Analysis

Seeing through the ruse

Bindesh Dahal

Bindesh

The fiction of Chinese encroachment of Nepali territory pushed by the big media in Nepal has been unceremoniously debunked. One of the leading dailies of the country has published an apology on Saturday for running the baseless front page story.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs had condemned the wrongful stories in various media outlets and there was public outcry as well. Other outlets have deleted the link to the story published on their online editions.

Worryingly, three members of the lower house belongling to Nepali Congress party filed a motion on Wednesday asking the government to inform the parliament about the encroached territory. Their motion remarks that China has taken more than 64,000 hectares of Nepali land in different districts.

Citing a dubious “report” prepared by the Department of Survey under the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, (actually the department is under Ministry of Land Management, Cooperatives and Poverty Alleviation) the news stories had alleged that the Chinese had taken Nepali land at 11 different places along Nepal-China border. Even a respectable figure who currently serves as a member of the expert committee formed to collect evidences on Nepal-India border provided a quote about China taking control of Rui and Tegha villages in Gorkha district in Gandaki Province.

Conveniently forgetting the fact that Nepal and China have amicably settled the boundary dispute in 1960s, mainstream media pushed the narrative of Chinese encroachment. On October 5, 1961 Nepal and China signed on a Border Agreement following which both the countries had carried out border determining surveys.

For the convenience of the locals, both the countries had agreed to swap lands while settling the border. The land swap focussed on providing pastures for the shepherds within their own country. Following this, another agreement was carried out on August 14, 1962 to provide citizenship cards to the locals who agreed to become citizens of respective countries as per the swap deal. The locals were given full freedom to choose the country of their liking.

Respectable media outlets should have read this history before making the claim of Chinese encroachment. But it is also true that the issue of shifting of border pillar at Lamabagar in Dolakha district in Bagmati Province needs to be settled. Nepal-China Joint Boundary Committee formed in 2006 to renew boundary protocol has not carried out any meetings since 2010. Leaving the issue unanswered may create problems in the future as people with vested interests in derailing Nepal-China relationship can play on it.

However, the timing of the publication of the fictional news of Chinese encroachment could not have been more wrong as Nepal has staked its rightful claim on Limpiyadhura, Lipulekh and Kalapani encroached upon by India since long.

One can surmise the southern neighbour’s hand in publication of this story as almost all Indian media outlets gave space to it and excoriated PM KP Sharma Oli for “gifting Nepali territory to the Chinese”. This seems to be a ploy to deflect attention of the world from Lipulekh dispute and dilute the issue by pushing the narrative that China also has encroached upon Nepali territory, so there is no point in painting India into the corner on border issues.

At a time when India and China are engaged in a bitter border dispute following the violent deaths of 20 Indian soldiers and unspecified number of Chinese soldiers at Galwan Valley in Laddakh, India may have inspired its Nepali “assets” to push the story to create animosity towards China. Knowing that India has “lost” almost all its neighbours due to Narendra Modi government’s continuous blunders, this may be one of the tactics to bring the neighbours into the fold by pointing fingers at the dragon’s intentions. Sadly for India, Nepali people could not be fooled with these shenanigans.

This Indian gambit is a mere repetition of history. In 1960s, Indians spread rumours that China had invaded Nepal. Since there was no intrusion, Nepal made a statement refuting the allegation. This has been recorded in the conversations between the then PM BP Koirala and Chinese President Chairman Mao Zedong. (Book “Mao Zedong On Diplomacy“)

Now that the people have seen through this Indian ruse and asked India to sit for the talks, it would be interesting to see what India’s next move could be. There are other efforts of presenting China as the country to be feared. WION has published an interview with Lobsang Sangay, head of Tibetan government-in-exile, who warns Nepal of China’s “expansionist strategy”.

Sangay says, “To Nepal and all the neighbouring countries, we have been saying the same thing. The way Tibet was occupied, first they said they will build a road from china to Tibet this will bring prosperity to Tibetans. Once they built the road, they brought in trucks, tanks, guns and soon they occupied us. In the process, they have a very shrewd strategy, which is called elite co-optation–which is to buy off all the elites. Go after your political leaders, your business leaders, intellectuals, your journalist, and your Dharmic leaders. They buy each of the sectors of the community which are elite at the top. So when the actual occupation happens, you realise that elite in the country is divided, one supporting China and one supporting own country.”

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There may be an iota of truth in Sangay’s proclamation given that some people in Nepal advocate the Chinese cause more than the Nepali cause. But going by Sangay’s logic, Nepal would have been part of China in 1960s after Kodari-Kathmandu Highway was built to connect Tibet with Nepal. At that time, India had objected to the highway saying that it will facilitate Chinese intrusion but King Mahendra who ruled the country ridiculed India’s concern by saying that “communism does not arrive in a taxicab”.

Mao’s famous saying after the annexing of Tibet that “Tibet is the right palm while Laddakh, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh are the five fingers” has been interpreted by Tibetan exiles as China’s intention to gobble up Nepal and Bhutan (the other three are under India). It is difficult to buy this interpretation as no country can absorb an independent country (a UN member) in the contemporary age. As Nepal has never been invaded by foreign power in its long and proud history, it cannot be compared with Taiwan or Crimea.

But given that the Americans are seeing an opportunity in destabilizing Tibet after the death of Dalai Lama, China may give extra attention to its border. If Nepal remains the playground of Western powers (a worrying scenario post-monarchy), China may feel threatened and create buffer zones in northern parts of Nepal to secure its border. Nepali leaders need to ensure that this development does not occur.

Published on 27 June 2020

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