Chinese vice premier met the prime minister on Wednesday in an effort to boost ties with the small Himalayan neighbor that remains in the middle of a tense, months-long standoff between regional rivals, China and India.
Wang Yang, who was given a red-carpet welcome on his arrival at the Kathmandu airport on Monday, has had a packed schedule, including a visit to a herbal medicine factory on the outskirts of the capital and a joint inauguration of the reconstruction of a quake-damaged historic temple.
One of the most significant moves by the high-ranking Chinese official was an announcement on Tuesday to give $1 million in aid to victims of recent floods that have devastated the southern plains of Nepal.
Both sides also signed three agreements, including one on oil exploration in Nepal. The two sides also agreed on 16 billion Nepali rupees ($155 million) aid to upgrade and rebuild two landslide-prone highways that connect Nepal with China.
Observers believe the recent moves by China is due to the fact it wants Kathmandu on its side in the ongoing military standoff with India over a disputed territory along China’s border with Bhutan in the Himalayan region.
Wang’s visit comes a week ahead of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba's visit to India, who is seen as a close Indian ally.
“This visit happened because China had promised to send a top leader to Nepal this year. During this trip, Wang is likely to try to persuade Nepal to not include a reference to the disputed territory in the joint statement that Nepalese and Indian prime ministers will issue at the end of the visit,” Purna Basnet, a journalist who specializes on Nepal-China ties, said.
“After the Doklam [a disputed area between China and Bhutan] standoff, China is counting on Nepal to not overtly follow the Indian line.
“The Himalayan region has acquired a new significance following the tensions. Because Nepal covers a large area that separates two nations, the two countries want its support in regional matters,” Basnet said.
China's attempt to boost ties with Nepal, which like Bhutan, serves as a strategic barrier with India, comes under its broad strategic move to expand its influence in South Asia, he added.
A Chinese journalist echoed Basnet’s views in a recent article for an English-language newspaper.
“While Wang’s visit will reportedly focus on China-sponsored infrastructure projects, the timing speaks for itself. The border dispute with India has highlighted the necessity for China to accelerate investment and economic aid to Nepal,” Wang Jiamei wrote in Global Times, a Chinese newspaper, on Monday.
“With an eye on rising geopolitical significance of Nepal in the region, China has been strengthening ties with that country in recent years, mainly through infrastructure investment,” he said.
In May, Nepal joined China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a massive multi-billion-dollar plan to build infrastructure across Asia, Africa and Europe.
Nepal was pushed towards its northern neighbor China following a border blockade two years ago, when India cut vital supplies to the landlocked country.
While Nepal has reached out to China to reduce its dependency on its southern neighbor India, for China Nepal holds huge potential in investment and providing a connection to the vast north Indian market.
By Deepak Adhikari in Nepal