Nepal-China Boundary : third joint inspection in the process

This article has been published in the Republica Daily, 16 July 2010, Page 10+11

Nepal-China Boundary

third  joint inspection in the process

Background

Nepal-China relations have always remained good and cordial during border consultations between the two countries.

This relationship has been marked by friendliness, mutual support, deep understanding, and appreciation of each other’s sovereignty, national integrity, and the principle of non-interference in the context of joint border demarcation, inspection, and periodic renewals of the boundary protocol.

Nepal and China share a long borderline, connected through snow-capped mountain peaks, narrow passes, smooth saddles, razor-sharp ridges, spurs, bridges, riverbeds and streams. The border crosses diverse terrains, such as mountains covered with snow, rich and dense native forests, varieties of rare flora and fauna, vast grasslands and pasturelands. It is not hard to see four seasons in one day of travel when passing along the said borderline.

The border between the two countries extends for 1,439 kilometers, having a total number of 99 pillars, and markers with 79 serial pillars. On the Chinese side, the common border reaches seven counties in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR), from Drenthang Township of Dinggue County in Shigatse Prefecture to Purang County of Nagri Prefecture. And there are fifteen districts on the Nepali frontiers, from the Olangchungola township of Taplejung District in Mechi Zone to Tinkar village and Kalapani-Limpiyadhura of Darchula District in Mahakali Zone. The elevation of the borderline begins from 3,000m and reaches to 8,848 meters from the mean sea level (msl).

The third joint inspection committee of Nepal-China Boundary Committee has been working for completion since April 18, 2006.

Border business

When we look back at the border consultations between Nepal and China, the Sino-Nepal Boundary Agreement was formalized on March 21, 1960. Consequently, the Nepal-China Boundary Treaty was signed on October 5, 1961. Thereafter, border demarcation work with the erection of pillars and markers was completed by November 1962. However, the Nepal-China Joint Boundary Committee was formed on August 11, 1960 and joint field survey teams were deputed to the border areas from April 1961.

During border demarcation, there were disputes, controversies, claims, and counterclaims in 32 places, including the peak of Mt. Everest itself. But all the disputes were settled and resolved amicably with good understanding, traditional friendship, long-term cooperation, and mutual trust within less than one year. The issue of Sagarmatha (Everest) was settled at the prime ministerial level.

After the completion of the demarcation line, Nepal and China signed the Boundary Protocol on January 20, 1963. The length of the boundary between the two countries was determined as 1,111.47 kilometers with 79 serial boundary markers.

To renew the Boundary Protocol, the Nepal-China First Joint Inspection Committee was formed in May 1977 with a view to jointly inspect the condition of the boundary pillars and to repair and reconstruct damaged pillars, as needed. The inspection work was completed by October 1979. Thus, the second boundary protocol was signed on November 20, 1979 by the foreign ministers of both countries.

The alignment of the Nepal-China boundary line had been mentioned as 1,414.88 kilometers in this protocol. It is also mentioned that boundary markers #33, 37, and 38 were not erected during the initial boundary demarcation as well as in this joint inspection. At the same time, markers 57 and 62 were not found during the first joint inspection.

According to international boundary principle, protocol must be renewed within 10 to 15 years. So the second joint inspection committee was formed in January 1988, and the first session of the committee was held in Beijing during February 24-28 of the same year. Based on the first joint inspection, it successfully completed the second joint inspection in November 1988 in a friendly and cordial atmosphere. The third boundary protocol was signed on December 6, 1988 by the respective foreign ministers in Beijing in the presence of the then Prime Minister Li Peng.

The protocol mentions that the present round of joint inspection did not include boundary marker #77. But six damaged markers were reportedly repaired, and six other markers destroyed by floods were re-erected. Besides, pillar number 33 at the Chyangchumi Pass was erected this time which was, in fact, not established during the initial demarcation, and also at the first inspection in 1979. So far as marker numbers 37 and 38 were concerned, they were not erected this time, either. Markers 57 and 62 were not found during the second inspection. In the end, boundary maps on the scale 1:50,000 and sketch maps on 1:20,000 have been prepared, showing the alignment of the boundary line between various boundary markers.

Third inspection

The third joint inspection and border survey work started on April 18, 2006. The joint teams have inspected, repaired and maintained a total number of 99 pillars and markers. The most interesting work of this time has been to erect pillars #37 and 38 on the delineated position, which had been left pending. It filled the blanks left by the two previous joint surveys. Another important achievement of this inspection was the identification of border marker 57 and pillar number 62, which were not found during the first and second inspections.

During the third inspection, all the pillars and markers were measured, and each one’s location accurately confirmed with the help of advanced Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite technique. Exact coordinates to the nearest centimeter of all border markers have thus been established.

Simultaneously, 57 sheets of border maps on the scale 1:50,000 were prepared digitally by using Geographical Information System (GIS). This technology has been adopted to facilitate the implementation of joint survey works. Digital data have been created at various layers of the GIS, such as latitude, longitude, and height of the markers, contour terrains, water bodies, settlements, greenery, etc. Thereby, the total length of the boundary line between Nepal and China has been established at 1,439.18 kilometers, as it is measured digitally. In accordance with a joint agreement, China is responsible for the determination and mapping sections of the survey, while Nepal is responsible for its inspection and confirmation.

