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China extends reach in S.Asia with Nepal aid deal

by Staff Writers
Kathmandu (AFP) March 24, 2011
China's army chief wrapped up a high level visit to Nepal on Thursday, signing a new aid deal with Kathmandu's military that further cements ties between the two neighbours.

General Chen Bingde, chief of the general staff of China's People's Liberation Army, arrived in Kathmandu on Wednesday for the first visit by a high-level Chinese military delegation in 10 years.

The 70-year-old signed two agreements with his Nepalese counterpart, General Chhatraman Singh Gurung, in which he announced 1.4 billion rupees (19 million dollars) worth of aid to the Nepalese army for infrastructure development.

Due to its strategic location, Nepal is often caught between Asia's two giants, India and China.

"The purpose of my visit is to strengthen friendship and cooperation between Nepal and China," Chen told reporters.

"This cooperation is not only conducive for our people but also for the world peace and the Asia Pacific region."

Chen, who led a 15-member delegation including the top security official from neighbouring Tibet, held talks with Nepal's President Ram Baran Yadav, Prime minister Jhalanath Khanal and Defence Minister Bishnu Paudel.

Analysts say while India has traditionally been the influential player in Nepal, China is making inroads in the Himalayan nation that is recovering after the end in 2006 of a decade-long civil war which killed 16,000 people.

"The Nepalese army is seen as the only strong state institution. This is why the Chinese are keen on investing in it," Sudheer Sharma, editor of Nepalese newspaper Kantipur told AFP.

"The former monarchy until its end in 2008 acted as an ally for the Chinese. With the monarchy gone, they are in a lookout for a trustworthy ally and Nepalese army could well be the one," he added.

China has also expanded its links with India's other neighbours, to the alarm of policymakers in New Delhi who see the moves as encroachment on their immediate sphere of influence in South Asia.

Beijing has historic ties with Pakistan, but has also begun building major infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

Thursday marked the end of the official part of Chen's visit. He was due to leave Nepal on Friday after a sightseeing trip to the ancient city of Bhaktapur in the Kathmandu valley.

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