August 31, 2023
KATHMANDU – Nepal’s new political map unveiled by the KP Oli government on May 20, 2020 and unanimously endorsed by Parliament on June 13 the same year, has now been dismissed by both India and China, the two neighbours.
After India unilaterally released a new political map in November 2019 by incorporating Kalapani, Lipulekh, and Limpiyadhura areas, which are claimed by Nepal, and refused to entertain Nepal’s concerns over the map, the Oli government, in a tit-for-tat move, unveiled the new map of Nepal in May 2020 by incorporating the three areas. This added a pointed spur on the northwest corner of the Nepal map.
And on Monday night, China released its own political map by including India’s Arunachal Pradesh and the disputed Aksai Chin area in its territory. The map also shows the territories bordering China, but the pointed spur of the Nepal map is notably absent.
The disregard shown by both the neighbours to Nepal’s new map has cast doubts on the map’s validity.
The 2023 edition of China’s standard map was officially published on the website of the China’s Ministry of Natural Resources, according to Global Times, a Chinese government mouthpiece.
“This map is compiled based on the drawing method of national boundaries of China and various countries in the world,” the newspaper said.
The government of India has already lodged a protest against the new Chinese map, but the Nepal government appears clueless about how to react.
“Just as we protested with India when India came up with the new map in 2019, we must now write to China and seek an explanation,” said Pradeep Gyawali, the former foreign minister who is also the CPN-UML deputy general secretary.
Gyawali was the foreign minister when Nepal protested against the map released by India in 2020.
According to Gyawali, Nepal had communicated to Beijing before releasing the new Nepal map in 2020.
But Beijing’s decision this week to use the old Nepal map has left many in Kathmandu surprised and also created doubts about the validity of the new map of Nepal.
“We have a boundary dispute with India, but we don’t have any outstanding dispute with China,” said Gyawali, adding, “if China refuses to recognise our new map, this is a serious matter and the government should seek an explanation from the northern neighbour.”
In 2020, a day after Kathmandu released its new map incorporating some of the territories currently occupied by India, the spokesperson of India’s Ministry of External Affairs said that Nepal had acted unilaterally.
“Such artificial enlargement of territorial claims will not be accepted by India,” said Anurag Srivastava while briefing the media on May 21, 2020, in New Delhi.
Srivastava went on to say that Nepal was well aware of India’s position on the matter and urged Nepal “to refrain from such unjustified cartographic assertion and respect India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
“We hope that the Nepalese leadership will create a positive atmosphere for diplomatic dialogue to resolve the outstanding boundary issues,” he said.
Former foreign minister Gyawali said that when India and China agreed to trade through the Lipulekh pass in 2015, Nepal had protested and sent separate diplomatic notes to both the neighbours, and in this case too, Nepal should tell China to recognise the 2020 map.
On Tuesday, Foreign Minister NP Saud held talks with Chinese Ambassador Cheng Song, but he did not discuss the new Chinese map, according to foreign ministry sources.
Their meeting focussed mainly on the upcoming China visit of Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, according to a foreign ministry official.
“The controversy over the new map was not part of the discussion as the ministry is also trying to find out facts about the new Chinese map,” the official added.
Another former foreign minister, Ramesh Nath Pandey, expressed surprise at the way the Chinese have ignored the new map of Nepal. “We are aware that India has dismissed our map, but Chinese refusal to recognise the map is a serious matter,” he said.
Pandey said the Nepal government, political parties, lawmakers, intelligentsia, and the civil society should collectively oppose the Chinese move, just like they did in 2019 when India issued its new map.
“The fact that the foreign minister failed to take up the map issue with the Chinese envoy suggests policy failure on our part. Why didn’t he seek an explanation from China?” said Pandey.
Nepal has boundary disputes with both India and China.
While Nepal’s boundary disputes with India are well-known, there is also a dispute with China in the Lipulekh area at a tri-junction between Nepal, India, and China.