It is noticeable that the present joint inspection committee is working since April 2006 to this date. It is another fact that the crucial and initial border demarcation work was completed within two and a half years. Similarly, the first and second joint boundary inspections were completed in two and one-year periods respectively, and protocol duly signed.

The third joint committee is working for more than four years. But the work has not yet been completed to sign the Fourth Boundary Protocol. It has created a curiosity: why has the work been pending?

In regard to this curiosity, there may have been a couple of issues which have not yet been resolved. The first one may be the location of the presently found boundary markers 57 and 62. The second issue is the so called dual heights of Mount Sagarmatha.

As far as the height of Sagarmatha (Qomolongma, Everest) is concerned, China has proposed to mention it at 8,844.47 meters, as they have declared the height of Sagarmatha to have decreased by 3.53 meters. They established the new height in 2005, deducting the thickness of the ice on the top of Sagarmatha. But Nepal is neither willing to accept the lowered height, nor the new height of 8,850 meter determined in 1999 by America. During joint discussions, China proposed to mention on map two heights of a single peak, that of Sagarmatha, as the Chinese height (8,844m) without the thickness of ice, and the traditional Nepali height (8,848m) with ice. Regarding two heights of the same summit, Nepal may have been confused whether or not to accept the Chinese proposal. This is one of the reasons to have prolonged the joint boundary committee’s duration.

The second reason is concerned with the locations of the recently found boundary markers 57 and 62. As far as boundary marker #57 is concerned, it should have been on the tip of the snowy Korlangpari Himal at the height of 5,738 meters. But it is misplaced. According to the statement of delineation, this marker is engraved on the rock, 5.5 kilometers northwest of the boundary marker 58, and 7 kilometers northeastward, and then north by west, from marker #56.

Marker #57 is located 29 kilometers north of Lama Bagar in the Dolakha District in Nepal. There is a customs office, a police station, a post office, and a stupa at Lama Bagar. Tibetans use it to infiltrate into Nepal illegally from the northern parts of Lama Bagar. To reach marker #57 from Lama Bagar village, one has to first walk for two full days to the north along the Tama Koshi River and then one more day to follow the Lapchekhun Khola and Kidibu Khola, then cross the Lapche village. The track is very steep and difficult to walk on its rocky strata. There are two small glacial ponds on the Nepali frontier to the south of the tip of the Korlangpari Mountain.

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An important issue regarding the recently found marker #57 is that it is placed slightly inside Nepal, instead of what was previously presumed. The map, which was prepared during the previous inspections without depicting marker 57, shows the borderline slightly north of this marker. It is to be noted that if the borderline runs through this marker, there may be a question of some hectares of land located on the Nepali side, which is barren and steep, with no use. It may be said, however, that even a fraction of a hectare of land is no less important for the integrity of a nation. Concerning this issue, some of the daily newspapers published that there had arisen a debate when the missing pillar #57 was found on Nepali soil. According to the media, Nepal claimed that the marker was not established in an appropriate place. The Chinese side countered that it was not moved from its original position, that it was at the same point where it was originally established during demarcation in 1962.

This may be one of the reasons leading to the incomplete status of the remaining issue of the third joint inspection. However, the joint field survey team has submitted its field report, mentioning the GPS coordinates to the respective Ministries of Foreign Affairs in July 2009.

Regarding the location of pillar #62, it was found at the exact point on the Nangpa-La (Pass) during the third inspection. The pillar was covered by snow, and it was not detected previously. Due to the effects of global warming and climate change, the snow melted and the concrete pillar thus appeared this time. It is located on the boundary line as shown on the map. So there is no problem with it. The GPS data of this pillar has been established as well. Another commendable point worth mentioning is that it also established markers #37 and 38 which were not found during the last inspection in 1988.

Conclusion

The third joint boundary inspection between Nepal and China should be completed as soon as possible. The issue of the height of Sagarmatha should be resolved, adopting international norms and practices. In connection to the borderline to connect the recently found boundary marker 57, it must be based on the delineation and ground truth.

Technical skills must be used, and the issue should not be influenced by sentiments, simply because border demarcation and inspection is purely a technical job. To have the issue materialized, status should be given to the existing map, following the ridge to connect markers 57 to 56 and 58. Demarcation is based on delimitation. And it is already delimitated of this area. So, pillar number 57 should be constructed at the tip of the Korlangpari Mountain (5,738m) and the previous marker could be numbered as 57(1). To find a proper solution, both countries should act according to the spirit of the treaty and previous boundary protocols and prepared maps.

These issues should be resolved by higher authorities through diplomatic channels, since it is already forwarded from the technical level. It may not be any problem because there is a very good relationship, friendship, and mutual understanding between Nepal and China in all spheres of activities. With the perspective of mutual understanding, this type of minor border issue should be resolved in an amicable manner. On the background of friendship, the Fourth Boundary Protocol should be signed as soon as possible, sorting out the debatable items in due course.

The writer can be reached at bordernepal@gmail.com

Published on 2010-07-16 10:34:53

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