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Chinese defence minister meets Nepal's top leadership

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KATHMANDU (PTI): China's Defence Minister Gen. Wei Fenghe on Sunday met Nepal Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli and exchanged views on matters of mutual interest and held talks with Army chief Gen. Purna Chandra Thapa on ways to resume military cooperation and training impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gen. Wei, who is also a State Councillor, held bilateral talks with Nepal Army chief Gen. Thapa at the army headquarters in Kathmandu 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 programme and follow up on defence assistance that have been impacted due to the COVID-19 pandemic," the statement said.

The Chinese defence minister, who was leading a 21-member delegation, viewed both the proposals "positively and affirmed that the bilateral cooperation should resume as soon as possible, including exchange of high level visits," it said.

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 programmes organised at the Nepal 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.

"During the calls on, views were exchanged on matters of mutual interest including the further promotion of traditionally friendly relations between Nepal and China," the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

Wei left for Beijing in the evening.

Earlier in the day, Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa welcomed Wei at the Tribhuvan International Airport.

Wei told reporters that his visit was aimed at implementing bilateral understandings reached between the two governments in the past.

He said that his visit would 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.

"I am confident that the visit would be result-oriented. My visit to Nepal is slightly delayed by the COVID-19 but it will be special one," Wei 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 Gen. 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'.

The Nepalese media reported that Wei was expected to seek the commitment of the top Nepali leadership to translate the consensus reached during the high level visits including Chinese President Xi into action.

He will also convey the message that the bilateral agreements concluded during high-level visits on promoting infrastructure development and connectivity, including the Transit Transport Agreement and its Protocol and feasibility study of Nepal-China Cross-border Railway project are significant in enhancing the bilateral cooperation, My Republica newspaper reported.

The two sides will also hold discussion on the progress being made on the implmentation of projects under the Belt and Road initiative, it said.

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.

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