The illegal crossing of Tibetan refugees into Nepali territories is undoubtedly the most sensitive issue in bilateral dealings between Nepal and China. China fears that the Tibetans who manage to enter Nepali territories might get involved in anti-China activities, both in Nepal and its open-border neighbor India. China has been especially suspicious of western powers trying to play up the Tibetan issue in Nepal to check China’s growing clout in the world. Indeed, whenever there is a tussle between Tibetan protestors and Nepal Police, the embassies of western governments invariably speak in favor of granting Tibetan refugees their right to protest, while China makes a strong case for crackdown on any anti-China demonstrations. Given its growing economic clout, China has also shown its willingness to open its purse strings, both in terms of development funds and the resources that Nepal needs to enforce an effective security measure along the Sino-Nepal border.
Unsurprisingly, this issue was front and center of the latest Sino-Nepal home secretary-level talks in Beijing on July 23, with the two sides agreeing to work together to curb all kinds of cross-border crimes. These included illegal movement of Tibetans, but also drug smuggling, human trafficking and other unlawful activities along the border. To control such activities, the two countries agreed to establish effective cooperation between the security agencies of the two countries.
Nepal finds itself in a tight spot. While it cannot afford to antagonize its giant northern neighbor and disturb the delicate diplomatic balance it has been trying to maintain vis-à-vis China and India, it is also not in a position to overlook the human rights concerns of Tibetan refugees, often legitimate, expressed by the western countries on which the country relies financially. In this situation, we believe both the sides to this debate should understand Nepal’s difficult position. There is no doubt that in line with the international practice, people’s right to peaceful protests should be respected. But given the nature of its relationship with China, Nepal is also forced to come down hard on any activities that cross the thin line between violence and non-violence.
There are other issues as well. For instance, smuggling of various illegal drugs into China from Nepal has increased in recent times as smugglers look to take advantage of the fragile law and order situation in Nepal. Likewise, the smuggling of Indian sandalwood to China via Nepali territories is another major concern for all three countries. That is not all. Nepal is also losing out on its precious wildlife species like rhinos and turtles, both delicacies that fetch huge sums in Chinese markets.
As most of these issues (including that of illegal entry of Tibetans who often make their way to India) involve more than one country, there has to be a multidimensional approach to curbing cross-border crimes. For instance it is impossible to check the smuggling of drugs and red sandalwood without cooperation between the law enforcement agencies of Nepal, India and China. All three will have to collaborate and play a delicate game of diplomacy to safeguard their individual interests, with each keeping in mind that success in such games entail a high degree of collaboration and the realization that no one side can win if the other (s) lose