Nepal’s northwestern boundary point begins from Lipulekh pass where pillar number one is also located, but due to a dispute between Nepal, India, and China, the two sides have yet to agree on where the pillar number one should be installed.
“Nepal and China have not carried out joint boundary work since 2011, so we don’t know the actual status of the border in the north,” a senior official at the Ministry of Land Management said, adding, “In July last year, we decided to activate the bilateral mechanism to clear the boundary work, but not a single meeting has been held so far.”
The two countries have yet to decide whether to resume the work from where it was left in 2011 or start afresh.
According to officials and experts, Nepal and China have a dispute over border pillar number 57 in Dolakha district, which became a major bone of contention after a similar dispute over the height of Mt Everest. The dispute over the height of the world’s tallest mountain was settled jointly in December 2020 after both the countries sent their own special expeditions and jointly announced the height at 8848.86 metres.
Border disputes have often surfaced in Humla, Gorkha, and Kimathanka (Sankhuwasabha district), which should be resolved through joint inspection, Buddhi Narayan Shrestha, a noted cartographer and former director general of the Department of Survey, told the Post.
Besides resolving the disputes, the two sides should regularly update the status of the boundary every 10 years as per the boundary protocol, he said.
The 1963 Joint Boundary Protocol has the provision of constituting three different mechanisms to deal with boundary issues—the Joint Inspection Team, the Joint Expert Group and the Joint Inspection Committee. The mechanisms are enshrined in the Nepal-China Boundary Protocol signed on January 20, 1963.
Nepal-China border spans 1,439 kilometres. The two countries signed the third (and the latest) boundary protocol in 1988. They then constituted the three mechanisms in 2006 which worked until 2011, according to government officials. After 2011, the two sides have taken no initiative to hold the boundary consultation meeting for a joint inspection of the border.
After signing the protocol in 1963, which followed the signing of the Nepal-China Border Treaty in 1961, the two countries signed such protocols again in 1979 and 1988. When the two sides were getting ready to sign the fourth protocol in 2011 and the Nepali team was all set to visit China, the trip was cancelled at the last minute following a dispute over border pillar number 57. Since then, Nepal and China have failed to conduct a joint inspection of the border and update the boundary status, a prerequisite for signing the boundary protocol.
Shrestha, the cartographer, said that Nepal’s “thin” diplomacy and China’s carelessness have contributed to the recent map mishap. He doubts whether the government of Nepal sent a diplomatic note to China after releasing the new map in 2020. But former foreign minister Gyawali claims that a communication had been made to the government of China about the new map being released by the Oli government.
“In 2015, too, China disregarded Nepal’s concerns and signed an agreement with India. We protested and sent diplomatic notes to both India and China. Then the spokesperson of the Chinese foreign ministry said that if Nepal backs its claim with proof, they can think about it and speak with India. Later, a Chinese state minister visited Kathmandu where he also mentioned that the boundary dispute between Nepal, India, and China can be resolved through three-way talks. But we never raised this issue with India and China,” said Shrestha.
Though the prime minister is visiting China soon, Shrestha sees little chance of him taking up this matter with the Chinese President and prime minister. “Our prime minister should raise the border issue during high-level talks in China,” he said.
There is also paucity of reaction from political parties. Party leaders the Post spoke to said they are still studying the matter.
“We have seen media reports, but have yet to come to a conclusion,” said Dev Gurung, general secretary of the ruling CPN (Maoist Center). “We will speak when we find out the truth.”
A Nepali Congress lawmaker said that the Chinese map issue would be discussed in Parliament.
“The government should clarify its position on whether China’s dismissal of the new Nepal map implies that the northern neighbour could also disown other vital decisions taken by the government of Nepal,” the lawmaker said.
Former minister Pandey said that to dispel the general notion that Nepal’s foreign policy is one-sided [tilted towards China], political parties, leaders, parliamentarians, and others should speak up.