The Himalayan nation of Nepal is tightening restrictions against an estimated 20,000 Tibetan refugees because of pressure from China, the new prime minister of the Tibetan exile administration said.
On Tibetan issues, “Nepal has become almost a satellite state of China,” Lobsang Sangay, who last week took over political leadership of the Tibetan exile movement from the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s Buddhist spiritual leader, said in an interview Aug. 17 in New Delhi.
Nepal’s border with Tibet, which includes Mt. Everest, the world’s highest peak, has been a primary escape route for many of the Tibetans who have fled Chinese rule to form an exile community of about 130,000 people. Since 2008, China has cracked down on Tibetans’ protests in their homeland and tightened its border to prevent refugees from escaping.
Nepal’s caretaker prime minister, Jahala Nath Khanal, Aug. 17 told a visiting Chinese official that Nepal will permit no “anti-China activities” on its territory, an aide in his office said. Zhou Yongkang, who oversees Chinese security forces as a member of the Communist Party’s ruling Politburo Standing Committee, expressed to Khanal “the hope that Nepal would continue to prevent Tibetan separatists from using Nepalese soil to act against China,” the official Xinhua news agency reported.
Zhou, who headed one of the most prominent Chinese government delegations to Nepal in many years, offered Nepal $47 million in grants and loans for development projects and police equipment, according to statements on Nepal’s Finance Ministry Website.
“Nepal is committed to a one-China policy, it is our freely determined policy, and we will not permit any activities in violation” of it, said Khanal’s administrative undersecretary, J.P. Adhikari. The policy “quite obviously” requires some limits on Tibetans in Nepal, he said by phone.
Nepal has refused visas for teachers and health workers that the exile administration tries to send for refugees, Sangay said. Nepalese police this month detained Thinley Lama, the Dalai Lama’s representative in the country, and Sangay, 43, said they issued him a warning against public activities in support of the Tibetan campaign for autonomy.
Nepal’s approach began to change in 2008, after its Maoist political movement and other parties ousted the country’s 240- year-old monarchy. That coincided with Tibet’s most violent anti-Chinese protests in 20 years, in which police gunfire killed 120 people, according to the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy at the Dalai Lama’s exile headquarters in Dharamsala, India. China, which has barred journalists and other foreigners from access to Tibet, says 18 people were killed by rioters.
Nepal’s police now help Chinese authorities prevent Tibetans from fleeing across the 1,400-kilometer (870-mile) border between Nepal and Tibet, reducing the flow of Tibetan refugees into Nepal from more than 2,000 per year before 2008 to 770 last year, according to the Tibetan human rights center.
Human rights monitors such as Amnesty International and the U.S. State Department’s most recent human rights reports have criticized Nepal for arresting Tibetans who have tried to publicly celebrate the Dalai Lama’s birthday, and for seizing ballot boxes to prevent Tibetans from voting in the October election won by Sangay.
Nepal refuses refugee status to any newly arriving Tibetans and has committed to let them transit the country to India, according to the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR. Still, Nepal has forcibly returned some refugees to China and Chinese police have entered Nepal to search for fleeing Tibetans, the State Department’s 2010 human rights report said.
Since 2008, China has cracked down on Tibetans’ protests against Chinese rule in the territory. The Dalai Lama fled during one such demonstration in 1959 and demands political autonomy for Tibet as a way to end what he says is China’s suppression of Tibetan culture and exploitation of its economy.
Anti-Chinese protests have continued at Buddhist monasteries in Tibetan regions of China in recent weeks, Sangay said. A second Buddhist monk in five months who immolated himself to demand the Dalai Lama’s return to Tibet was cremated Aug. 17, China’s official Xinhua news agency reported.
The U.S. government renewed a call for China to negotiate a political solution to Tibetans’ demands as President Barack Obama met the Dalai Lama at the White House July 17.
China says the Dalai Lama is a “splittist,” secretly seeking independence for Tibetan regions, which form as much as a quarter of China’s territory.
China has dismissed the election of Sangay to head the Dalai Lama’s exile administration and says he will have no role in any continuation of the negotiations that China periodically has held with the Dalai Lama’s envoys.
While “it is too early to say” when any further talks with China may be possible, “under our constitution, I will have to appoint the Dalai Lama’s envoys” for such meetings, Sangay said.
Sangay is a former Harvard University law scholar who was elected the first secular leader of the Tibetans living in exile. The Dalai Lama, the 14th in a line of ruling clerics, has led the shift to an elected secular government of the exile community in part to maintain continuity that historically has been interrupted whenever a Dalai Lama died.