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The Importance of Nepal for India and China

Research Scholar, C.S.J.M University Kanpur &
Assistant Professor Department of Political Science
V.S.S.D. College, Kanpur
Head, Department of Political Science
V.S.S.D. College, Kanpur

Nepal is an important country for two leading powers India and China, both the countries have significant strategic interests in Nepal. The developments in Nepal are likely to affect both its neighbours therefore India and China always remain concerned regarding any development which are likely to impact them, therefore each of them evaluate the consequences of such significant changes. India always shared special bond with Nepal and it always acquired significant place in Indian Foreign Policy. the Indian association with Nepal was often misconstrued in Nepal’s domestic politics and it prompted anti Indian sentiments. China gradually developed closer relationship with Nepal. In recent times there are high level engagements observed in Nepal’s relationship with both India and China. The COVID-19 Pandemic crisis greatly afflicted countries. Nepal and other South Asian countries were also severely affected, thus Vaccine Diplomacy emerged as extremely important instrument in Foreign policies of Nations. China is using this instrument to enhance its influence in South Asian region and Nepal in particular.
Keywords- India, Nepal, Vaccine, COVID-19 .
The India Nepal relations assume very high importance in overall context of Indian foreign policy and South Asia in particular. Indo Nepal relations have passed through different phases after India gained independence and sometimes bitterness in relationship was also caused due to several factors although both countries share strong social and cultural bond.1 Nepal had conducted important treaties with the Britishers as the treaty of Sagauli(1816), after the Anglo-Nepal war, The treaty of 1923 was also significant treaty in defining Anglo Nepal relations. After independence Indian leadership was sensitive of the security interests, as the location of Nepal was very important strategically for India and therefore Nepal assumed critical importance in Indian foreign policy.
In the year 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship was signed between India and Nepal this treaty encompasses ten articles and this treaty became the bedrock of future India Nepal relations. Some articles of this treaty are of critical importance regarding security and strategic interests for both the countries as article one mentioned that both countries will mutually respect complete sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence. Article two of the treaty acknowledged the friendly ties of both countries and it clearly laid down that if there occurs misunderstanding with any neighbouring state which can cause negative impact upon friendly ties of India- Nepal then both governments will inform and share information regarding this matter. Article five stated that Nepal could import arms, ammunitions and other equipments necessary for its security through the Indian territory, this article highlighted the high amount of trust and goodwill that India shared with Nepal.
The location of Nepal offer tremendous opportunities as well as it brings with it enough challenges. Nepal’s position between two major powers India and china has given advantage that it can benefit from both Asian powers. The foreign aid offered by these two countries has given many benefits and it enabled Nepal to carry its economic development. In the initial phases, Indian aid and assistance helped Nepal to address the developmental challenges effectively. The highest challenge for Nepal owing to its geographical location is that it has to continuously maintain a critical balance in the conduct of its foreign policy and other strategic matters, as if this delicate balance is not maintained then it is viewed with suspicion by either of these big powers and will impact Nepal’s relations with its two neighbours. King Mahendra after assuming power decided to give high importance to China in the conduct of Nepal’s foreign policy so that Indian influence in Nepal could be balanced effectively. China has increased its activities in Nepal considerably since the establishment of diplomatic relations with Nepal.2 India and china both have strategic interests in Nepal therefore high level exchange visits are employed as vital instruments by both the countries to enhance there influence in Nepal.
Importance to Neighbourhood by Prime Minister Modi and his Nepal visits
In 2014 general election (India) B.J.P ( Bhartiya Janata Party) achieved resounding victory and Shri Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister. The pragmatic approach of PM Modi was reflected in the invitation to SAARC countries in the swearing in ceremony. It became clearer that India will focus upon its neighbourhood, as the Modi government believed that prosperous neighbourhood is the prerequisite for effective conduct of Indian foreign policy.3 PM Modi in his first foreign visit travelled to Bhutan and thereafter Nepal. These visits again highlighted the importance of Himalayan nations.
