While Nepal keeps running into disputes with its southern neighbor, it rarely does so with the northern one. Only twice have there been serious controversies between Nepal and China—once in 1960 during the parliamentary period (which will be discussed in the next issue) and then in 1967 during the Panchayat era. For a while, it seemed the second one would take on an extreme form, but in the end it was resolved without major ramifications.
In the third week of June 1967, various activities were taking place to celebrate King Mahendra’s birthday. Part of the celebrations was a fair in Brikuti Mandap, Kathmandu, where the Chinese had also set up a stall, at which they had put up a big portrait of Chairman Mao, but not of King Mahendra. On that pretext, a group of ‘nationalist’ students vandalized the Chinese stall. The police were able to disperse the students, but then they started pelting stones at the vehicles belonging to the Chinese parked outside. An abnormal situation arose when people started chanting slogans against the Chinese, in an episode that came to be known as the ‘Ramailo Mela Kaanda’.
China did not take this incident lightly; it issued a strong response, saying that it suspected an Indian or American hand in triggering the vandalism. It sent a letter of protest to Nepal, giving a warning to ‘imperialists, revisionists and reactionaries’. “For encouraging activities like these, they will break their own skulls and their followers will also suffer the consequences of their actions,” it said. China accused the American ‘imperialists’, the Soviet ‘revisionists’ and the Indian ‘reactionaries’ of inciting Nepali hooligans to commit hateful and unseemly acts against the Chinese. (Yadu Nath Khanal, Jeevani ra bichaar, (2059), Sajha Publication).
Those were not the only accusations; China also claimed Nepal had forbidden people from wearing lockets with Mao’s picture and carrying books containing his maxims. Thereafter, Nepal-China relations were strained for a while. China was not only angry about the incident, it also demanded that Nepal accord to the Chinese in Nepal the same status that it accorded to the Indians in the country.
To build understanding with China, Nepal recalled its ambassador to India, Yadu Nath Khanal, and appointed him foreign secretary. Among Khanal’s main briefs was improving relations with the northern neighbor. After a year, a team led by Deputy Prime Minister Kirti Nidhi Bista visited China and held intensive talks with the Chinese, only after which was the matter resolved.
Nepal convinced the Chinese that it had no policy or intent of carrying out anti-China activities. There has indeed been no visible conflict between the two countries following the incident at Brikuti Mandap. China has helped Nepal’s ruling establishment in every political era. The northern neighbor was particularly pleased after the Nepal Army in 1974 quelled the Khampa rebels active in the district of Mustang for the cause of a free Tibet.
Next week’s ‘Vault of history’ column will discuss the ‘Mustang Kaanda’, an incident in which the Chinese army entered Nepali territory and shot dead a Nepali army personnel