Amid a wave of arrivals from the United States and recent meetings by a senior official with Tibetan refugee leaders in Kathmandu, Beijing has, albeit indirectly, let Kathmandu know that Nepal’s policy of ‘one China should not be affected by any other factors, internal or external.
During the 14th meeting of the Nepal-China Bilateral Consultative Mechanism, according to at least two participants, the Chinese side expressed reservations about US Under Secretary of State Uzra Zeya’s visits to at least two tibetan camps in Nepal.
“The Chinese side refrained from mentioning the meeting, but the message was generally clear,” a participant in the meeting told The Post on condition of anonymity.
The Nepal-China joint consultation mechanism is headed by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Nepal and the vice-minister of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the forum is essential to discuss the entire field of bilateral relations.
Foreign Secretary Bharat Raj Paudyal and China’s Deputy Foreign Minister Wu Jianghao led their respective delegations. The meeting brought together officials from more than a dozen ministries, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Zeya, who is also the special coordinator for Tibetan refugees for the Joe Biden administration, during her three-day visit to Nepal from May 20-22, had met with Tibetan refugee leaders in Kathmandu despite Nepal’s wish to s oppose it.
Hours before his arrival, the Foreign Office said it had no idea of his meetings with Tibetan refugee leaders. Nepal is home to around 15,000 Tibetan refugees and many of them have not received refugee cards which has created problems for them such as pursuing education, traveling abroad, doing business and obtaining other advantages.
The Nepalese side, according to officials, has reaffirmed to the Chinese side that Nepal firmly adheres to the one-China policy and pledges not to allow its soil against its neighbours.
“The Chinese side appreciates Nepal’s commitment,” the official said.
Before arriving in Kathmandu, Zeya had met the Dalai Lama and other senior Tibetan government officials in exile in Dharamshala.
Prior to Zeya’s arrival, Chinese Ambassador to Nepal Hou Yanqi had met with Interior Minister Bal Krishna Khand and told him that Nepal should respect and adhere to the one-China policy.
Zeya, who met the prime minister Dear Bahadur Deuba, Narayan, Minister of Foreign Affairs Khadka, Home Minister Khand and other officials had raised the issue of documentation of Tibetan refugees living in Nepal.
The Nepalese government stopped issuing refugee cards to Tibetan refugees in 1995 and, according to Tibetan refugee leaders, up to 7,000 Tibetan refugees do not have identity documents.
In recent months, the Chinese have been wary of renewed American interest in Nepal, especially after the ratification of the Millennium Challenge Corporation Nepal Compact by the Nepalese parliament.
Prior to the adoption of the US grant, Beijing had, at least twice, warned Nepal against the aid. He called the United States’ insistence that Nepal ratify the MCC “coercive diplomacy” and even questioned how a gift to Nepal could be delivered with an ultimatum.
Nepal signed the MCC agreement with the United States the same year it signed the Chinese Belt and Road initiative. However, not a single project has started in Nepal under the BRI.
When Nepalese parties hesitated over the MCC grant, Washington even let Kathmandu know that it might reconsider its ties with Nepal if the grant did not reach the House. Since the grant was ratified, there has been a surge of visits from the United States, which Washington says is part of celebrations of 75 years of relations between Nepal and the United States.
Amid heightened US-China rivalry, Washington’s growing interest in Nepal has become a source of concern for Beijing.
The issue of Tibetan refugees has been a thorny one for Nepal for decades, as Beijing views it from a security perspective.
Despite pressure from Beijing, Nepal has honored the “gentlemen’s agreement” reached between the Nepalese government and some UN agencies and the West regarding the safe passage of Tibetans through Dharamshala. Nepal also follows the principle of non-refoulement, which means that Nepal does not send Tibetan refugees back to China in case they are apprehended by Nepalese security forces.
When meeting with Zeya, Interior Minister Khand said Nepal was sensitive to India and China‘s security concerns, officials said.
During Wednesday’s meeting, according to the Foreign Ministry, the Nepalese and Chinese sides discussed the full range of Nepal-China relations, including accelerating Chinese-funded projects in Nepal and projects under the Belt and Road Initiative, among others.
“We have exchanged views on the BRI but there is no concrete progress on this,” a Nepalese participant at the meeting said. “As the project implementation plan remains uncertain, no progress will be made on the BRI front in the near future.”
The Chinese side, according to another Nepalese participant, said that they are waiting for the comments and recommendations from the Nepalese side in order to agree on finalizing the text of the project implementation agreement plan.
“We discussed issues related to transit and transport, tourism, poverty alleviation, disaster management, people-to-people contacts, resuming flights from Nepal to China, returning Nepalese students to China who are stuck here after arriving in Nepal due to the Covid pandemic, cooperation in the health sector, exchanging high-level visits, opening Rasuwagadhi-Kerung and Tatopani trading points and buying chemical fertilizers from China, among others,” an official said.
China has agreed to resume two flights from Kathmandu to Chengdu and Kunming from May 31 to restore air connectivity between the two countries which has remained interrupted since the start of the pandemic. At the end of June, China takes back 250 Nepalese students who were waiting to return to China to complete their higher education.
Similarly, the two sides have also reached an agreement in principle to allow Nepal to buy chemical fertilizers from China, according to another Nepalese official.
“The Ministry of Agriculture will work out a proposal and send it to the Chinese side for further process,” the official said.
Amid concerns from Beijing, the main opposition party CPN-UML on Wednesday criticized Sher Bahadur Deuba’s government over Zeya’s visits to Tibetan refugee camps.
UML President KP Sharma Oli said Zeya instigated the refugees by visiting Tibetan refugee camps in Nepal.
Addressing a meeting of the UML parliamentary party, Oli said the established values and norms of Nepal’s foreign policy had been undermined during Zeya’s visit.
“The Visit of the U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State [to the Tibetan refugee camps] in Nepal was a violation of the established values and norms of Nepal’s foreign policy,” said Bishal Bhattarai, chief whip of the UML parliamentary party, quoting Oli.
Oli, during the meeting, said that Nepal always prioritizes its national interest and neutral foreign policy.
“We have maintained the policy of non-alignment. But the way she visited Tibetan refugee camps on Nepalese land was wrong and a violation of our foreign policy.