PM Modi travelled to Nepal in August 2014 this visit was highly significant as it was long overdue. The Prime Minister addressed the constituent assembly of Nepal, By providing this opportunity Nepal manifested that it accorded highly important place to its southern neighbour (India). Before the visit of Indian PM the External Affairs Minister Smt. Sushma Swaraj visited Nepal in July, she participated in the third meeting of India- Nepal Joint Commission, the commission was formed in the year 1987 and its objective was to serve as an effective mechanism of cooperation between India and Nepal however this joint commission was revived after huge gap of about twenty three years during the Indian Foreign Minister visit to Nepal, it was highly emphasised that this joint commission meetings should be held at regular intervals as it was necessary for the smooth conduct of Indo-Nepal relations. In his visit to Nepal PM Modi reiterated that India- Nepal ties are highly significant as they are conducted both at the level of Governments and People, the Prime Ministers of both countries highlighted the fact that India- Nepal relations can achieve significant heights as there is a strong Government commanding absolute majority in India. The bilateral mechanisms between both countries are extremely important and therefore there meetings must be called at regular intervals. the decision regarding the Treaty of Peace and Friendship(1950) needs special mention as it was agreed that this treaty should be reviewed and revised in context of contemporary developments and the revised treaty should enhance and strengthen the relationship between both countries. India’s image was often portrayed as Big Brother by smaller countries in South Asia and it was a cause of concern since Prime Minister Nehru.4 The Joint Commission directed the Foreign secretaries of both countries to discuss various proposals of treaty revision. Nepal raised this issue several times before and this treaty is used as a Political tool in Nepal’s domestic politics to fuel anti-Indian sentiments on multiple occasions. there was general consensus to find the amicable solution of boundary disputes between both the countries ( as Kalapani, Susta Disputes) etc. as such disputes cause friction in the friendly ties and are often used to raise Nationalistic sentiments in Nepal and portray India in a negative manner. The decision regarding the formation of EPG (Eminent Persons Group) on Indo- Nepal relations was extremely significant step, as it was to look upon the bilateral relations in holistic manner from non partisan, independent perspective.
The open border arrangement depicts special and close bonding between both the countries, it is a unique feature, but sometimes it is misused to carry illegal trade, human trafficking, smuggling etc. thus posing serious security related challenges for both countries, therefore cooperation between both the countries on such issues was paramount to ensure that security interests of either country should not be threatened in any manner. India shares strong cultural bond with Nepal. PM Modi visit to Pashupatinath temple bolstered the age old cultural and civilisational links between the two countries, India offered support to various infrastructural development schemes of Pashupatinath temple. The cultural proximity between both the nations was clearly visible when MOU on sister cities was signed during the visit of PM Modi to Nepal in November (2014). The sister cities shared ancient cultural links( as Kathmandu- Varanasi; Janakpur- Ayodhya) etc. the sister cities MOU was visualised to facilitate close interactions between the people of both countries, encourage Tourism and ultimately lead to better understanding and harmonious relationship. The Prime Minister visited Janakpur during his Nepal visit in May 2018, the Bus service was started between Janakpur and Ayodhya, the Ramayana circuit was started during the PM visit its objective was to connect various cities associated with Ramayana to enable better mobility and encourage cultural and religious tourism.
Nepal has huge hydropower potential but it is unable to tap this potential to adequate levels due to infrastructural deficiencies. During the visit of PM Modi in August 2014 it was decided to start Pancheshwar project in one year. The Upper Karnali, Arun III, Tamakoshi III project etc. are viewed as significant initiatives, which can facilitate adequate hydropower generation for Nepal and most importantly it can effectively address the issue of trade deficit by the export of electricity to India, thus these projects can ensure mutual benefit to both countries. India gave about one billion US dollar assistance to Nepal through which it can effectively carry projects which are important for its economic development. The Rail Service agreement was signed in 2004 between both the countries, thereafter many subsequent amendments were also made to this agreement and the need was felt by both the countries for revised agreement so that it adopts itself to the contemporary developments and thereby help in reducing transport costs. The revised agreement will also facilitate smooth cargo/ freight movement. The railway services play crucial role in the connectivity of different regions, In Indo-Nepal perspective railway is visualised as significant contributor in the enhancement of economic trade between both the countries and also enable Nepal to carry its trade with other countries thus India and Nepal both agreed to encourage cross border railway cooperation.
The Energy security factor is extremely crucial for any country therefore Nepal wanted a pipeline project for effective and efficient transportation of oil from Raxaul (Bihar) to Amlekhgunj (Nepal). India gave its consent for the project. This pipeline will boost India-Nepal Energy cooperation and most importantly this pipeline will significantly reduce the cost of transportation of fuel and thus will be very economical.
India Nepal started the operation of Bus Services to facilitate closer interactions among the people, this initiative would definitely aid in the promotion of tourism sector, as Indian tourists visit Nepal in large numbers. The Prime Minister inaugurated the Kathmandu-Delhi Bus service during his Nepal visit in November 2014. There were several MOU’s signed during this visit as on India’s assistance in construction of Police Academy in Nepal, cooperation in ancient medicinal systems, tourism cooperation etc.
