Wei’s visit to Kathmandu was announced by the Nepalese foreign ministry on Saturday. Nepal Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa was at hand to welcome Wei as he arrived on a day long visit

NEW DELHI: Was it by design or coincidence?

Two days after Indian foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla concluded a trip to Nepal seen as one to stabilize ties after a bitter border row, China’s Defence Minister Wei Fenghe landed in Kathmandu to meet Nepal's top leadership and bolster military cooperation.

Wei’s visit to Kathmandu was announced by the Nepalese foreign ministry on Saturday

Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa was at hand to welcome Wei as he arrived on a day long visit, PTI quoting state-run Nepal Television said. The Chinese Defence Minister, who also holds the rank of State Councillor, told reporters that his visit was aimed at implementing bilateral agreements reached between the two governments in the past. This is the highest-level visit from China after President Xi Jinping’s two-day state visit in October last year.

A statement by the Nepalese foreign ministry on Sunday gave no details of the content of the talks between Wei Fenghe and his hosts.

It merely said that the “State Councillor and Minister of National Defence of the People’s Republic of China, paid courtesy calls on Rt. Hon. President Bidya Devi Bhandari and Rt. Hon. Prime Minister Mr. K P Sharma Oli this afternoon. During the calls on, views were exchanged on matters of mutual interest including the further promotion of traditionally friendly relations between Nepal and China."

“Earlier, he held a meeting with General Purna Chandra Thapa, Chief of the Army Staff of Nepali Army at Army Headquarters, Bhadrakali," it added.

Wei’s visit to Kathmandu is expected to be closely watched in New Delhi. India is currently engaged in a military standoff with China along its borders in Ladakh.

India has been wary of China’s increasing influence in countries along its periphery. New Delhi views South Asia as within its sphere of influence but of late Beijing has been investing in infrastructure and other projects in South Asia. Last year, on his way back from the second informal summit with prime minister Narendra Modi in Chennai, Chinese president Xi Jinping stopped in Kathmandu on a day long visit which was the first in 23 years. Besides almost two dozen pacts aimed at linking Nepal more closely with China, the joint statement issued after Xi’s visit was notable for Beijing’s desire to emerge as a net security provider for Nepal.

China's political profile in Nepal has been on the rise in the recent years with billions of dollars of investments coming in under Beijing's multi-billion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), including the building of the Trans-Himalayan Multi-Dimensional Connectivity Network.

In the past months, China has been seen as involved in helping resolve political frictions within Nepal’s Communist Party. China's ambassador to Nepal Hou Yanqi has been making efforts to garner support for the pro Beijing Oli who faced rebellion within his party.

According to the PTI report, Wei said that his visit will promote bilateral military cooperation between Nepal and China, and take the existing friendly relations between the two neighbours to new levels.

Nepal’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that Wei will pay courtesy calls on President Bidhya Devi Bhandari and Prime Minister and Minister for Defence K P Sharma Oli during his brief stay in Kathmandu. He is also scheduled to hold a delegation-level meeting with Nepal’s Chief of Army Staff General Purna Chandra Thapa.

Earlier this month, Indian army chief Manoj Mukund Naravane had visited Nepal, seen as a visit aimed at mending ties after a bitter row between India and Nepal in May. Nepal had objected to India constructing a road which it said lay inside Nepal’s boundaries. The Oli government then went ahead and got a new map cleared by its parliament which included three areas that India views as its territory as lying within Nepal’s boundaries despite protests from New Delhi. The move led to a souring of ties. Oli however called Indian prime minister Narendra Modi on 15 August to extend greetings on the occasion of India’s Independence Day – which was seen as the beginning of a thaw between the two sides.

The visit by the Indian army chief was followed by one last week by foreign secretary Shringla during which the Nepalese prime minister expressed his country’s desire to build on the momentum in the bilateral relationship with India and enhance the level of bilateral engagement. Shringla on his part had conveyed India’s interest in deepening economic linkages, promoting connectivity, expanding the development partnership and strengthening people-to-people contacts, particularly among the youth, the person said. The foreign secretary’s discussions with Oli included “a candid review of the state of the bilateral relationship, and the potential for bringing India and Nepal ever closer," a person familiar with the discussions said. Ahead of his departure from Kathmandu while addressing a think tank, Shringla had said: “I have been left with no doubt that our countries are on the same page and share the same vision." This was after his meetings with Nepal’s president Bidya Devi Bhandari, prime minister Oli, foreign minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali, and foreign secretary Bharat Raj Paudyal, indicating that misunderstandings in the relationship between the two nations have been ironed out.