China, Nepal discuss joint military exercises

Zhang Tao
Dates for joint military exercises between Nepal and China -- the first ever between the two countries -- are yet to be set (AFP Photo/PRAKASH MATHEMA)

China's defence minister met his Nepal counterpart Thursday pushing ahead plans to hold joint military exercises, a move likely closely watched by India as Beijing boosts its influence in the region.

"We have been discussing joint military exercises with China... the minister was positive about it," Nepal's Defence Minister Bal Krishna Khand told AFP after meeting with Chang Wanquan.

Khand said that dates for the drills -- the first ever between China and Nepal -- were yet to be set.

An army source, who asked not to be named, said the exercises may be dubbed "Sagarmatha Friendship" -- referring to the Nepali name for Mount Everest -- and would focus on disaster response.

Chang Wanquan's three day trip to Kathmandu -- the first by a Chinese defence minister in 15 years -- will include talks with Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal.

The prospect of drills will likely rattle India, which is often accused of playing "big brother" to its tiny neighbour.

Sandwiched between China and India, impoverished Nepal has in recent years ping-ponged between the sphere of influence of Delhi and Beijing as the Asian giants jostle for regional supremacy.

"What we are seeing this week with Chang's visit is more of a military exchange," said James Char, a China expert at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University.

"It is also something that has grown under the current leadership of (China's President) Xi Jinping."

Landlocked Nepal remains dependent on India for the majority of its imports, but the previous administration aggressively courted China as part of a nationalist drive to decrease the country's reliance on Delhi.

China has responded with grand infrastructure promises, including recently pledging $8.3 billion in investment to Nepal -- equivalent to nearly to 40 percent of its entire GDP.

The commitment dwarfed India's investment offer of $317 million.

The current Maoist-led government in Nepal has sought to repair strained ties with Delhi while continuing to accept cash from its powerful northern neighbour.

Prime Minister Dahal is due to fly to China later Thursday and will meet with President Xi next week.


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