President of China (Xi Jinping) Nepal Visit- Significant Outcomes
The President of China visited Nepal in October 2019, this visit was very significant for Nepal. This high profile visit was long overdue and it symbolised the increased proximity between Nepal and China in recent times. Nepal holds tremendous importance for China due to different factors, the foremost among them is Tibet. Tibet shares contiguous border with Nepal and thus it becomes very crucial for China to have cordial relationship with Nepal for maintenance of peace and stability in Tibet. China wants to play an active and important role in South Asian Politics hence Nepal becomes very crucial in this perspective, although China- Pakistan relationship is also viewed in this context. The dominant influence of India in South Asia is a cause of concern for China as it views this influence as an impediment in its ambition to become superpower and also China is wary of growing proximity between USA and India in recent times and this relationship is considered as serious challenge to China’s hegemonic ambitions.5
The diplomatic relationship commenced in 1955 between both countries. The visit of President Xi Jinping definitely bolstered the friendly ties between these two countries. President Xi highlighted the cultural exchanges and mentioned several personalities who contributed in strengthening the bond between Nepal and China as he referred about Fahien, Buddhabhadra, Huen Tsang etc. the name of renowned architect Arniko was also much emphasised in forging of close bonding between both countries in the cultural sphere. China especially boasted about the Nepal-china border harmony, as both the countries signed the Boundary treaty in 1961.6 This harmonious border relationship between both countries is particularly significant as China has border disputes with many countries, however in recent times there were reports in some quarters about Chinese encroachments in Nepal’s territory but Nepal denied such reports. Nepal and China signed the agreement on Boundary management system in 2019 during this visit. This agreement both sides believed will facilitate cooperation in Boundary management. Nepal is conscious of the prowess of its northern neighbour (China) thus it believes that to balance its ties with India strong relationship with China has to be emphasised.
Nepal believes in one China Policy and its viewpoint on critical issues as of Tibet, Taiwan etc. is in full conformity with China. Nepal always maintained and also assured President Xi that no anti China activities can be carried through Nepal and anti China protests and demonstrations will be severely dealt with. It was significant that China supported Nepal’s sovereignty and independence from any foreign interference and main point which was emphasised was that Nepal should carry its development and should have the freedom and autonomy to choose the better prospects in its development endeavours, this was an important point and it was an indirect reference to India.
Nepal is a landlocked country and connectivity assumes very important aspect for such countries, Transit facilities to Nepal are provided by India, both India and Nepal concluded several transit treaties and agreements. Nepal also signed Transit and Transportation agreement with China in 2016, this agreement was very significant as through this Nepal reduced its dependence upon India, this was an important initiative by Nepal as it depicted that Nepal explored the alternative options available and it found China as suitable partner in this perspective. Nepal believes that freedom of transit is an internationally recognised and unquestionable right for landlocked countries.7 The connectivity aspect was also emphasised in the MOU on cooperation in Railways. Railways are medium of connectivity and both the Countries realised Railway connectivity will facilitate economic development for Nepal and both sides agreed to conduct cost benefit analysis for rail connectivity. China also insisted of its assistance to Nepal in the Kathmandu Pokhara Lumbini railway project. Rail connectivity has the potential to significantly boost the cooperation and offer employment opportunities and other ancillary benefits to Nepal in the long run. The focus of both the countries was mainly upon the Keyrung- Kathmandu link. China has assisted Nepal in the construction of dry ports( as Larcha and Timure). The Zhangmu/Khasa port is also important for both countries. Road connectivity also found special mention as highways are extremely important medium for vehicular and cargo- freight movement therefore bilateral cooperation was decided for the improvement of the Araniko highway to ensure its long term viability and utility.
The economic corridors are significant contributors in the overall comprehensive development of a Country and particularly in infrastructure and economic development thus the three economic corridors (Kosi, Gandaki, Karnali) assume much importance in this context for Nepal as both countries again expressed there desire for cooperation on the above three economic corridors. These corridors when materialise will offer much benefits to Nepal in terms of employment generation opportunities, faster freight/cargo transportation, raising the living standards of people and holistic economic development of Nepal. Nepal also signed the MOU on cooperation under BRI(Belt and Road Initiative) in 2017. It is an ambitious Chinese connectivity project and it envisages connectivity through various mediums as ports, railways, roads etc. Nepal views this initiative as important opportunity to address its economic and infrastructural challenges and ensure adequate benefits for itself but the progress was rather slow under BRI therefore both countries decided to forge more close cooperation under BRI framework as both sides decided to find out the problems and impediments which are restricting effective progress under BRI and address them though optimal solutions. The two countries realised the importance of Joint Commission for Economic and Trade Cooperation and it was decided to form different working groups within its purview to facilitate and strengthen investment and trade cooperation. China also decided to facilitate an increase in Nepal’s exports to China as Nepal has high trade deficit with China, thus considering such trade imbalance between Nepal and China, it was a highly significant step. The Banks of China could now open branches and offer other services in Nepal to boost financial and investment cooperation between the two countries. This decision would definitely facilitate business and other trade related exchanges between both countries. The cooperation in energy sector was also emphasised, as already mentioned that due to infrastructural constraints Nepal is unable to efficiently harness its hydropower potential. The MOU on Energy cooperation was signed in 2018 and it was decided for enhanced level of cooperation in different types of energy as Hydropower, Solar, Wind etc.
