Nepal-China Border Demarcation

Nepal-China Border Demarcation :

Token of Friendship

   – Buddhi Narayan Shrestha 


Nepal and China have a common border of 1,414.88 kilometer presently. It runs west to east from Zanskar range passing through various ranges such as Gurans Himal, Byasrishi, Nalakankar, Chandi, Gorakh, Kanti, Gautam, Mustang, Peri, Langtang, Phurbichyachu, Rolwaling, Mahalangur, Chamlan, Umbak and Janak Himal ranges. Boundary business between the two countries starting from the boundary delimitation agreement to boundary treaty, demarcation of pillars, preparation of strip-maps and signing on the boundary protocol have been completed within a short span of time. Timely and successfully completed Sino-Nepal boundary business is considered as the symbol of friendship in the history of Nepal.            

Nepal and Tibetan region of China are neighbours since time immemorial. If we have a look on the history, Nepal’s contact with Tibet proper began in the seventh century. Economic, social and cultural contacts have been started from that period, though there were some hostilities between Nepal and Tibet. Some of these cases were below standard of the Nepalese coins circulated in Tibetan markets, dissatisfaction of Nepal’s trade interest to Tibet, ill-treatment to the Nepalese traders stationed at Lhasa, adulterated salt exported to Nepal by Tibet etc.  

Historic Border Treaties:           

In the past history of some centuries, there were some confrontations between two countries especially in the economic and trade affairs. With this context, there were border conflicts in some trade and transit points. But agreement and treaties were made time to time to settle those conflicts amicably. As a result, Khasa Treaty (September 1775) was performed to maintain the borderline in its previous position. Kerung Treaty (2 June 1789) was signed to retard Nepal back from the invaded Tibetan land to its former borderline, Treaty of Betrawoti (5 October 1792) was to prevent an unprovoked dispute with the intention of possessing the territories of the other, and Treaty of Thapathali (24 March 1856) was to restore Taglakhar, Chewur Gumba, Kerong, Jhunga, Kuti and Dhakling by Tibet and to withdraw all the Nepalese troops that may be on this side of the Bhairab Langur range.            

After the Treaty of Thapathali also named as Nepal-Tibet Treaty of Peace-1856, Nepal had no conflicts and disputes with Tibet. Since then, customary borderline was maintained and economic, social and cultural relations were developed smoothly. China always wished to see Nepal as a prosperous neighbour and friendly nation. As a consequence, diplomatic relation between Nepal and China was established in 1955 and also there was an agreement on trade and cross-border transit in 1956. Sino-Nepalese Treaty of Peace and Friendship was signed in 28 April 1960 to promote the friendship on the basis of Panchasheel and Nepal treated the Tibetan affair as an internal matter of China and has consistently supported the policy of one China. 

Developing Border Agreement and Treaty:           

To develop relation and friendship furthermore between the two countries, Sino-Nepal Boundary Agreement (21 March 1960) was signed by two Prime-Ministers, Bishweshwor Prasad Koirala and Chou En-Lai. The main objective of this agreement was to respect the existing traditional customary boundaryline and to delineate and demarcate it scientifically. With the effect of this agreement, Boundary Treaty (5 October 1961) was made between two nations and it was signed by two heads of the states, His Majesty the King of Nepal Mahendra Bir Bikram Shah Deva and Chairman of the People’s Republic of China Liu Shao-Chi. It was regarded as a symbol to consolidate as a boundary of peace and friendship towards strengthening peace in Asia and the world. 

Boundary Delimitation:           

The mandate of the treaty was to conduct necessary on the spot investigations and surveys and made certain adjustments in accordance with the principles of equality, mutual benefit, friendship and mutual accommodation. Three sessions of the Joint Boundary Committee were held in Beijing and Kathmandu to delineate the boundary in detail from one point to the other in various sectors and segments of the boundaryline, before formally signing on the treaty.            

