China's Defence Minister Gen Wei Fenghe on Sunday met Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli and held talks with Nepal Army chief Gen Purna Chandra Thapa on various issues of bilateral interest, aimed at bolstering bilateral military cooperation and taking the existing friendly ties to a new height. Gen Wei, who is also a State Councillor, held bilateral talks with Army chief Gen Thapa at the army headquarters here during his day-long "working visit" to Nepal, said a statement issued by the Nepal Army. "The two held a cordial discussion on various issues of bilateral interest," it said.
"Bilateral discussions were then held at the delegation-level mainly on issues pertaining to resumption of training and student exchange program and follow up on defence assistance that have been impacted due to the COVID-19 pandemic," the statement said. The Chinese defence minister is leading a 21-member delegation.
It said the Chinese minister viewed both the proposals "positively and affirmed that the bilateral cooperation should resume as soon as possible, including exchange of high level visits." He also pledged to provide additional assistance to the Nepali Army in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, the statement said. The Nepali Army expressed confidence that "the visit will help in further strengthening and expanding the cordial military-to-military relations between the two countries." Gen Wei also took part in various programs organised at the Army Headquarters. "After the bilateral meeting, General Wei and his delegation were given a short presentation on the history and roles of the Nepali Army, the army statement said. He was also presented with a Guard of Honour.
The Chinese defence minister paid courtesy calls on President Bidya Devi Bhandari and Prime Minister Oli, who also holds the defence portfolio. Earlier in the day, Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa welcomed Gen Wei at the Tribhuvan International Airport.
Gen Wei told reporters that his visit is aimed at implementing bilateral understandings reached between the two governments in the past. He said that his visit will promote military cooperation between Nepal and China, and take the existing friendly relations between the two neighbours to a new height.
"China and Nepal have been enjoying a strong, friendly and close relationship for a long time, and I am here to take that relationship to a greater height," he said. This is the highest-level visit from China after President Xi Jinping's two-day state visit that took place in October last year.
Wei's visit comes days after India's Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla wrapped up his maiden two-day visit to Nepal. In the first week of November, Indian Army chief General M M Naravane paid a three-day visit to Nepal aimed at resetting bilateral ties that came under severe strain following a bitter border row between the two countries. Wei's visit also comes amidst an ongoing political rift in the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) that resurfaced following a meeting between Prime Minister Oli and his rival Pushpa Kamal Dahal 'Prachanda'.
China's political profile in Nepal has been on the rise in the recent years with billions of dollars of investments under Beijing's multi-billion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), including the building of the Trans-Himalayan Multi-Dimensional Connectivity Network. Besides the investments, China's ambassador to Nepal Hou Yanqi has made open efforts to garner support for Oli, who faced a massive rebellion in his party headed by 'Prachanda'.
In August, President Xi said that he attached great importance to the development of China-Nepal relations and was willing to work with his Nepali counterpart Bhandari to push for the continued advancement of the bilateral relationship. During his two-day state visit - the first by a Chinese leader in 23 years - in October last year, President Xi said China will provide Nepalese Rs 56 billion assistance to Kathmandu over the next two years to help Nepal's development programmes and transform the landlocked nation into a land-linked country.