China and Nepal agreed to ramp up plans for a cross-border railway amid public assurances from China that Beijing would work hard to avoid conflict with New Delhi.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi also said Beijing hoped Nepal could be a bridge between China and India, following a bitter border stand-off between the two Asian heavyweights.
According to a report published in South China Morning Post, after talks in Beijing with Nepalese Foreign Minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara, Wang said China and India should work hard to make sure their ties do “not derail, become confrontational or get out of control”.
“[China and India] should see each other as partners and an opportunity for development, instead of sticking to the old mindset of perceiving each other as a rival or threat,” he said.
Mahara also met Premier Li Keqiang and State Councillor Yang Jiechi on Thursday.
His trip is his fourth in two years and comes as China tries to expand its influence in the landlocked Himalayan country. Wang said China had no intention of “bullying” a small country.
“We do not interfere with Nepal’s internal politics, nor do we attach political strings to our cooperation with Nepal or require Nepal to pick a side in its foreign policy,” he said.
Wang said officials from Nepal and China had agreed to fast track a feasibility study for the construction of a railway between the two countries.
In addition, the two countries agreed to rebuild two highways and three border ports linking Nepal and China, after much of the infrastructure was destroyed in a deadly earthquake in 2015.
Nepal and China also struck a memorandum of understanding on energy cooperation to help Nepal diversify its sources of energy, Wang said.
Mahara, who is also Nepal’s deputy prime minister, said Nepal would open a new consulate in Guangzhou.
He said Kathmandu appreciated Beijing’s policy of non-interference.
Chinese Vice-premier Wang Yang made a four-day official visit to Kathmandu last month while China and India was still at loggerheads on the Doklam plateau in the Himalayas.
At the time, Mahara was quoted by local media as saying that Nepal “will not get dragged” into the border dispute, nor be influenced by either China or India.
While it has maintained a neutral position on the China-India dispute, Kathmandu has slowly increased exchanges with Beijing in recent years as it has sought to counterbalance New Delhi’s dominance in the region.
As part of that delicate balancing act, Nepalese Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba visited India late last month. At the same time, China is rolling out optical fiber networks in Nepal, spelling an end to India’s internet service monopoly in the country.