In connection to execute the treaty, boundary delineation was made on the basis of existing traditional customary line with the technical principles of determining the water-parting line to connect snow-capped high altitude mountain peaks, passing and crossing through mountain passes and spurs, saddles and cols, rivers and rivulets, pastureland and river basin or valleys. The most important aspect adopted was to maintain certain adjustments in accordance with the principles of mutual accommodation on trans-frontier cultivation of lands and trans-frontier pasturing by the inhabitants of certain border areas. After the transference of the areas to the other party, be definitely considered citizens of the country to which the area belong. Any inhabitants of these areas who do not wish to become citizen of the country to which the area belong may retain their previous nationality by making declaration to that effect within one year of the enforcement of the agreement. Concrete rules were laid down regarding choice of nationality, the legitimate rights of those who decide to retain their previous nationality and protection and disposal of their property.            

After the signing ceremony of the Boundary Treaty, editorial of the People’s Daily (Peking 13 October 1961) wrote it as an unparalleled enthusiasm of the Chinese people with the Nepalese to celebrate the birth of this boundary of peace and friendship between China and Nepal. It was also expressed sincere gratitude to the Nepalese friends who have contributed to the creation of this boundary for the sake of the future generation of the Chinese and Nepalese people. 

Boundary Demarcation:           

To implement the boundary treaty, the most important work was to demarcate the boundary line, to establish and construct the main boundary pillars and markers and also the erection of reference pillars physically on both the sides of the frontier. During the demarcation, boundary delineation was followed as mentioned in the treaty of 5 October 1961. However, some adjustments were made through friendly consultation in such sectors where the boundary lines as shown in the maps of the two sides did not coincide and where divergence occurred as to the appraisal of the conditions under which jurisdiction was actually exercised.            

In the context of the boundary demarcation, some of the maps produced by both the sides were not coincided in 35 places on the Sino-Nepal borderline. But it was settled forever in accordance with the principles of equality, mutual benefit, friendship and mutual accommodation. Besides, it was adopted by both the parties; the Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence and in a spirit of fairness, reasonableness, mutual understanding and most importantly respecting each other as Nepal and China have the equal rights and status in the international spheres.  

Sagarmatha was claimed by China:           

In connection to the boundary delineation, China had claimed that Sagarmatha (Chomolungma) belonged to her, while Prime-Minister B.P. Koirala visited Beijing on 21 March 1960. But Koirala refused to entertain the claim. During the discussion, Chinese side mentioned that Everest is the British name and Chomolungma is the Tibetan name since long. These names are written on the maps published by the respective countries. But there is no word for it in the Nepalese language. In reply, Nepal side responded that Sagarmatha is its Nepalese name. But the Chinese thought it was of recently named. In counter response, Nepal briefed that the emerald Nepalese historian Babu Ram Aacharya named it colloquially as Sagarmatha in 1938 after the research and investigation, though we have not yet published the map with our own language and script. Eventually, China was not satisfied one hundred percent with all these answers and they proposed to rename the mountain as “Friendship Peak.” But Nepal did not agree on it. Finally it was agreed to name as Sagarmatha in Nepal and Chomolungma in China, after the cordial discussions.            

Regarding the question of Sagarmatha, two parties exchanged the maps. The delineation on the maps of the two countries was different. The Chinese maps which were drawn on the basis of Chinese historical situation show the mountain within Chinese territory, while the Nepalese maps drawn on its historical facts show the mountain on the boundary line between two countries. Finally Chinese side agreed to follow the Nepalese delineation, which shows the mountain on the boundary line, with the northern half belonging to China and the southern half belonging to Nepal, respecting the water-parting line.            

As a result, the dispute of Sagarmatha was settled and ended while the visiting Prime Minister Chou En-Lai made a statement in Kathmandu that “Sagarmatha belongs to Nepal.” This statement was made in a press conference at Singha Darbar Gallery Hall on 28 April 1960 at 10.30 P.M. And it proved as an action of the principles of mutual accommodation and real friendship with mutual understanding of the degree of sensitivity and gravity of the problems.            

