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Nepal Table of Contents



Nepal's security relations with China dated at least as far back as the eighteenth century. In the nineteenth century, Nepal gained the upper hand over Tibet, then a semiautonomous vassal state of China. In the latter part of the twentieth century, however, Nepal's dealings with China generally had been kept on an even keel, except when India expressed strong disapproval, as in the aftermath of China's 1988 sale of air defense weapons to Nepal.

The earliest defense pact with China was the Sino-Nepalese Treaty of 1792, signed after the Chinese had defeated the forces of the Gorkha kingdom at Nawakot, some seven kilometers northwest of modern Kathmandu. Under this treaty, the signatories agreed that they would regard China as a "father" to them and affirmed their understanding that China would come to the aid of Nepal should it ever be invaded by a foreign power--although no such assistance occurred during the Anglo-Nepalese War of 1814-16 (see The Enclosing of Nepal , ch. 1). In the mid-nineteenth century, however, forces from the kingdom of Gorkha were on the move northward. The Nepalese-Tibetan Treaty of Thapathali, signed in 1856 at the conclusion of a successful two-year campaign in Tibet, stipulated that Tibet pay annual tribute to Nepal and grant certain extraterritorial rights to Nepalese traders. It also pledged a mutual policy of nonaggression, and China agreed to come to Nepal's assistance should Nepal be invaded by the forces of "any other prince." A century later, in September 1956, the agreement was replaced by a treaty of amity and commerce with China's new communist regime, ending Nepal's tributary income and extraterritorial privileges.

Although China offered to sign nonaggression or mutual defense pacts with Nepal, the kingdom always turned down the offers in deference to Indian sensitivities. In the 1950s, Nepal's anticommunist rulers, spurred on by Indian advisers, regarded China as a potential threat and enacted various military reforms and laws to combat Chinese propaganda and subversion. In 1961 King Mahendra visited Beijing and signed an agreement to construct a highway, named the Arniko Highway, from Kathmandu to Kodari on the Tibetan border. As of 1991, this highway remained the only major artery linking the two countries. Nepal generally preferred to keep relations with China low-key to avoid offending India. The 1988 decision to purchase Chinese air defense weapons was a glaring exception to this rule.

Data as of September 1991