The Electric Power Cooperation plan was highly emphasised under the energy cooperation between the two countries and it was decided that this plan will serve as basis for further cooperation in energy sector between them. The energy cooperation with China is important in context of the India Nepal cooperation in energy sector.
China emerged as important partner for Nepal in its reconstruction efforts after the devastating earthquake of 2015. The human resource development is the prime focus of any country but due to various constraints this goal is severely compromised for poor and underdeveloped countries, To enable Nepal to address this deficiency China agreed to support Nepal in the establishment of multidisciplinary university ( science and technology) which was to be named after great leader Madan Bhandari, this university will enable the development of Nepal’s human resource so that it can realise its true human potential, China also decided to provide about hundred scholarships to Nepal, both the countries decided to strengthen cooperation in educational sphere at different levels. China and Nepal also agreed to cooperate in tourism and cultural spheres. There are frequent tourist exchanges between both the countries and number of Chinese tourists to Nepal have risen considerably in the past years and both countries believe that Tourism has huge potential to contribute in the economic development and strengthening friendly bond between Nepal and China. The cultural aspects are important feature of soft diplomacy therefore China always desired to enhance cultural cooperation with Nepal. China decided to enhance cultural cooperation with Nepal through different mechanisms like holding cultural forum, support and assistance to China study centres and Confucius Centres for facilitation of frequent cultural exchanges between both countries.8 The security related cooperation (law enforcement, criminal matters) between both countries also figured prominently. It was decided that convergence on various common issues concerning both countries at regional and global platforms is paramount for Nepal China partnership in real sense.
The Unprecedented Challenge- COVID-19
The Coronavirus (COVID-19) has thrown an unprecedented challenge to the whole world and developing and LDC (least developed countries) in particular, as it caused enormous devastation and havoc in the underdeveloped and developing countries, as the casualty rate was very high in these countries. India was impacted due to this novel virus and to prevent its further spread government imposed a lockdown. Nepal was also severely impacted due to this pandemic. The health infrastructural facilities were severely limited considering the magnitude of this pandemic, therefore the virus caused very high amount of human suffering. In the first wave of COVID-19 the governments relied mainly upon the preventive measures to contain the spread of virus, as emphasis was laid upon wearing masks, social distancing, maintaining proper body hygiene, lockdown etc. because these measures were the only solution available till the vaccines were developed. The vaccine trials were conducted in different countries and finally vaccines were successfully launched.
Southasia was severely affected due to this pandemic while India was successful in developing its indigeneous vaccine (COVAXIN) developed by Bharat Biotech, while SII ( Serum Institute of India ) manufactured Covishield vaccine which was developed by oxford university and Astrazeneca. The countries like Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives etc. had to entirely depend upon the vaccine aid offered by the international donors.
In this phase Nepal too looked for the vaccine procurement, thus devising strategies for vaccine procurement became immediate goal of the Nepal’s foreign policy, as the vaccination was the only way it could secure its population effectively. Nepal looked towards its two big neighbours. India and China. The health infrastructure of Nepal was not enough by any means to address the COVID-19 Pandemic when even the developed countries like USA, England etc. struggled to fight this virus. As Nepal’s health infrastructure (oxygen availability, ventilators, ICU Beds ) was inadequate considering the magnitude of this pandemic therefore vaccines were urgently required to somehow mitigate the effect of this pandemic.