There may be an underlying curiosity that how Sagarmatha belongs to Nepal and why the world has recognized that Sagarmatha lies in Nepal, whereas the northern half of the mountain belongs to China! The simple answer is that the northern face of Sagarmatha on the Chinese frontier has very steep slope and it is very difficult to stand the mountaineer on the border ridge, whereas the southern face into the Nepalese frontier has less steep. The most important geographical fact is that there is a small sloping terrace having 6 by 7-ft. on the Nepalese side just south of the water-parting borderline and this is the highest portion of the mountain. Those who accent on the top of Sagarmatha also from the northern (Chinese frontier) route, they must step on to the Nepalese sloping terraced area to conquer the summit of Sagarmatha. Until and unless the expeditioners climbing from northern face step on to the Nepalese side i.e. the highest part, they are not regarded as the conqueror of Sagarmatha. To mount the victory flag on the summit and even to put off the expeditioners’ bag and to take the pictures as the conqueror, the mountaineers must have to stay into the Nepalese frontier. With all these facts Sagarmatha belongs to Nepal and it is recognized by the world. 

Nepal-India-China Tri-junction Points, yet to be Fixed:

Whatever and however the claim and counter claims made during the boundary demarcation by both the sides, all these disputes and dialogues were settled down in a peaceful and friendly manner and all the boundary businesses were completed successfully within a period of less than three years. The total length of the boundary line demarcated so far is 1,414.88 km and the main boundary pillars/markers erected along the boundaryline are numbered as 1 to 79 in serial order from west to east, with so many references pillars on both the sides. But the tri-junction points (zero serial numbers) on both the western and eastern ends of the borderline have not yet been fixed, where Nepalese, Chinese and Indian territories meet. This is due to the fact of the unpresence of the Indian representative during boundary demarcation, though Nepal had intimated and invited formally to India But there was no response from India, as it says.

Regarding the tri-junction of the western end, Chinese Ambassador to Nepal Zeng Xu Yong told in a program organized by the Reporter’s Club that Lipulek was regarded as the tri-junction boundary point among Nepal, India and China by which Kalapani lies in the Nepalese territory as the boundary agreement between Nepal and China was signed three and half decades ago. However, old documents were ignored at that time which depict the Nepalese border up to Limpiyadhura, the origin of the river Mahakali (Kantipur Daily, 3 September 1999). With all these facts, it is sure that the length of Nepal-China borderline will be further extended and its final total length will be nearabout 1,464 km, after the finalization of the tri-junction points at Limpiyadhura and Jhinsang Peak. But nobody knows even the approximate period of the finalization of these triple-points, because it needs the consent of India indeed, as an inevitable fact.  

Boundary Protocols:           

After the completion of the joint boundary demarcation physically on the ground, Boundary Protocol was signed on 20 January 1963 by Chinese Vice-Premier and Foreign Minister ChenYi and Vice-Chairman of the Nepalese Council of Ministers and Foreign Minister Dr. Tulasi Giri. After the elapse of fifteen years, joint inspection of the boundary line was made with the repair, maintenance and construction of the damaged pillars. In the same way Second Boundary Protocal was signed on 20 November 1979 by the Nepalese Foreign Minister K.B. Shahi and the Chinese Foreign Affairs Minister Huang Hua. Nextly, Third Protocol was signed on 6 December 1988 by the respective Foreign Ministers, Shailendra Kumar Upadhyaya from Nepal and Qian Qichen from Chinese side to renew the last protocol, after the completion of the joint inspection and maintenance of the borderline. These are the images of the true friendship between Nepal and China. 

