Sixty-four years of friendship: A review of Nepal-China ties

Dipendra Adhikari and Zhang Sheng


Dipendra Adhikari



On August 1, 2019, Nepal and China will celebrate the 64th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relationship between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Nepal. On such an important day for China-Nepal relationship, it is our duty to carefully examine the sixty-four years of China-Nepal friendship and to look forward to China-Nepal cooperation in the new era.

On October 1, 1949, the People’s Republic of China was established. China was very interested in re-establishing historical friendship with Nepal, but partially due to India’s negative role in preventing Nepal and China from approaching each other in order to keep its “special relationship” with Nepal and partially due to Nepali monarchy’s suspicion toward Communist government, the PRC was not able to start diplomatic relationship with Nepal immediately.

In 1951, The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) liberated Tibet from the theocratic serfdom of Dalai Lama and his landlord class, and this important news certainly attracted Nepal’s attention. Regarding Tibet’s Liberation, King Tribhuvan of Nepal made a very interesting statement, “There is no change in our traditional relations even after the political changes in Tibet.” In 1954, Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai, in his speech in the National People’s Congress, announced that China was ready and willing to establish diplomatic relations with Nepal on the basis of equality and mutual respect. With King Mahendra succeeding the throne in Nepal, PRC’s international influence rose and bilateral trade agreement China signed with India in 1954 warned Nepal the possibility of China and India getting closer. However, breakthrough in Nepal-China relations came soon after.

In April 1955, during the first Afro-Asian Conference held in Bandung, Nepali and Chinese delegates held successful meetings. In 1955, a Chinese delegation led by Chinese Ambassador to India Yuan Zhongxian visited Nepal and agreed to establish formal diplomatic ties. On August 1, 1955, China and Nepal signed an agreement to formally establish bilateral diplomatic relations on the basis of Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence (Panchasheel).

In 1959, Dalai Lama launched an armed rebellion against the democratization campaign in Tibet. After the failure of the rebellion, Dalai Lama treacherously fled to India with the help of the CIA. Dalai Lama trained his military organization in the territory of India and Nepal, but Nepal officially upheld the ‘One China Policy’ and suppressed the Khampa Mutiny. Nepal’s commitment to One China Policy has been strongly welcomed by China.

In 1962, the Sino-Indian War broke out in South Tibet (or Arunachal in Indian terminology). The remarkable military strength China demonstrated in this war deeply impressed Nepal and inspired Nepal to use China to balance out Indian dominance in order to achieve more national independence. In 1963, the China-Nepal highway started to be constructed and it finished in 1967. In 1969, Nepal demanded India to withdraw its military advisors and observers in Nepal. From realist calculation, Nepal effectively used China’s support to uphold its independence.

China, unlike India, strongly supported the “Zone of Peace” proposal of Nepal brought about by King Birendra in 1975. In 1976, the Agreement on bilateral trade was signed. In 1978, the civil aviation agreement was signed and in 1981, the trade and payment agreement was signed between China and Nepal. In April 1995, the then Prime Minister Manmohan Adhikari made a state visit to China. In 1996, Chinese President Jiang Zemin visited Nepal, and two states agreed to establish a good-neighborly partnership for generations.

In 2008, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ visited Beijing during the Olympics. In 2009, Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal visited Beijing, and both countries agreed to establish a comprehensive and cooperative partnership of friendship for generations. In 2012, Premier Wen Jiabao visited Nepal. Both sides published a joint communiqué, and declared 2012 as “a year of China-Nepal friendship.”

As China enters the new era under the leadership of President Xi Jinping, China-Nepal relations is also facing new prosperous opportunities. One of the largest opportunities is certainly the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Apparently, the BRI is a good opportunity for Nepal and actually Nepal shares the same concern with China on aforementioned issues in certain degree: Nepal, as the best friend of China besides Pakistan in South Asia, should have strong incentive to become a development model of BRI in South Asia; Nepal, as the only state in South Asia governed by Communist Party, also has incumbent responsibility of being cautious against possible U.S. imperialist intervention and to use Chinese support to defend its national interests. Therefore, there is every reason for Nepal to embrace the BRI.

Nepal, as the best friend of China besides Pakistan in South Asia, should have strong incentive to become a development model of BRI in South Asia

Sino-Nepalese political relationship is stable and fruitful because this relationship is based on mutual respect, peaceful co-existence, and it is a win-win relationship. China appreciates and expects Nepal to continue supporting the One China Policy, and China supports the sovereignty and integrity of territories of Nepal. The most valuable part of Sino-Nepalese relationship is that China appreciates and expects Nepal to continue its non-alignment neutral political stance. China does not unrealistically expect Nepal to be a Chinese “ally,” nor pursue any sort of unequal “special relationship” with Nepal, but fully respect Nepal’s unalienable rights of keeping neutrality and peace. China only requests the minimum from Nepal, which is not to be used by the West as a weapon against China, and thus China-Nepal relationship is equal and mutually respectful. Nepal also has made every effort to enhance the ties. Adhering to “One China” policy Nepal government has cracked down protests by Tibetan separatists.

In terms of bilateral economic relationship, China is the second largest trade partner with Nepal. Nepal and China enjoy remarkable opportunities but also face a challenge. In 2018, the bilateral trade amount was more than 1 billion US dollars, which is 13.1 percent more than the last year. China export is about 97 million dollars, and Nepal export is about 2 millions, 29.1 percent more than the last year. This data clearly shows the tremendous amount of money both countries make through trade every year, but it also demonstrates one major challenge: Nepal’s large trade deficit.

This challenge makes Nepal and China to collectively work together to alleviate the problem, and both country should direct benefits from BRI to develop areas in Nepal such as diversification of export structure, industrialization, infrastructure construction, human resources investment, and technological improvement in agriculture. Nepal should also fully utilize its natural resources such as hydropower, forest, woods, herbs, and develop tourism to attract more Chinese tourists in order to decrease the trade deficit. Nepal’s goal should always focus on self-sufficiency, and closer ties with China through BRI can help Nepal to balance the economic domination from the South.


In terms of cultural communication and people-to-people ties, Nepal and China have achieved some success already but there is still large room for improvement in the future. Both China and Nepal have tolerant and peaceful culture, and such a civilizational common ground creates basis for equal and mutually respectful cultural communication between both countries. Buddhism continues serving as a common factor uniting Nepali and Chinese culture, and events such as Nepal-China Society’s establishment of research center on Buddhism, Lumbini Buddhist University of Nepal’s cooperation with Chinese institutions, and China’s construction of the Zhonghua Chinese Buddhist Temple in Lumbini all have enhanced cultural communication between Nepal and China.

In 2018, more than 150,000 Chinese tourists visited Nepal. This is the highest number of annual Chinese tourist flow to Nepal. In 2018, more than 6,000 Nepali citizens are currently living in China either for studies or for work. Confucius Institute is currently located in Kathmandu and is teaching Chinese language to about 600 Nepali students. It is apparent that China and Nepal are becoming increasingly culturally closer as well and we are optimistic that this closer people-to-people ties can serve as the basis of Nepal-China friendship for generations.

In conclusion, sixty-four years of relationship between Nepal and the PRC is a stable, fruitful, and win-win friendship based on mutual respect, peaceful coexistence, and mutual support for each other’s core national interests. Since 1955 to 2019, Nepal-China relationship has been closer and closer in all aspects including political, economic, and cultural dimensions. As both countries move closer and closer in the future, we are confident that more fruitful successes in the bilateral relations will be achieved.

Both the writers are researchers in international relations.

Views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of Lokaantar.

Published on 31 July 2019