Vaccine diplomacy emerged as an important component in the foreign policy of nations in these times. The visiting Indian foreign secretary to Nepal assured that it will be in the preference list for vaccine distribution. China too stepped up its efforts to provide vaccines to Nepal. The vaccine was developed by Sinopharm company, China also demonstrated that it assigns utmost importance to Nepal’s interest and despite the constraints in supply, considering very high demand for its vaccines China assured Nepal that its vaccines requirements will be adequately met. China and India both want that entire Southasia, reeling under the COVID pressure should tackle the challenges given by this pandemic effectively and explore the opportunities available for cooperation. China held multiple multilateral meetings of Southasian countries and emphasised that cooperation should be enhanced among them to deal with the pandemic, however China also focused upon cooperation for poverty reduction. In its Southasian strategy China’s focus is mainly upon Pakistan and Nepal, however other countries as Bangladesh, Srilanka etc. are also important in this strategy. President Xi is a strong proponent of increased partnership between China and South asian nations and he is hopeful that such partnership should realise its true potential.8
The BRI (Belt and Road Initiative) is an ambitious project of its leadership and China believes that it can play major role in economic cooperation with south asian countries and can assure economic recovery for them in these tough times. India also gave priority to Regional cooperation in South Asia. India dealt with the first covid-19 wave effectively through various strategies, it also facilitated effective and credible research on drugs and vaccines for dealing the outbreak of pandemic. The Prime Minister of India in the meeting of SAARC leaders highlighted some critical efforts and initiatives as development of SAARC Covid-19 emergency fund and also India developed an electronic information and exchange platform ( COINEX) for use by SAARC countries. India is better placed among the southasian countries in offering health based research expertise and facilities to its neighbours as PM Modi also emphasised upon the creation of special visa scheme for health professionals ( Doctors, Nurses ) so that they can travel seamlessly to neighbouring countries to enhance and complement health infrastructure of countries like Nepal so that it does not crumble during emergencies.
The second corona wave was much worse than the previous wave. India was severely impacted due to it. Nepal too was much affected. The death toll was much higher in this wave and demand for oxygen and other essential medicines, critical equipments (ventilators) had grown to immense proportions. India responded to this health emergency through various initiatives, the domestic demand for vaccines also rose sharply due to high number of Covid-19 cases, requiring immediate urgent steps, thus India halted its Vaccine exports to neighbours for meeting unexpected surge in domestic demand. The countries likely to be impacted due to this decision became concerned like Nepal and Bangladesh etc. , as the vaccine availability was a crucial question for poor and underdeveloped countries and they were much affected due to its distribution related problems.9
China took this opportunity to raise its influence in the Southasian region through vaccine supply to these countries, as China enquired about the vaccine required by such countries in its Fourth multilateral dialogue meeting with south asian countries. Nepal procured additional vaccines from China, making China the largest vaccine donating country to Nepal. This move aided in enhancing the reputation and Goodwill of China in Nepal. China gave assurance that it will support Nepal in dealing with this Pandemic. PM Deuba appreciated the Chinese gesture towards Nepal and said that China will constantly support Nepal in confronting this challenge.
It can be asserted that visits by Indian Prime Minister and President of China to Nepal were undertaken after long time, therefore such high level interactions significantly contributed in the positive development of relationship between Nepal and its two neighbours. when such exchanges take place by the topmost dignitaries then it signifies the importance which is attributed to a particular country. PM Modi visited Nepal several times and it showed renewed focus on Nepal by India, there were several ups and downs in India Nepal relationship but it is hoped that there relationship will progress in positive direction. The rising influence of China globally and in South asia is being closely watched by the other major powers. China attaches high importance to its relations with Nepal and it was clearly manifested when President Xi (China) visited Nepal and also other frequent high level exchanges between both countries. Nepal has every right to pursue independent foreign policy and choose better prospects for itself but it has to tread cautiously and maintain the delicate balance in its relations with its two big neighbours.

1. Upreti, B.(2016). India-Nepal Relations: Complexities, Misperceptions and Irritants. Indian Foreign Affairs Journal, 11(2), 107-113.
2. Baral , L (1986). Nepal’s Security Policy and South Asian Regionalism. Asian Survey, 26(11), 1207-1219.
3. Palit, A. (2015). Economics in Narendra Modi’s Foreign Policy. Center for Asian Studies(Ifri), Asie Visions(77), 1-29
4. Ramachandran, S. (2003). Nepal as Seen from India. India International Centre Quarterly, 30(2), 81-98 .
5. Jaiswal, P.(2014). Caught in The India China Rivalry: Policy Options for Nepal (249). Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.
6. Kumar, S.(1963). NEPAL AND CHINA. The Indian Journal of Political Science, 24(1), 79-93.
7. Gupta, A. (1989). India – Nepal Discord. Economic and Political Weekly, 24(16), 853-854.
8. Shabbir, T.(2017). Rising China and its South Asian Neighbours: Evolving Dynamics and the Outlook. Policy Perspectives, 14(2), 137-152
9. Paszak, P. (2021). Chinese Vaccine Diplomacy. The Warsaw Institute Review, 16(1), 22-27.

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