Nepal's recent decision to acquire 21 drones from China has sparked discussions about the implications for the nation's security and sovereignty. While the move is presented as a strategic enhancement of security capabilities, it is important to consider potential concerns and challenges that this decision might raise.
Firstly, the acquisition of drones from a neighboring country, particularly one with geopolitical significance like China, raise questions about the impact on Nepal's sovereignty and autonomy. The drones, being sourced from Tibet's Public Security Department, could potentially create dependency on China for critical security technology, which might compromise Nepal's ability to make independent security decisions in the long run.
The drones will be used by Nepal's Ministry of Home to help make the country safer. The decision was made during a meeting at the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers office in Kathmandu.
Integrating foreign-manufactured drones into a country's security apparatus requires careful consideration of potential cyber security risks. There's a possibility of these drones being exploited for espionage or hacking, which could compromise Nepal's national security.
Additionally, side from India, Nepal hosts the largest community of Tibetan refugees in the world. Estimates for an exact number vary due to the difficulty of documentation and record-keeping, since many individuals have no form of identification, but a 2020 UNHCR report put the figure at 12,540. This reflects a considerable drop in arrivals, resulting from Tibetans’ hesitation to settle in Nepal due to the discrimination they face from the state.
Nepal’s close political ties with China have left Tibetan refugees in the Himalayan country uncertain of their status, vulnerable to abuses of their rights, and restricted in their freedoms of movement and expression, reported RFA.
Nepal, which shares a long border with Tibet, is home to at least 20,000 exiles who began arriving in 1959 when a failed uprising against Chinese rule forced Tibet’s spiritual leader the Dalai Lama to take refuge in India’s Himalayan foothills.
Nepal is seen by China as a partner in its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to boost global trade through infrastructure investment, and the Kathmandu government has cited promises of millions of dollars of Chinese investment in restricting Tibetan activities in the country.
According to Amish Mulmi’s book All Roads Lead North, as early as 2002, Kathmandu was already starting to face Chinese orders regarding the Tibetans, which it expressed to the US ambassador. For the first time, Nepal canceled celebrations of the Dalai Lama’s birthday. In 2005, the Dalai Lama’s Nepali office was shut down, also as a result of pressure from Beijing.
Mulmi’s book also documents incidents in 2003, when Chinese military officials actually crossed into Nepali territory to shoot at American climbers they believed to be Tibetans escaping Tibet, as well as in 2006, when Chinese guards shot and killed a 17-year-old Tibetan who was part of a group of 76 attempting to flee across the border.
In 2009, China promised Nepal loans to develop infrastructure, agriculture, energy and tourism. Beijing also made pledges to alleviate poverty in Nepal, including agricultural training and reduced tariffs. In return, Nepal reiterated the vow to prohibit ‘anti-China or separatist activities’ on its soil. Kathmandu ramped up its border patrol along the China-Nepal frontier, giving 33 Tibetans who traveled to Nepal to China and breaking its unofficial agreement with the UNHCR to permit Tibetans to go via Nepal on their way to India. One US diplomatic cable, published in 2010 by WikiLeaks, even states, ‘Beijing has asked Kathmandu to step up patrols and make it more difficult for Tibetans to enter Nepal.’
If these drones are used for surveillance purposes, there's a potential for human rights violations, especially if they are deployed in a manner that infringes on individual privacy or freedom of movement. Before importing drones from another country, Nepal should explore domestic production or collaboration with countries that have a more transparent record in terms of human rights and cyber security. This would promote self-sufficiency and avoid potential pitfalls associated with foreign dependency.
Furthermore, this decision also have diplomatic implications. Nepal shares close ties with both China and India, and any significant security-related collaboration with one of these countries might influence perceptions in the other. It's important for Nepal to navigate this situation carefully to maintain its diplomatic equilibrium and avoid any unnecessary tensions.
While bolstering security capabilities is important for any nation, the decision to acquire drones from China presents a complex set of concerns related to sovereignty, security, transparency, and human rights. Nepal should carefully weigh these issues and consider alternative solutions before finalizing such a significant move.
Edited and collated by Team TRC