Nepal and China have embarked on a 10-day military drill as ties between the two neighbors deepen amid India’s diminishing influence in the region.
The military exercises, the first held between the two countries in history, began in the Nepalese capital Kathmandu on Sunday.
Officials said the drill will focus on counter-terrorism and is dubbed “Sagarmatha Friendship 2017”, a reference to the Nepalese terms for the iconic Mount Everest.
The drills come amid increasing rivalry between China and India for supremacy in the region. China’s Defense Minister Chang Wanquan visited Kathmandu last month to supervise the preparations for the joint drills. The trip was the first by a Chinese defense minister in 15 years.
However, Nepal’s military spokesman denied that the drill was a sign of China’s increasing influence in Nepal, a country sandwiched between China and India which has historically looked southwards to India to meet its needs.
“This is in line with our efforts to hold joint exercises with countries that have diplomatic relations with Nepal,” said Jhankar Bahadur.
Tanka Karki, a former Nepali ambassador to China, said the joint military exercises could drastically affect the relationship between Nepal and China.
“Nepal and China share a multi-faceted tie and a joint military exercise broadens that relationship,” he said.
India is often accused of playing the role of “big brother” in Nepal as the landlocked tiny country is still heavily dependent on New Delhi for the majority of its imports. The previous Nepalese administration sought to decrease the dependence and deepened ties with China. The current government, mainly led by Maoists, has tried to repair ties with India although Kathmandu continues to receive massive cash from China despite its pledges to remain committed to India.
Beijing has also pledged to provide Nepal with a lavish investment of USD 8.3 billion in grand infrastructure projects, something that has clearly dwarfed India’s offer of USD 317 million.
China and India continue to jostle for more influence in impoverished Nepal as the two have been engaged in disputes regarding the situation of Tibet, which borders Nepal. China has repeatedly censured India’s support for separatist Buddhists living near China’s border, including their leader the Dalai Lama. India has yet to officially recognize China’s rule over Tibet while it insists that the Dalai Lama has a devoted following in Arunachal Pradesh, a region administered by India but claimed by China as southern Tibet.