India wary as China takes up Doklam issue with Nepal

Minister for External Affairs Sushma Sawraj addresses the media persons at the Annual Press Conference in New Delhi, on Sunday, June 19, 2016. Photo Courtesy: MEA India

China’s diplomatic blitz to counter India’s position on Doklam standoff high up in the Himalayas continues, with its mission here briefing Nepal authorities about the dispute.

China’s decision to discuss the issue with Nepal is significant because, first, India shares a tri-junction with Nepal and China in a disputed area and, second, Nepal is one country in the neighbourhood India is struggling to maintain its sphere of influence.

Diplomatic sources told TOI that the Chinese deputy chief of mission discussed the Doklam issue with his newly-appointed Nepal counterpart in a “courtesy meeting” and explained Beijing’s position.

Beijing continues to maintain that for any meaningful dialogue Indian troops must withdraw from Doklam. Chinese diplomats have held similar meetings with Nepal officials in Kathmandu and Beijing.

Unlike China, India has so far not made it public whether or not it has briefed foreign missions about its position on the issue.

It did discuss the issue with US diplomats though a few weeks ago. While Nepal has not sought any briefing from Indian authorities yet, there’s a growing concern within Nepal intelligentsia that a prolonged standoff involving India, China and Bhutan will not be in Kathmandu’s interest.

Nepal, in fact, has two tri-junctions with China and India — Lipulekh in western Nepal and Jhinsang Chuli in eastern part.

Lipulekh has, in the past, been the cause of insecurity in Nepal, located in the disputed Kalapani area that is claimed by both India and Nepal.

India’s decision to expand trade with China through the Lipulekh pass in 2015, during the visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to China, created a furore in Nepal with its parliament demanding that the two countries drop the mention of Lipulekh from the Sino-Indian joint statement as it was against all international norms.

Nepal parliament had then also sought to know if the agreement could undermine Nepal’s sovereignty and its territorial integrity.

Kathmandu will also see high-level back-to-back visits from India and China this month.

While foreign minister Sushma Swaraj will visit Nepal next week for the BIMSTEC meeting, Chinese vice-premier Wang Yang will arrive on August 14 for a meeting with top leaders.

Both Swaraj and Wang are expected to touch upon the Doklam dispute. Swaraj is also expected to carry out the groundwork for Nepal PM Sher Bahadur Deuba’s visit to India later this month. There’s a strong anti-India constituency in Nepal and Indian officials are mindful of attempts made by supporters for former PM K P Sharma Oli to paint India as the aggressor in the Doklam dispute.

Wang’s visit will also be closely followed as he is expected to follow up on Nepal’s decision earlier this year to officially join China’s One-Belt-One-Road initiative despite reservations expressed by New Delhi.

By Sachin Parashar
Times of India


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