Tibetan refugee camps.
UML chair KP Sharma Oli said that Zeya incited refugees by visiting Tibetan refugee camps in Nepal.
Addressing a meeting of the UML Parliamentary Party, Oli said that the established values and norms of Nepal's foreign policy were undermined during Zeya’s visit.
"The US deputy assistant secretary of state's visit [to the Tibetan refugee camps] in Nepal was a breach of established values and norms of Nepal's foreign policy," said Bishal Bhattarai, chief whip of the UML parliamentary party, quoting Oli.
Oli, in the meeting, said that Nepal always gives priority to its national interest and neutral foreign policy.
“We have maintained the policy of non-alignment. But the way and the manner in which she visited the Tibetan refugee camps on Nepali land was wrong and a violation of our foreign policy.”