With over 1400 km long border in most difficult parts of Tibet, Nepal has always been a highly sensitive buffer zone for the Chinese security apparatus. This was what the recent 7-hour stopover visit of Chinese State Councilor and Defense Minister Wei Fenghe indicated.
Given the globally shifting power balance and emerging new world order amid COVID-19, Chinese interest in Nepal is likely to intensify in the coming days. This is also what the recent visit indicated.
After spending most of his time discussing security matters at Nepal Army Headquarters, Chinese State Councilor and Defense Minister Fenghe paid a courtesy call to Prime Minister and Defense Minister K.P. Sharma Oli and President Bidhya Devi Bhandari at the end of the visit.
Upon his arrival, General Wei was presented with a Guard of Honour at the Army Headquarters. General Wei then paid an official call on General Purna Chandra Thapa, Chief of the Army Staff, Nepali Army, at the latter’s office.
On that occasion, the distinguished visitor, General Wei and General Thapa held a cordial discussion on various issues of bilateral interest. A representative from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was also present during the discussion.
After the call, General Wei Fenghe and his delegation were given a short presentation on the history and roles of the Nepali Army. Bilateral discussions were then held at the delegation-level mainly on issues pertaining to the resumption of training and student exchange program and follow-up on defense assistance that have been impacted due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to a press release issued by the Public Relations and Information Directorate of Nepal Army, General Wei and the delegation viewed both the proposals positively.
“The Nepali Army is confident that this visit will help in further strengthening and expanding the cordial military to military relations between the two countries,” said the press release.
“General Wei and the delegation viewed both the proposals positively and affirmed that the bilateral cooperation should resume as soon as possible, including the exchange of high-level visits. General Wei also pledged to provide additional assistance to the Nepali Army in fighting the Covid-19 pandemic,” read the statement.
He was 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,” reported Global Times, a Chinese media close to Chinese Communist Party.
As in the past, Chinese defense minister 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.
Wei's trip came days after Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla visited Nepal. Indian officials have paid frequent visits to Nepal since late October, including Samant Goel, chief of India's Research and Analysis Wing and Indian Army Chief.
Chinese media reported that 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.
During his call on Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, he said that his visit was aimed at implementing the bilateral agreements made by the head of states and head of governments of the two neighbors in the past.
Earlier, speaking after his welcome by Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa at the Tribhuvan International Airport, he had said that his visit also had the objective of enhancing the bilateral military assistance and strengthening the relations between the two countries.
Wei was welcomed by Minister Thapa, Secretary of the Home Ministry Reshmi Raj Pandey, Lieutenant General of Nepal Army Prabhu Ram Sharma, Chinese Ambassador to Nepal Hou Yanqi, Joint Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Kali Prasad Pokharel and other dignitaries.
Talking to the media persons at the Tribhuvan International Airport, Wei said that the objective of his one-day visit was to bolster mutual military cooperation and further strengthen the bilateral ties between the two countries.
During the call-on, views were exchanged on matters of mutual interest including the further promotion of traditionally friendly relations between Nepal and China.
Stating that Nepal and China have strong relations, the visiting Chinese dignitary said that he had arrived in Nepal with a goal to take Nepal-China ties to a newer height. "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 a special one," he said.
Whatever the Chinese Defense Minister said his visit has indicated that Tibet Security is their major and only one concern in Nepal.