Concluding Remarks:           

Now it is high time to make the fourth protocol, because twelve years have been elapsed since the third protocol was signed. There might have been damaged and disappeared some of the main boundary pillars and reference pillars or markers due to landslide, flood and snow. So it needs to formulate a joint inspection committee to erect the missing pillars and repair the damaged ones. Nepal-China friendship will be further consolidated as one of the good neighbours with the inspection and maintenance of Nepal-China borderline at an interval of a decade. This is the common interest of both the nations. Nextly, it is expected that Nepal will execute positively to open two more trade routes at Kimathanka ( Dingri ) and Mustang ( Liji ) in a very near future as already agreed by both the nations. It will help to promote not only the trade and economic activities but also to strengthen furthermore the cordial friendship between the people of Nepal and China. 


1. Grishma Bahadur Devakota, Nepalko Rajniti Darpan, Upendra B  Devakota Publisher, Kathmandu-1983.

2.      Hiranya Lal Shrestha, Nepal Parichaya, MK Publishers, Kathmandu-2000.

3.      Buddhi Narayan Shrestha, Nepalko Simana (Boundary of Nepal), Bhumichitra Company, Kathmandu-2000.

4.      A.S. Bhasin, Nepal’s Relation with India and China 1947-1992.                                

Legitimacy of Lipulekh Pass

Legitimacy of Lipulekh Pass 

By Buddhi Narayan Shrestha


There was a series of Agreement/MOU/Memoranda/Protocol during the recent visit of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao to India. ‘Protocol on modalities for the implementation of confidence building measures in the military field along the line of actual control in the India-China border areas’ is one of them. In one of the sub-sections of the protocol, it is said ‘both sides agree in principle to expand the mechanism of border meeting points to include Kibithu-Damai in the eastern sector and Lipulekh Pass/Qiang La in the middle sector. The precise locations of these border meeting points will be decided through mutual consultations.’


The main intention of joint meeting is to minimize tensions between the two militaries and increase interactions between them, since border military personnel of the two sides may not happen to be in a face-to-face situation due to differences on the alignment of the line of actual control (LAC) in the border areas.  


In the Nepalese perspective, there could be a question whether India and China need to obtain Nepal’s consent to hold meetings between their military forces at Lipulekh Pass ?


Lipulekh Pass is located at Nepal-China borderline however, Indian para-military force has occupied it since 1962. As the historical maps depict Nepal-China borderline runs not only to Lipulekh Pass including Kalapani area, but also extends westward up to Limpiyadhura.


If we have a look on the history of Sino-Indian border dispute, there was a brief but fierce fighting border war from October 20 to November 21, 1962. During the border war in the western sector, the Chinese forces marched up to the borderline shown in the Chinese maps ever since the Manchu Dynasty. India’s option was to defend on the McMahon Line as its northern boundaryline. The Chinese all-out counter-attacked along the entire Sino-Indian border. So Indian forces were compelled to retard back by heavy attack of the Chinese army. In connection to the Sino-Indian border war, the then Prime Minister Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru had said ‘Indian forces have been moving back bravely.’


When the loosing Indian military men were retarding back, they visualized Lipulekh Pass as a strategic point (5,029 m) located at the Nepalese frontier. They established a small camp at Kalapani area, ten kilometer west of Lipulekh. It is notable that there is a hillock (6,180 m) as a sensitive place at Kalapani. If someone gazes from this hillock, it could be recognized even posture and colour of men who have been travelling through Lipulekh Pass, so that the Indian army would be alert as per situation. In due course of time India deployed army battalions and constructed ten brick-built barrack houses with heating system and underground bunkers and three more buildings at Kalapani. There are modern arms and ammunitions including satellite communications.


The Nepalese nationals are not allowed to enter into Kalapani area and Lipulekh Pass, even those who go to Manasarowar and Kailash Parbat for pilgrimage. They are not permitted to cross Mathillo Kawa. They are diverted to trek through Tinkar Pass to Manasarowar. It has a great implication on Nepal’s territorial integrity. It is mysterious that Nepalese national could not travel through its sovereign land.   


