General Wei Fenghe’s visit is going to strengthen the friendly ties subsisting between the PLA and the NA and between Nepal and China.
State Councilor and the Minister of National Defense of the People's Republic of China General Wei Fenghe is arriving in Kathmandu on Sunday on a day long visit to Nepal as the first leg of his south Asia trip. It is worth noting to look back the series of events in the past three years that have linkages with this visit.
Nepal and China have deep-rooted cultural and people-to-people relations since ages. This year marks the 65th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. The relations between the two countries are firm and unshakable. The foundations of Nepal-China relations are guided by the five principles of peaceful co-existence and mutual trust. Understanding, good neighborly cooperation, and sensitivities to the issues of each other’s core national interests are the hallmarks of Nepal-China relations. Nepal extends its unflinching support to China on 'One China Policy' and assures that Nepali soil will not be allowed to use against China. Nepal greatly values its relation with China and appreciates China's support for Nepal's sovereign independence, territorial integrity, political stability, and developmental aspirations.
Both the countries have concluded the heads of the state’s level historic state visits in 2019 and reached several agreements and understandings including elevating relations to strategic cooperative partnership for development and prosperity. Both sides have agreed to promote the trans-Himalayan Multi-dimensional Connectivity Network under the MoU on Belt and Road Cooperation signed in 2017 and further continue high-level exchange between the two sides. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Ishwar Pokharel visited China in October 2019 and concluded fruitful meetings and signed an agreement with State Councilor and Defense Minister Gen Wei Fenghe whereby China will extend RMB 150 million (approximately Rs 2.55 billion) worth of grant assistance to Nepal Army (NA).
Deputy Prime Minister Pokharel extended an invitation to State Councilor and Defense Minister Gen Wei for visiting Nepal. In October 2018, Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Pokharel also concluded an official visit to China and held fruitful meetings with state leaders. It is worth mentioning that Chief of Army Staff General Purna Chandra Thapa also paid an official visit to China in June 2019 and signed a cooperation agreement between the two armies. The visit of State Councilor and Defence Minister Wei now can be considered as the consequence of all these high-level visits from Nepal and continuity of the tradition of high-level exchanges between two countries as agreed upon during high-level visits.
Strengthening cooperation between the two armies
Nepal is facing a continued surge of COVID-19 in the community level. But, Chinese leadership waged a war against the pandemic with firm resolve and became the first major economy to be able to largely control the spread of the COVID-19 and resume businesses as usual. People’s Liberation Army (PLA), as one of the major frontline fighters of this new virus in China, has drawn rich experience of successfully containing it. PLA’s experience can be useful for the NA as one of the major frontline government entities in the war against the pandemic in Nepal. It is relevant to mention that the PLA had also helped with medical supplies to NA. A wide range of issues such as security, military cooperation, exchange of information, building environment for expediting the implementation of the understandings reached during the high-level visit, and cooperation on combating the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to be discussed during this visit.
The ties between the NA and the PLA are long and strong. The PLA has been assisting the NA by providing weapons, equipment and trainings that have been very helpful to enhance its professional capabilities. This visit can be instrumental in expediting the delivery of the agreed items from the RMB 150 million worth of grant assistance pledged to NA last year during the visit of then Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Ishwar Pokhrel, which was said to have been impacted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This cooperation will significantly contribute to enhancing the modernization drive of NA in various areas including in its disaster response capability and communication.
Nepali people never forget the quiet, massive, effective, and professional service provided by PLA in search, rescue, and relief activities in coordination with NA immediately after the devastating earthquake of April 2015 in Nepal. The PLA deployed the most competent and highly experienced team of professionals who had already worked in several post-disaster searches, rescue and relief works such as the one during the Great Wenchuan Earthquake of Sichuan Province in 2008. As a part of the post-earthquake support, the PLA provided a mobile hospital to NA that immensely helped NA’s capability to extend emergency health service in the disaster-stricken remote place where there is a lack of health service facilities.
Opportunity for Nepal
Nepal, as a sovereign nation, has its right and ability to maintain friendly and mutually beneficial relations between different entities of friendly countries and extend cooperation in the matters of mutual concerns and interests. Nepal attaches high importance to its cordial relations between the two armies of Nepal and China. The relationship is guided by the tested principles of neutrality and Nepal’s firm resolve of not allowing its territory to be used against the other country. While maintaining a balanced relationship with its neighboring countries, the visit of the Chinese leader will give an opportunity for Nepal to demonstrate its consistency on non-aligned foreign policy in line with the National Security Policy. Interactions during this visit will also help to promote trust and confidence between the two sides to address each other’s core concerns and interests.
Although promptly rebutted by both the governments of Nepal and China, reports of alleged border encroachment by Chinese side in Humla district of Nepal have surfaced in a section of media recently. It is expected that his visit will help provide an opportunity to thwart such provocative propaganda and build confidence between the two sides. The NA has established a Directorate of Survey and Border Monitoring with a mandate to work with other relevant agencies in this area. So, the visit must be taken as an opportunity to address the issues which have a tendency to destabilize otherwise cordial relations between the two friendly neighbors.
This visit assumes greater significance for Nepal as General Wei is not only a military General but also a State Councilor, Minister of National Defense, and a member of the very powerful Central Military Commission. He will be one of the most senior Chinese government officials after President Xi to visit Nepal after October 2019. This demonstrates that China attaches great importance to its relation with Nepal. State Councilor and Minister Wei is one of the very few top leaders of China who has thorough knowledge, understanding, and goodwill towards Nepal. It is important that Nepal extend him the highest possible security and courtesy to benefit from his visit as it helps in building a person-to-person trust and confidence between the State Councilor and Minister General Wei and Nepali leadership including Gen Purna Chandra Thapa.
State Councilor and Minister is scheduled to visit the NA's headquarters and call on CoAS Thapa. Military diplomacy remains an important and inseparable part of public diplomacy. The PLA and NA operate side by side in different peacekeeping missions across the globe and have an outstanding relationship. The joint military exercise, “Ex-Sagarmatha Friendship” conducted every year between NA and PLA has been a hallmark of the relationship between the two armies. It is learned that the Covid-19 has prevented this year’s exercise which shall be resumed once the situation returns to normalcy.
Nepal is free to exercise its sovereign right without any external influence. The visit of Chinese Minister and State Councilor Gen Wei Fenghe is going to strengthen the friendly ties subsisting between the PLA and the NA and between Nepal and China. Meticulous planning, a high degree of professionalism, and precision with zero tolerance are required to handle security matters of visiting dignitary. Special security arrangements may be advisable in the current condition as the potential for disturbances cannot be completely ruled out.
This high-level visit is an opportunity for both the armies to take the bilateral cooperation forward in order to tackle the challenges facing the world. This visit may provide an opportunity to discuss ways to augment military-to-military cooperation including student exchange and joint exercise as well as experience sharing on the post-COVID-19 scenario. This is also an opportunity for Nepal to send a clear signal to both of its neighboring countries and the rest of the world that Nepal can manage its bilateral relationship without any biases based upon Nepal’s national interest.