China has done a silent territorial ‘humla’ (attack in Hindi) on Nepal by usurping the land of Humla, a part of Karnali Pradesh – one of the 77 districts of Nepal. The boundary pillars went mysteriously missing and having constructed nine buildings on the village land, China quietly redrew its map that displays this part of Nepal as Chinese territory! Chinese media has said “the newly-built village is in Tibet Autonomous Region and not on the encroached land of Nepal”. According to Jivan Bahadur Shahi, opposition leader of Karnali Province, “The Junge Pillar 12 has been recently erected by China. The government officials say they have not been consulted about such issues. The Pillars 5.1 and 6.1 have been enclosed as there are Chinese security forces. Our people have been chased away by Chinese security personnel when they go to the area there for farming or cattle-rearing.”
Chinese PLA and border police have occupied Nepalese Territory at Limi Lapcha area of Namkha Gaupalika (rural municipality) of Humla. A civil society group in Nepal as well as student activists recently undertook protests against China in Kathmandu in front of the Chinese embassy for constructing buildings in Nepal’s territory in Humla district. According to the activists, Pillar Number 11 that defined the Nepal-China boundary has been missing from Humla. In June 2020, Nepal’s Survey Department of Agriculture Ministry had said that China is using road construction in Tibet to occupy Nepalese land and may establish border outposts in near future. The report claimed that China encroached in 10 places which comprise nearly 33 hectares of Nepalese land and that China has also been diverting the flow of rivers to increase its territory.
From the newly constructed Chinese buildings one kilometer inside Nepalese territory in Lapcha-Limi, Kailash-Mansarovar is clearly visible. The Nepali Congress (NC) plans to continue protests against Chinese encroachments but sections of the ruling Nepal Communists Party (NCP) have defended China, claiming that no such encroachment has happened. According to inside sources, China has paid money to the NCP for pacifying locals of Humla but those funds too may go into the coffers of NCP because paying locals will prove the culpability. The Humla has no road connectivity with the rest of Nepal, only a small airstrip exists. Ultimately, the Chinese encroachment-cum-intrusions will be a fait accompli for Nepal and the local inhabitants and the issue will die down.
There is a viewpoint that the Chinese foreign policy on Nepal has been more strategic than ideological or even emotional. This is a naïve postulation. The fact is that China has used ideology to the hilt and continues to do so for achieving its strategic aim right from Mao Zhedong’s time when it initiated the Maoists insurgency in Nepal. The China-sponsored bloody Maoist insurgency killed 19,000 Nepalese between 1996 and 2005 and internally displaced 100,000-150,000. In June 2001, Nepal’s royal family was massacred. China brought together Communist Party of Nepal (UML) and Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) to establish a government in Nepal, both factions having merged into the Nepal Communist Party (NCP). Today it is the Nepali public that has been backstabbed by China through the encroachments in Humla, not Nepal’s communists.
Nepal’s Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli took over charge of the defence portfolio from Deputy PM Ishwar Pokhrel on October 14. Pokhrel has been attached to the Prime Minister’s Office for the time being. This change before the visit to Nepal by Indian Army Chief General MM Narvane in early November is being interpreted as a signal to India since Pokhrel was critical of India. But could Pokhrel as defence minister criticize India without the concurrence of Oli? Could Pokhrel without concurrence of Oli establish posts along the India-Nepal border, get Nepal’s Army Chief to inspect a new post at Changru near Kalapani along with chief of the armed police force and for the first time in 70 years deploy army personnel at these posts, build a helipad and establish habitat and infrastructure? The answer is no.
Hasn’t the Oli regime arbitrarily issued the new map of Nepal that includes Indian areas of Lipulekh, Limpiyadhura and Kalapani areas of Pithoragah District (without any prior discussions with India), included this in its school textbooks as well as on newly minted coins? Nepal radio is blaring anti-India propaganda and Nepal now wants to conduct census in areas of Lipulekh, Limpiyadhura and Kalapani areas, which naturally India will not allow since these are part of India.
It is to orchestrate the above, on obvious behest of Beijing, that Nepal did not clear the visit of General Narvane as earlier scheduled on February 3, 2020. With reference to General Narvane’s forthcoming visit, Nepal’s foreign minister Pradeep Kumar Gayali now says he “personally felt these engagements are positive developments” and added. “Such visits will help strengthen bilateral ties between our two countries and will also help solve the issues that have cropped up”. But it is the same Gayali (and Oli) who refused to discuss the issue with the Indian mission in Kathmandu before Oli released the new map of Nepal on May 20.
Reason for not clearing General Narvane’s visit on February 3 is being cited as Coronavirus by Nepal. But there were hardly any Coronavirus cases in India and Nepal then. On the contrary the pandemic was full blown by June. Yet on June 19, a China-organized seminar ‘How to Rule and Govern a Country’ at Lhasa was attended by Ishowara Pokhrel, Nepal’s Defence Minister and Pushpa Kamal Dahal alias Prachanda, former PM of Nepal while the Chinese side included Song Tao, Minister of International Department of CCPs Central Committee and Guo Yezhou, Deputy Minister of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in addition to other Chinese officials.
It may be recalled that on May 8, after Defence Minister Rajnath Singh inaugurated a road to Lipulekh Pass on the watershed boundary with Tibet for Kailash-Mansarovar pilgrimage, Nepal called it territorial violation though our Ministry of External Affairs had said the road was completely within India. Army Chief General Narvane had told media, “Nepal’s ambassador had mentioned that the east side of Kali Nadi (Mahakali River) belongs to them. There is no dispute in that. The road which we have constructed is on the west side of the river…. they might have raised the issue on the behest of someone else. That is very much a possibility.” Significantly, Nepal’s objections coincided with Chinese incursions across the LAC in Eastern Ladakh and Naku La in Sikkim.
During his visit to Nepal General Narvane will be conferred with the rank of Honorary Rank of General of Nepal Army which is a long standing mutual tradition between India and Nepal. But despite such ceremonials and deep longstanding ties between India and Nepal, Nepal will continue with leaning heavily towards China as long as it continues to be ruled by communists. Hou Yanqi, Chinese ambassador to Nepal has a strong hold over politicians in Kathmandu and six months back when signs emerged of rift between Nepal’s communists factions, Chinese President Xi Jinping personally had a 40-minute long telephonic conversation with Nepal’s President Bidhya Devi Bhandari to iron out the problem. As Nepal goes deeper into China’s debt, Beijing’s hold will keep getting stronger.