Regarding the issue of Lipulekh and Kalapani area, Nepal is in a sense negligent and heedless. It is not yet delineated the origination of river Mahakali, as the treaty of Sugauli-1816 says: Kali is the western border of Nepal with India. Nepal-India joint technical level boundary committee is working for the last twenty-three years but it is not ventured to delineate the source of the river. 


In this scenario it will not be a diplomatically sound basis for China and India to fix their border meeting points at Lipulekh Pass to enhance confidence building measures in their military field. It is because of the reasons that Lipulekh  belongs to Nepal in view of  i) the internal details of historic maps of 1827 and 1856 published by British Survey of India. It was prepared during more or  less close to the treaty of Sugauli. ii) the then Chinese Ambassador to Nepal Zeng Xu Yong has said ‘three decades and a half ago, when Nepal and China signed border agreement, Lipulekh pass was designated as the tri-junction between Nepal, India and China, according to which Kalapani area belongs to Nepal. However, during the agreement, older facts and evidences that extended Nepalese border to Limpiyadhura, the origin of Mahakali River, were largely ignored’ (Kantipur Daily, September 3, 1999). iii) the then Prime Minister of India I. K. Gujaral has said ‘as regards Kalapani, the technicians from both sides are engaged in the demarcation of border. If their reports conclude that the area belongs to Nepal, we will immediately withdraw from there’ (Gorkhpatra Daily, February 24, 1997). iv) tri-junctions (on both western and eastern segments) have not yet been demarcated due to India’s absence during Nepal-China border demarcation and Boundary Treaty-1961. v) issue of Lipulekh and Kalapani raised during Nepal-India joint border working group meetings, has not yet been resolved. The minute has been signed jointly mentioning that Nepal has strongly presented that ‘Kalapani belongs to Nepal.’ vi) Nepal-India joint press statement (March 23, 2002) during Nepalese Prime Minister’s visit to India says ‘the prime ministers also directed the joint working group of the joint technical-level boundary committee to expeditiously complete its examination of the facts relating to the alignment of the boundary in the western sector, including the Kalapani area, and in other pockets, where there were differences in perceptions of the two sides.’ vii) Nepal-India proposed joint global positioning survey and strip-mapping have not yet materialized due to controversy on the origination of the river Kali. Nepal seeks the spirit of the treaty of Sugauli and application of watershed principle to determine the source of river.


With all these facts and figures, Sino-Indian border meeting points must not take place at Lipulekh Pass or Kalapani (ten kilometers west of the pass). Because both the countries do not have the sovereign rights on Kalapani area. It seems that Taklakot of China (eight km from Lipulekh) should be the meeting place to enhance confidence building measures in their military field, since it is the business between India and China. It is because there is a provision in the said protocol that the precise locations of border meeting points could be decided through mutual consultations.


One important aspect is that China and India are not going to talk on the border dispute at Lipulekh Pass. It is only a confidence building measures in the military field. It is memorable that India-China Technical Level Joint Boundary Committee has not yet formed, since fifteen rounds of talk have been taken place between two countries.   


However, China-India border meeting point at Lipulekh Pass for military confidence building is on the contrary of Nepal-China Boundary Treaty-1961. China should be careful on this matter to maintain the principle of Panchasheel. It is remarkable that in the case of China and Nepal, both the countries have agreed that ‘each side will no longer dispatch armed personnel to patrol the area on its side within twenty kilometers of the border’ as mentioned in the Article-IV of Sino-Nepal Boundary Agreement-1960.


Nepal belongs the most important role on this current issue. Government must conduct the diplomatic role. It must approach China reminding the policy and principle taken during China-Nepal border demarcation. At the same time it has to convince China expressing clear view of Nepal based on the historical and documented facts. Nepal must show its national interest on the territorial integrity and security of the nation.




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