In a diplomatic victory for China, Nepal has started issuing stapled visas to Taiwan passport holders, departing from its previous policy of issuing regular visas to citizens of the island nation.
Diplomatic sources in the Taiwan Embassy in New Delhi say that the matter came to their attention shortly after China’s President Xi Jinping’s visited the Himalayan nation Nepal last month. Xi headed to Nepal after his informal meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the coastal city of Mahabalipuram, marking the the first visit by a Chinese president to Nepal in 23 years. China, which has emerged as Nepal’s largest foreign investor in recent years, pledged $492 million in financial aid to Kathmandu during Xi’s visit.
“Earlier they used to award Taiwanese citizens regular visas. We really don’t know the exact date when the rule changed,” said Taiwanese diplomatic sources, adding that there wasn’t any official communication from the government of Nepal on the decision.
Stapled visa refers to the practice of stamping the visa on a separate piece of paper, instead of the passport. This used to be done to avoid leaving any trace of the person’s visit to a country so as to reduce the chances of harassment on the person’s return to the home country.
Countries such as Cuba, for example, used to offer stapled visas to US citizens so that they could visit the country without leaving any record of the visit on their passport.
China has, however, used stapled visas in a different way. The communist country refuses to accept the passports of countries that it wants to make a part of its own territory, and therefore also refuses to ‘touch’ such passports.
The country, for example, refused to touch the passports of Indians who travel from Arunachal Pradesh and Kashmir, and instead issued them visas on a separate sheet of paper.
When a country like Nepal refuses to stamp the passport of Taiwanese nationals, it too is refusing to recognize Taiwan’s status as an independent country — in sync with China’s own approach to the island nation.
During last month’s visit, President Xi expressed his satisfaction over Nepal’s firm support to China’s “core interests,” and had pledged developmental assistance to fulfill the Himalayan country’s growing economic needs.
The Chinese President had also called on the co-chair of Nepal’s Communist Party, Pushpa Kumar Dahal, who responded by saying that he looked forward to a long-term cooperative relationship between the communist parties of the two countries.
In September this year, the political leadership in Kathmandu had expressed its commitment to Beijing’s One China Policy — under which it claims territories such as Taiwan as its own — as a part of the memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed between the ruling Nepal Communist Party and CPC in September this year.
The MoU on ramping up fraternal ties between the Communist parties of two countries was signed in the presence of Nepal’s Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli.
According to sources, Taiwan is yet to make up its mind on taking up the matter with Kathmandu.
Officials at the Embassy of Nepal in New Delhi confirmed that granting stapled visas to Taiwanese citizens was part of government policy, but refused to say when the new rules had kicked in.
A Nepal-watcher, who advises the government of India on bilateral relations, noted that ties between Nepal’s Communist Party and the Chinese Communist Party has been on an upswing since the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) merged with the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) to form a single party last year.
The growing relations between the two Communist parties of China and Nepal, and Nepal’s approach towards China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) Initiative are believed to have figured prominently during the visit of Indian Prime Minister’ Special Envoy Dr S Jaishankar, currently India’s foreign minister, to Kathmandu in Sept 2015.
Despite India conveying its economic and political objections to OBOR to Kathmandu, Nepal went ahead and joined the Beijing-backed project in 2017.
INDIA AND NEPAL
While the government of Narendra Modi accords a high-priority to improving relations with the Himalayan country — the PM has visited the Nepal thrice since 2014 — New Delhi has struggled to undo the political damage inflicted by its post-earthquake economic blockade of the country in 2015.
Other differences have been coming up from time to time.
Last week, Kathmandu protested India’s new political map, saying that the “disputed” Kalapani territory on the India-Nepal border was wrongly shown as part of India.
A terse statement from Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) rejected Kathmandu’s allegations.
“Our map accurately depicts the sovereign territory of India. The new map has in no manner revised our boundary with Nepal,” MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said at his weekly media briefing.
The MEA also cautioned Kathmandu to guard itself from “vested interests trying to create differences between our two countries,” in a veiled reference to China. Importantly, the protest by Nepal over the new map came on the heels of Beijing’s objections over Indian territories in Jammu and Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh being showed as part of India.