China in Nepal: Another proxy war with India?

“If China succeeds in replacing India as the key economic as well as security partner for Nepal… it would have breached the Himalayan borders that separate the Indian mainland from China.” Shashank Shukla

Nepal’s relationship with China’s first recorded official engagement dates back to the middle of the seventh century, when Nepal’s armed forays into Tibet led to Chinese intervention favouring the latter. It resulted in the signing of the Sino-Nepalese Treaty of 1792, which provided a tribute-bearing mission from Nepal to China every five years as a symbol of China’s political and economic supremacy in the region.

Tibet was the focal point in their off-and-on relations for many years till 1814-16, when British India entered as another important contender for Nepali loyalties. During the first Anglo-Nepalese war of 1814, China refused to come to Nepal’s aid and voluntarily ceded its dominant position in Nepal to the growing British influence in the region.

The Chinese used to address the King of Nepal with the title of “Wang”. China seemed to use that title for the Nepalese monarch since they considered him a vassal of the Chinese Empire. The first treaty between Nepal and Tibet dates to 1789, when Tibet, defeated by Nepal, had pledged to pay an annual tribute to Nepal. In 1791, Nepal invaded Tibet again, but this resulted in a victory of the Ch’ing over Nepal in 1792, forcing Nepal to pay a continual quinquennial tribute to China. The treaty forced the Nepalese to send diplomatic missions with gifts to the Manchu Emperor every five years. This tribute was regarded differently by the Prime Minister of Nepal, Chandra Shum Shere (1863–1929), while clarifying this issue in his letters to the British Resident in Nepal, John Manners Smith. He stated that this ‘tribute’ was a simple exchange of gifts between two independent countries. “We have always regarded our relations with China as long standing, simple, friendly, and innocent in nature. The missions from this country to China were embassies from one court to another, which were invariably treated with honour and consideration due to honoured foreign guests”.