Nepal has recently banned traders from Tibet from entering its territory in the Solu Khumbu region to conduct commerce and trade, in contravention to a decade-old agreement of free cross-border movement, according to some Nepalese and Tibetan businessmen from the region.

As an apparent signal of disapproval with continuing Chinese restrictions on Nepalese citizens traveling to the border towns of Tibet, Nepalese authorities began enforcing a ban on traders from Tibet bringing their goods into Nepal in the Solo Khumbu region. Norbu Zangpo, a shop owner in Boudha, Kathmandu told the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), “Nepal usually doesn’t try to flex their muscle like this against China.”

The ban appears to be Nepal’s way of proactively taking to task its large northern neighbor, although officials in the Home Ministry and Ministry of Foreign Affairs declined comment to ICT regarding the matter.

The beginning of the trade ban coincides with a high profile visit to Nepal by China’s fourth ranking leader, Jia Qingling, who arrived on December 2, 2003. Jia is the senior most Chinese official to visit Nepal since the retirement of President Jiang Zemin.

Nepalese customs officials and press have recently highlighted how Chinese authorities have not reciprocated the Sino-Nepal treaty, which allows for one-day free cross-border travel within a 30-km radius for businessmen and locals.

Newspaper articles in November in The Kathmandu Post and The Himalaya Times have reported on Chinese officials harassing and blocking access for Nepalese citizens into the Tibetan border towns of Dram and Nyalam. The Nepalese media has reported that Nepalese border and customs officials honor the 30-km travel zone to Chinese and Tibetans wanting to visit Nepalese border towns of Khasa, Tatopani, and Khodari, but the Chinese side does not reciprocate.

“We are more liberal, but the Tibetan officials decide on the provision of movement up to 30 kilometers across Tibet depending on their mood, and it has created problems,” Shiva Kumar Katuwal, chief of the Tatopani Nepalese Customs Office reportedly told The Kathmandu Post on November 3.

“Our Chinese counterparts do not want to talk openly. We have not been able to understand what they say and do,” Katuwal concluded.

While the Nepalese press has highlighted recent ill treatment by Chinese authorities along the Tibet-Nepal Friendship Highway, it is widely known that Chinese officials have rarely allowed free movement between countries at most of the other border crossings in the last decade.

“Tibetans from Tibet have never been allowed to come freely into the Kingdom (of Nepal) at the Mustang, Kyirong, Humla, Dolpo, or Lamabagar border crossings,” a Nepal-born Tibetan businessmen in Thamel, Kathmandu, told ICT. “Nor have Chinese border guards allowed us to freely trade into Tibet. There is no 30-km free movement from their (Chinese) perspective.”

The border crossing at Tatopani/Dram, along the Friendship Highway, is the primary commercial transit point between Nepal and Tibet. The high mountain border crossing in Solo Khumbu is a distant second behind Tatopani/Dram in terms of trade goods coming into Nepal.

The ban in Solo Khumbu began on November 22 after a three week ultimatum had been given to Tibetan traders in the region to return with their yak caravans across the border into the Tibet. Nepalese Army units have diligently enforced the ban according to locals in Namche Bazaar.

“Some held guns. Others hit us with sticks and shouted at us to go back home,” a Tibetan trader from Tingri recently reported to ICT of his treatment by the Nepalese Army in Namche Bazaar. “My father and father’s father all used this trade route. I do not understand why they are kicking us out.”

Solo Khumbu (Tib: Sharkumbu) is just west of Mt. Everest and annually frequented by thousands of Western trekkers visiting Everest base camp. The traders leading their yak caravans into Solo Khumbu mainly come from the Phadruk area of Tingri in Tibet and have used the trade route for centuries. Historically used to trade salt, butter and tea, Tibetan traders now bring textiles, blankets, and low-cost Chinese-made plastic goods.

The route the Tingri traders with yak caravans follow is also utilized by more than 1,000 Tibetan refugees who flee over the Nangpa la mountain pass en route to India each year. Approximately 2,500 Tibetans refugee in total annually flee Tibet.

Visit of Jia Qingling to Nepal

The ban in Solo Khumbu precedes the highly publicized 24-hour visit to Nepal by the senior ranking Chinese official, Jia Qingling. The Chairman of the Chinese Political Consultative Conference, Jia arrived in Kathmandu to rubber stamp trade agreements between Nepal and China.

On December 3, 2003, China and Nepal signed the two trading accords, opening two new trading posts along the Nepal-Tibet border. One trading post is in Sankhuwasabha in the Makalu region of east Nepal and the other in west-central part of Nepal in Mustang. A Chinese development package was also promised to Nepal that will provide over 10 million dollars in aid, some of which will be used for on the ground experts to complete a road linking Nepal and Tibet at Rasuwa (in Nepal) and Kyirong (in Tibet).