Chinese State Councilor and Defense Minister Wei Fenghe paid a working visit to Nepal, being the highest ranking Chinese official to visit the plateau country after China's top leader visited Kathmandu in October 2019.
When Wei met President Bidya Devi Bhandari and Prime Minister and Minister for Defense KP Sharma Oli, they discussed economic cooperation amid the framework of the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative and military exchanges.
Wei noted that China firmly supports Nepal to safeguard its national independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, and will continue assisting Nepal's military development, contributing to regional peace and stability.
Wei also discussed the international and regional situations and bilateral diplomatic and military relations with Nepal's Chief of Army Staff General Purna Chandra Thapa.
The visit amid the ongoing pandemic offers an opportunity for the two countries to communicate face to face and signifies the friendly ties between the two neighbors, which will boost mutual trust between the two countries and the two militaries, Qian Feng, director of the research department at the National Strategy Institute at Tsinghua University, told the Global Times on Sunday.
Nepal is still fighting the coronavirus and the Chinese military had offered help. In May, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force sent protective outfits, medical masks and thermometers to the Nepalese military.
India was closely watching Wei's visit as it always does on China-Nepal interactions. Wei's visit came at a time when India and China are in the midst of a border standoff, with Indian media reporting the visit as China drawing Nepal to its side.
Wei's trip came days after Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla visited Nepal from Thursday to Friday. Indian officials have paid frequent visits to Nepal since late October, including Samant Goel, chief of India's Research and Analysis Wing.
Sources from India's intelligence department told the Washington Post that India's high-level visits "worried Beijing," propelling the latter to dispatch a high-ranking defense official to rebalance India's influence on Nepal.
Indian media The Print called Wei's visit as yet another attempt by China to lure Nepal away from India.
But interaction between the Chinese and Nepalese militaries has been a tradition. Wei received General Thapa in Beijing in June 2019. Nepal's Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Ishwar Pokhrel attended the Xiangshan Forum in Beijing in October 2019, during which the two defense ministers signed a 150 million yuan ($22.8 million) deal on Chinese military assistance. The two militaries have held joint special forces drills for three consecutive years.
India is groundlessly accusing China of inflaming the border issue and stoking anti-India sentiment in Nepal when India itself has territorial disputes with Nepal in Kalapani, Lipu Lekh and Limpiyadhura. Nepal has called to settle the border issues via diplomatic channels based on history and evidence.
China is also concerned about the rift within Nepal's ruling party and its attitude toward the strategic alliance between India and the US.
Qian noted it is not surprising that India wants to make a fuss over the border issue.
"Wei's visit to Nepal will reiterate the support for Nepal's national interests and territorial sovereignty. China and Nepal are strategic partners," Qian said "As a major country and neighbor, China is bound to give Nepal moral and diplomatic support."
Wei's visit is also a warning for anti-China hardliners in India who do not reflect on themselves but seek to sow discord between China and Nepal and provoke trouble, Qian said.