Tibetan Refugee Concerns Amidst Nepal-China Agreement

By Tsering Choephel

Nepalese Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal (left) with his Chinese counterpart Li Qiang. Image: Nepalese PM secretariat.

DHARAMSALA, 28 Sept: Nepal’s Prime Minister, Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, and the Premier of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Li Qiang, signed 12 agreements covering various sectors, including trade, road connectivity, and information technology during their meeting in Beijing on Monday, as reported by The Kathmandu Post.

While a Nepali official in Beijing has expressed optimism, stating, “We have reached some positive understandings, and this visit has set the tone for advancing certain projects,” a former Nepali Ambassador to China, Mahendra Bahadur Pandey, holds a contrasting view. He remarked, “I perceive this as nothing more than a formality. It underscores our lack of depth in dealing with a major power like China.”

According to the report, the agreements noticeably omitted key issues and differences related to expediting the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), cross-border energy trade, and the implementation of past agreements and accords that Prachanda was expected to resolve with his counterpart Li Qiang.

The report also highlights that despite Nepal’s joining China’s BRI project in 2017 and numerous discussions on the matter, not a single BRI project has been taken off. Despite this stagnation, China continues to coax Nepal’s support for its various projects, such as the Global Security Initiative (GSI), the Global Civilisation Initiative (GCI), and the Global Development Initiatives (GDI).

Sandwiched between two conflicting Asian giants and strong Western influence, Ganesh Adhikari, former chief of the National Intelligence Department, observes, “Nepal is clearly facing challenges in balancing its geopolitical interests, as it strives to maintain a non-aligned foreign policy in accordance with its constitution.”

The report mentions that Nepal has accepted two small projects under the GDI but has declined to join the GSI, consistent with its foreign policy.

Regarding the GSI, for which Beijing continues to seek Nepal’s endorsement, Prachanda explained in an interview with the Post that Nepal cannot engage in security-related matters due to its non-aligned foreign policy. He added, “Moreover, we consider the American Indo-Pacific Strategy and State Partnership Program as security initiatives. If we abstain from one initiative [IPS, SPP], we cannot participate in others either.”

The sixth point of the Nepal-China agreement reiterates Nepal’s strong commitment to the “One-China principle,” opposing “Taiwan independence.” Furthermore, Nepal reaffirms its stance on Tibet as an internal matter of China, pledging never to “permit any separatist activities against China on Nepali soil.”

As the CCP’s influence in Nepal gains strength, the situation of Tibetan refugees living in Nepal has deteriorated, particularly since the mid-2000s. Pressure from Beijing led to the closure of the Dalai Lama’s office in Nepal, and open and public commemorations of the March 10th Tibetan uprising and the celebration of the Dalai Lama’s birthday in Nepal have become a thing of the past.

The International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) has expressed concerns regarding the tenth point of the Nepal-China agreement, which involves a joint inspection of the China-Nepal boundary and the establishment of a Boundary Management System. ICT fears that the implementation of this agreement not only endangers Tibetans attempting to flee through Nepal but also raises the possibility of deporting those who have already entered Nepal.

Tencho Gyatso, President of the International Campaign for Tibet, emphasized that Nepal is obligated by international law to uphold the principle of non-refoulement, which prevents states from returning individuals to places where they might face torture or persecution. This principle is enshrined in several treaties signed and ratified by Nepal, including the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Article 3), General Comment No. 20 of the Human Rights Committee, and General Comment No. 6 of the Committee on the Rights of the Child.

Despite Beijing’s efforts to secure Nepal’s approval for its proposed extradition treaty, concerns about its impact on international relations and pressure from the European Union and the United States have prevented its realization. Nevertheless, cases of fleeing Tibetans being arrested and deported back to Chinese authorities occasionally come to light.

Nepal and India share similar historical ties to Tibet and have both experienced changes in their relationships with China. The current borders of both countries with China were established only after the CCP’s annexation of Tibet in 1951. Their centuries-old cultural and religious connections with Tibet still hold significance, but evolving global political dynamics are leading India toward a more pro-Tibet stance, while Nepal appears to be aligning more closely with Chinese interests, including restrictions on Tibet and Tibetans.

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