China sending defence minister to Nepal days after Indian foreign secretary’s visit
China is sending defence minister Wei Fenghe to Nepal for a day-long visit on Sunday, just days after India’s foreign secretary Harsh Shringla wrapped up a trip to Kathmandu aimed at boosting bilateral ties affected by a border row.
Nepal’s foreign ministry announced the visit by Wei, a general in the People’s Liberation Army who also holds the rank of state councillor in the Chinese cabinet, on Saturday.
A brief statement issued by the foreign ministry in Kathmandu said Wei will make a one-day working visit to Nepal on November 29.
Wei will meet President Bidya Devi Bhandari, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, who also holds the defence portfolio, and the army chief, Gen Purna Chandra Thapa, during his day-long trip, the statement said.
There was no official word from Beijing on the visit.
Wei will be the senior-most Chinese leader to visit Nepal since a trip to Kathmandu by President Xi Jinping in September last year. He will be in Nepal barely two days after Shringla concluded his two-day trip to Nepal.
Shringla, who travelled to Nepal after back-to-back visits by Indian Army chief Gen MM Naravane and Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) head Samant Goel, had focused on ways to take forward the bilateral relationship, especially cooperation on connectivity and cross-border infrastructure, during his high-level meetings in Kathmandu.
People familiar with developments had said the two sides also focused on the importance of respecting each other’s sensitivities in the discussions during Shringla’s visit.
India-Nepal ties had taken a hit when Kathmandu issued a new political map in May that laid claim to Kalapani region, which is controlled by India, after New Delhi opened a new road to the strategic Lipulekh region. India rejected the map and Shringla, during his meetings, discussed ways to take forward the border issue through appropriate bilateral mechanisms.
China has stepped up efforts to increase its influence in Nepal in recent years, including investments in major projects and an outreach to the leadership of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP). Reports have suggested that Beijing played a key role in the unification of two leftist parties to create NCP.
China’s ambassador to Nepal, Hou Yanqi, frequently meets leaders of NCP, including co-chairs Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal. When differences between the two leaders spilled into the open in July, Hou had reportedly played a key role in keeping the party united.
The Chinese defence minister will be presented a guard of honour at the Nepal Army headquarters and discussions between the two sides are expected to look at the resumption of Chinese military aid, Nepal Army spokesperson Brig Gen Santosh Ballav Paudyal was quoted as saying by The Kathmandu Post.
Nepal and China had signed an agreement for a 150-million RMB military assistance package during former Nepalese defence minister Ishwor Pokharel’s visit to Beijing last year and a protocol to this deal is expected to be signed during Wei’s visit, The Post reported.
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