New Delhi: Nepal and China Tuesday vowed to make progress on the trans-Himalayan connectivity projects under Beijing’s mega Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as both countries jointly announced a new height for Mount Everest, the tallest peak in the world.
At a virtual event, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his Nepalese counterpart Pradeep Kumar Gyawali announced the new height of Mount Everest at 8,848.86 metres, with Kathmandu saying it is an “age old symbol” of their ties.
According to sources, while this does not come as a surprise to India since the talks regarding Mt Everest’s height were going on for a while between Nepal and China, the move is seen as an “assertion by the Chinese” in India’s immediate neighbourhood and their growing ties with Kathmandu.
This is yet another indication by China that it is willing to engage more deeply with Nepal and befriend the Himalayan nation, while lessening New Delhi’s influence in that country, sources said.
Meanwhile, Gyawali said at the event: “This is a special moment for us (Nepal and China)… Mount Sagarmatha (name of Mt Everest in Nepali) or Chomolungma (Tibetan name) has remained as an internal symbol of good neighbourly relations and continued friendship between Nepal and China.”
Reading out a letter written by Nepalese President Bidya Devi Bhandari to Chinese President Xi Jinping, Gyawali said Nepal and China have entered a “new era” of strategic partnership.
“Nepal and China have always remained good friends, close neighbours and trusted partners. Since time memorial, our two countries have enjoyed friendly relations marked by immense goodwill, strong friendship, close cooperation and mutual trust,” Gyawali said reading out the letter.
Highlighting the five principles of coexistence between Nepal and China, Gyawali added: “Nepal unequivocally stands for a ‘One China’ policy. Over the years, Nepal-China relations have grown stronger and deeper.”
“Nepal and China are closely linked by mountains and rivers… We will remain as pure as the white snow and as majestic as the standing of the Himalayas,” he said.
The minister also said that Nepal expects the multi-dimensional trans Himalayan connectivity project, which includes rail and road networks, to make fast progress.
Wang, meanwhile, said: “May China and Nepal friendship last forever.”
He also read out a letter by President Xi to Nepal’s President and said: “China will work with Nepal to move forward our strategic partnership and cooperation… We will continue to firmly support each other, defending national independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
In a video message released later, Nepal Prime Minister K.P.S. Oli said that along with the height of Mount Everest, the stature of the country has also increased. “Congratulations to all of us. Thanks to the Nepal-China joint team for their hard work,” he tweeted.
‘China is stepping up its engagement with Nepal’
While the exercise to measure the height of Mt Everest was going on since Xi’s last visit to Nepal in October 2019, the announcement came at a time when China is engaged in a border standoff with India since May at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh.
The announcement also comes within days of Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe’s visit to Kathmandu, following a trip by Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh V. Shringla.
Experts said the development is an indication that China “is stepping up its engagement” with Nepal.
Ranjit Rae, former Indian ambassador to Nepal, said: “China is stepping up its engagement with South Asia, in general, and Nepal, in particular, including on defense and security issues.”
“Nepal believes that it has successfully balanced its relations with both India and China. Regular dialogue with India has resumed and simultaneously ties with China are being strengthened significantly. This is happening despite internal political turmoil,” he added.
India, Nepal border tensions
In May this year, ties between Nepal and India hit choppy waters in an unprecedented manner over the issue of Kalapani border, which Kathmandu now claims to be under its territory. It had also released a new political map showing the disputed regions of Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura as their own, which India rejected.
However, with a series of high-level visits from India to Nepal in the last couple of months, both sides have now decided to discuss the boundary issue and make progress in other aspects of the relationship.
During his maiden visit to Nepal last month, Foreign Secretary Shringla had said India wants to take the bilateral ties “forward”.
Nepal’s Foreign Minister Gyawali is expected to visit India later this month for the sixth Joint Commission meeting to be held with his Indian counterpart S. Jaishankar.
Mt Everest height was first determined by India
Both Nepal and China had so far accepted the height of Mt Everest is 8,848 metres, which was originally discovered by an Indian mathematician, Radhanath Sikhdar, when he carried out the Great Trigonometrical Survey in 1856 under British India.
Almost a century later, another survey was carried out by India in 1954, which affirmed the height to be the same.
In 1975 and 2005, China carried out two surveys when it found the height to be 8,848.13 metres and 8,844.43 metres, respectively.