Avadhi Patni, Research Intern, Institute of Chinese Studies, Delhi
The Doklam standoff between India and China has caused security, economic as well as political concerns for other countries of the South Asian region. This article explains general views and opinions of Nepal on the Doklam standoff. Nepal has signed a Treaty of Peace and Friendship with both India (Ministry of External Affairs 1950) and China (Friedrich Ebert Stiftung 1960). It has two tri-junction points with India and China and its dependency on both the countries raises security as well as economic concerns for Kathmandu.
One tri-junction point between Nepal, China and India is at Lipulekh in western Nepal and the other is at Jhinsang Chuli in eastern Nepal. Concerns for Nepal started in 2015 when India and China signed a bilateral agreement to increase trade through Lipulekh but without any consultation with Nepal. This tri-junction point is considered crucial by Nepal for developing it as an economic bridge between India and China. Following this event was the 2015-2016 India-Nepal border blockade. These incidents have created a popular opinion in Nepal about India being at fault in the current standoff in Doklam (Baral 2017).
A statement by Gopal Khanal, the foreign policy advisor to the ex-Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli, raises concerns about the threat to their country that is sandwiched between the two biggest countries of the region. He said, ‘we have to see the Doklam incident as indicative of the tendency of big countries to unnecessarily intervene in the affairs of small countries’, suggesting that this was a threat to security and interests of Nepal. He goes on to say, ‘What the Nepali government should do is tell both India and China to resolve Doklam diplomatically, and in line with the Anglo-Chinese Convention of 1890’ (Baral 2017).
This statement reveals that even though Nepal is telling both the countries to resolve the issue diplomatically, it is also at the same time pointing out that it is according to the 1890 treaty that it should be resolved. China is, of course, asserting its claims according to this treaty whereas India interprets the treaty differently and Bhutan is making its claims based on its 1988 and 1998 bilateral agreements with China (The Hindu 2017). Given Nepal’s indication towards the 1890 treaty on the basis of which China is asserting its claims, it clearly shows its inclination towards China.
However, on 7 August 2017, Nepal’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Krishna Bahadur Mahara, categorically stated that Nepal would not align on the Doklam issue with any of its neighbours as the country pursues an independent foreign policy (My Republica 2017) and appealed to the two countries to settle the dispute peacefully and diplomatically (Gorkha Post 2017).
Bhaskar Koirala, director of the Nepal Institute of International and Strategic Studies, has said that the proximity of Nepal to India and China makes it ‘very easy’ for Nepal to be drawn into a military conflict. He went on to say that ‘Nepal must stand unequivocally neutral to ensure the conflict does not spiral out of control and engulf the wider region’ (South China Morning Post 2017).
Amid the Doklam standoff, Nepalese prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba visited India and held comprehensive talks with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi (First Post 2017). During their discussions on defence and security matters, PM Deuba without referring to Doklam directly went on to say – ‘As you [Narendra Modi] mentioned that Nepal has an open border… I would like to assure you that Nepal will never allow any activity against friendly neighbour India and there will be every support, every help and cooperation from our side’ (The Indian Express 2017). This statement sought to implicitly assure India of Nepal’s support in any future crisis like the current Doklam standoff. Therefore, adding to the already existing array of conflicting statements coming from Nepalese sources.
Nepalese statements indicate an atmosphere of contradictory opinions. The longer the Doklam standoff continues, the more complicated it will become. This will make it increasingly hard for India, China and Bhutan to resolve the issue. In this state of unease, how long can Nepal remain a mere spectator?
Baral, Biswas. 2017. ‘The View from Nepal on the Doklam Standoff’, The Wire, 20 July, https://thewire.in/159792/doklam-standoff-india-china-nepal/ (accessed on 9 August 2017).
Express News Service. 2017. ‘Won’t allow any activity against neighbour India: Nepal PM’, The Indian Express,. 25 August, http://indianexpress.com/article/india/wont-allow-any-activity-against-friendly-neighbour-india-nepal-pm-4812469/ (accessed on 25 August 2017).
First Post. 2017. ‘Amid Doka La border standoff, India-Nepal ink 8 pacts: Modi and Deuba agree to boost joint infrastructure projects’, 25 August, http://www.firstpost.com/india/amid-doka-la-border-standoff-india-nepal-ink-8-pacts-modi-and-deuba-agree-to-boost-joint-infrastructure-projects-3971723.html (accessed on 25 August 2017).
Friedrich Ebert Stiftung. 1960. ‘Sino-Nepalese Treaty of Peace and Friendship’, Nepal Democracy, 21 March, http://www.nepaldemocracy.org/documents/treaties_agreements/sino-nepal_treaty1969.htm (accessed on 19 August 2017).
Gorkha Post. 2017. ‘China-India Doklam standoff: Nepal won’t take sides of any neighbours’, August, http://www.gorkhapost.com/china-india-doklam-standoff-nepal-wont-take-sides-neighbours/ (accessed on 9 August 2017).
Ministry of External Affairs. 1950. ‘Treaty of Peace and Friendship’, 31 July, http://mea.gov.in/bilateral-documents.htm?dtl/6295/Treaty+of+Peace+and+Friendship (accessed on 19 August 2017).
My Republica. 2017. ‘Nepal won’t align with India or China on Doklam issue’, 8 August, http://www.myrepublica.com/news/25240/ (accessed on 9 August 2017).
South China Morning Post. 2017. ‘Beijing signs deals with Nepal amid China-India border clash’, 16 August, http://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy-defence/article/2107022/china-nepal-agree-financial-aid-package-deal-explore (accessed on 19 August 2017).
The Hindu. 2017. ‘Why Bhutan is special to India’, 1 July, http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/why-bhutan-is-special-to-india/article19195034.ece (accessed on 9 August 2017).