Nepal's Balancing Act

Walking the Tightrope Between China and India

The deserted Arniko highway that connects Nepal and China is blocked due to a landslide, May 3, 2015. Navesh Chitrakar / Reuters

Last week, during a visit to India, Nepalese Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli shot down accusations that he was playing his “China card” in order to irritate India. A month earlier, Oli had threatened to begin 2016 by visiting China first, against tradition. His announcement came after a five-month standoff between India and Nepal. Kathmandu had accused New Delhi of supporting a group of protestors from the Madhesis ethnic group, which is of Indian origin and makes up 30 percent of Nepal’s population. In Nepal, some of the Madhesis had used trucks and cars to close off the border and essentially impose a blockade against crucial imports of medicine and food from India. They wanted Nepal, which had adopted a new constitution in September, to give them more rights. India had unofficially encouraged Nepal to revise its constitution and Nepal, in turn, accused it of interfering. A few days before Oli’s visit to India, however, the Madhesis called off the blockade after Nepal promised to amend the new constitution.

The majority of Nepalese feel that India does have too much power over the internal politics of Nepal. Subin Mulmi, a Kathmandu-based human rights lawyer, told me that Nepali leaders even seek permission from India before making any major political decisions. “The prevalent anti-India sentiment has resulted in the people generally preferring China,” said Mulmi. China, which seeks to improve trade relations with South Asian countries, has shown ample interest in Nepal. In 2005, after King Gyanendra came to power in Nepal, and just a year before the civil war ended, China dispatched ammunition for the first time to help the government fight the Maoist rebels. China’ assistance came after India, the United States, and the United Kingdom suspended military aid. In October 2015, at the height of the protests by the Madhesi, China opened the border crossing point at Jilung, which links Tibet and Nepal. It was used to transport petroleum products and other essential items. From November 10 to December 10, China exported

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