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Chinese Defence Minister on Thursday called on Nepal Prime Minister Prachanda and discussed a range of bilateral issues including defence cooperation ahead of the first joint military exercise between Nepal and China. General Chang Wanquan, who leads the 2.3-million-strong People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the world’s largest, arrived in Kathmandu on Thursday with a 19-member delegation on a three-day goodwill visit at the invitation of Defence Minister Balkrishna Khand.
Chang, the first Chinese Defence Minister to visit Nepal in 16 years, is expected to discuss bilateral military cooperation and the ‘One Belt, One Road’ (OBOR) initiative, an ambitious project viewed with suspicion by India. India has some concerns over the OBOR, which includes a maze of projects connecting China with Euro-Asia and is floated by Beijing as a connectivity and economic project.
The visit comes ahead of the Indian Army chief General Bipin Rawat’s four-day official visit to Nepal from March 28. Chang met Prachanda who is scheduled to leave for China tonight for high-level talks. “He is the first Chinese Defence Minister to visit Nepal after a gap of 16 years, which is a matter of pleasure for us,” said a senior official at the Defence Ministry.
The Chinese defence minister’s visit coincides with the first joint military exercise between the Nepal Army and the PLA scheduled later this year. Chang will receive a briefing on the joint exercise and also visit Nepal Army’s Kathmandu Valley unit.
He will call on President Bidya Devi Bhandari tomorrow and meet his Nepalese counterpart Balkrishna Khand and Nepal Army chief Rajendra Chhetri. Chang and Nepalese officials will discuss issues relating to bilateral military cooperation and proposed joint military exercise, according to officials.
The delegation accompanying Chang will discuss the ideas floated last year by then Nepalese prime minister KP Sharma Oli during his visit to China. A possible support to Nepal Army from China is also on the cards for discussion.
Prachanda will visit China to take part in the Boao conference which is committed to promoting regional economic integration and bringing Asian countries closer to their development goals. The Prime Minister said that the main objective of his visit to China will be to build confidence though there is no plan to sign any new agreement.
Prachanda said he will hold high-level talks with Chinese officials during the visit, which will be instrumental in strengthening bilateral relations. He will also meet Chinese President Xi Jinping. Hours before flying to China, Prachanda held discussions about agenda of the visit with former prime ministers, former foreign ministers and foreign policy experts at his official residence.