KATHMANDU, September 3: The decision of the Sher Bahadur Deuba-led government to form a task force to see whether or not the Chinese side has encroached upon Nepali territory in the Namkha area of Humla district has courted controversies across political circles in Nepal.
Experts fear that the decision could sour the cordial relations that exist between Nepal and China as the previous government led by KP Oli had clarified that there was no such encroachment as claimed by a section of Nepali Congress (NC) leaders.
A Cabinet meeting held on Wednesday decided to form the task force led by a Joint Secretary at the Ministry of Home Affairs (MoHA) to determine whether Nepali territory has been encroached upon by China. The task force includes representatives of Nepal Police, Armed Police Force, Department of Survey and a border expert.
According to Minister for Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, Gyanendra Bahadur Karki, who is also the government's spokesperson, the task force has been entrusted with the responsibility of studying Nepal-China border from Limi and Lapcha to the Hilsa area in Humla district to determine if the Chinese side has encroached upon the Nepali territory and submit the report.
Nepal and China signed a Boundary Protocol in Beijing on October 5, 1961. Article 4 the Protocol specifically mentions that any disputes that arise over border issues will be settled through friendly consultations between the two sides. Experts argue that the move to form the task force at this time could vitiate the environment of trust and cooperation between the two countries.
NC Vice President Bimalendra Nidhi and NC lawmaker from Humla district Jiwan Bahadur Shahi had first raised the issue. They have claimed that the Chinese side has encroached upon a huge area of land in Humla district despite its denial.
Earlier, the KP Oli-led government had clarified that there were no issues of any border dispute with China in Humla as reported by a section of media and claimed by lawmakers belonging to the NC. The NC, which was in the opposition back then, had alleged that the Oli-led government was trying to cover up the border disputes between the two countries.
Experts said that the differing position of two major political parties in Nepal over the Nepal-China border has raised questions over the stability and continuity of Nepal's foreign policy. “We are still not able to say with certainty if there exists a border dispute. If the task force comes up with the finding that there is an issue of encroachment of Nepali territory, we should take up the issue and settle it in the spirit of the Boundary Protocol. There is no point to incite this issue now,” said former Nepali ambassador Dr Dinesh Bhattarai, who also served as Foreign Policy Advisor to former prime minister Sushil Koirala and Sher Bahadur Deuba in his previous stint.
The area under dispute, as claimed by a section of NC leaders, lies in Lampcha village of Namkha Rural Municipality in Humla district. They have claimed that Chinese border security forces have reportedly constructed at least 11 buildings in the area claimed both by Nepal and China.
Shortly after the dispute came to the public earlier in September last year, the Embassy of China in Kathmandu had asked Nepali authorities to verify the border points as agreed between the two countries in the past, denying any encroachment of Nepali territory. "The buildings mentioned in the media have been verified to be on the Chinese side of the China-Nepal border. The Nepali side may make verification again," a spokesperson for the Embassy of China in Kathmandu had said in a statement.
The spokesperson also had said that there are no territorial disputes whatsoever between Nepal and China. "China and Nepal have no territorial disputes. The two sides have always maintained close communication on border affairs," the spokesperson further said.
While the opposition party leaders have criticized the government’s latest decision, leaders close to the government, however, maintain that they have not mentioned anything such as China has actually encroached upon the Nepali territory. The task force is mandated only to study if there are any border disputes. They argue that the government will make necessary coordination with the Chinese side only after making it sure that there exists a border encroachment issue.