Is China planning to recruit Nepalis in PLA?Speculative reports in Indian media say Delhi’s new policy created void to be thus exploited.
On May 3, The Eurasian Times, an online news portal, ran a story “China ‘keen’ to recruit Gurkha soldiers into its People’s Liberation Army; so, will it become the third country after the United Kingdom and India to hire the fearless men?”
Although neither Nepali nor the Chinese side has confirmed the development, rumours are rife about China exploring options to recruit Gorkhas into the PLA, but it remains to be seen whether Nepal is ready to take the drastic step.
Similar stories were published by some Indian media outlets, namely Firstpost and The Wire. The logic given by most Indian media outlets was that since Nepal has rejected to be a part of India’s short-term Agnipath recruitment scheme, the Chinese PLA could look to cash in on this opportunity.
There is nothing substantive in these reports to suggest China has made such an offer to Nepal, and if it was so, who received such an offer. There is also no quote from the Chinese side which can substantiate the claim of China wanting to recruit Nepalis in its PLA.
No Nepali official could confirm whether the government has received such a proposal from China.
After the Indian media covered the issue, the Post spoke to several government officials who are in communication with the Chinese side on a regular basis and asked them whether the Chinese had made any such offer, either in the past or present.
“Such news are based on rumours and are baseless,” Nepal’s Ambassador to China Bishnu Pukar Shrestha told the Post over the phone from Beijing. “We have neither received such a proposal nor have the Chinese raised such an issue with us in any context.”
Indian news platform The Wire in its analytical piece said Nepali Marxist leaders had demanded a halt to Gorkha recruitment into the Indian Army on the grounds that these soldiers were deployed against countries like China—with which Nepal had no quarrel.
They further argued that the Gorkhas serving in the Indian Army abrogated Kathmandu’s non-aligned or neutral status, according to the analysis.
Conversely, China’s strategic, economic and commercial influence over Nepal had greatly increased, largely due to Beijing sponsoring numerous infrastructure projects in the underdeveloped country under the bilateral Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in late 2017, The Wire wrote.
Speaking with the Post, a senior foreign ministry official said that neither there was any talk of recruitment of Nepali nationals in China’s PLA nor was there a proposal to the effect from the Chinese side. “We have no idea about this. We also came to know of the issue from media reports. No such proposal is likely to come from the Chinese side,” said the official.
After India announced its Agnipath scheme last year, the Nepal government expressed its concern over its provision of short-term service of four years for 75 percent of the soldiers where they will get a one-time retirement package without pensions if they join the service.
Only 25 percent would be entitled for regular soldier employment and to pensions and other benefits. Nepali officials in their conversations with their Indian counterparts and officials have made it clear that India should continue the recruitment as per the tripartite treaty of 1947 that governs the Gurkha recruitment in British and Indian Armies. The tripartite agreement does not recognize short-term services like Agnipath and there is also a social cost for those returning to Nepal after completing just four years of service in the Indian Army.
The news of Nepalis’ recruitment by China also raised eyebrows in the Indian political circles, with the Indian National Congress, the main opposition, raising the issue. The Agnipath recruitment scheme has been opposed by a very large number of ex-servicemen who have summoned the courage to speak out.
Jairam Ramesh, leader of the Indian National Congress, wrote on Twitter : “It now turns out that the scheme has a larger regional fallout as well: Gurkhas recruited from Nepal no longer eligible under the Agnipath scheme could end up joining the Chinese army, leading to another serious friction issue in India-Nepal ties.”
One Nepali diplomat, who earlier served in Beijing, told the Post that “China does not have a policy of recruiting foreigners in its army. Second, those who are opposing the Gurkha recruitment are in the government, so how can they allow such a recruitment in China?” said the former diplomat.
Foreign ministry officials also said that there is no new development on allowing the Nepali youths in the Indian Army under the Agnipath scheme, with regard to which the policy is consistent and in line with the decision taken by the previous government led by Sher Bahadur Deuba.
During several conversations with the Indian officials, the Deuba government had communicated that a new government to be formed after the November 20 elections would consult with the Indian side and reach an appropriate decision. “But the new government is yet to take a position on the matter and there are very few consultations over this issue too,” a foreign ministry official said.
The recruitment in Indian and British Armies are governed by the 1947 tripartite agreement, said Arun Subedi, foreign relations adviser to former Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba. In the Betrawati Treaty of 1792 between Nepal and China, there is a clause whereby China will help defend Nepal against external aggression.
“This is the only treaty between Nepal and China where the Chinese side explicitly called for defending Nepal from any external aggression,” said Subedi, but this provision does not allow the Chinese to recruit Nepali nationals into its army. “There is also a question about the validity, relevance and objective of the Betrawati Treaty, which was signed long ago. Also, this matter is being spoken about at a time when Nepal is calling to replace some of its key treaties with India like the ones signed in 1950 and the tripartite agreement of 1947.”
Subedi attributed the rumours of recruitment of Nepalis into the Chinese PLA to the “paradigm shift in China’s policy since Xi Jinping came to power. But there is no possibility of allowing the Chinese to recruit Nepali youths in the Chinese army. That is beyond our imagination, even if the Chinese do consider the possibility.”
A senior leader of the CPN (Maoist Centre), which leads the government, also dismissed the media reports. “We are not aware of such media reports but if there are any, they are baseless and we cannot even imagine allowing Nepali youths into foreign armies. We are against any kind of recruitment of our youths in a foreign army.”
“In the current political scenario, Nepal cannot sign a new Gorkha recruitment treaty with any country, including China,” said former Nepali Ambassador to Denmark Vijay Kant Karna, who is currently the Executive chair of the Centre for Social Inclusion and Federalism (CESIF), a think-tank.
“Such an agreement would require ratification by a two-thirds majority of parliament which is impossible. Regarding the Agnipath scheme for Gorkha recruitment in the Indian army, Nepal and India should settle it through negotiations. It is in the interest of both the countries to do so.”