It is not every day that the military chief of the world’s emerging superpower stops by a tiny Himalayan nation. So when General Chen Bingde, Chief of General Staff of China’s People’s Liberation Army, touched down in Kathmandu on March 23, all of Nepal was watching. Chen didn’t disappoint: he signed a military-aid deal worth $20 million and promised that there was more to come. He also took the chance to comment on Chinese-Nepali relations, saying that ties between the two countries are important to “world peace and the Asia-Pacific region.”
Referencing the Asia-Pacific region on a three-day visit to South Asia might seem odd but it wasn’t accidental. Chen’s comments reflect China’s not-so-subtle effort to solidify its territorial claims and enhance its regional influence. Though Nepal is tiny, with a population that barely exceeds those of the Middle Kingdom’s largest cities, China sees it as an ally on sensitive, geostrategic issues like India and Tibet. Nepal’s government, meanwhile, seems eager to embrace its new patron. Twenty million is a trifle to China but means a lot to Nepal’s war-weary army. By the time Chen left, the country’s Maoist-backed leader, Jhalanath Khanal, vowed once again that there would be no “anti-Chinese activities” on Nepal’s soil.