Nepal and China are poised to open a new avenue of defence diplomacy, with the Nepal Army (NA) and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) conducting their first ever joint military drill this month.
They seek to exchange skills and knowledge on disaster management and counter-terrorism through the drill.
Officials from the NA and the PLA are to hold their final meeting this week to fix date, venue and the number of participating soldiers in the drill.
“We will soon make public the date of the NA-PLA combined exercise aimed at enhancing professionalism and defence diplomacy between Nepal and China,” said NA spokesman and Brigadier General Tara Bahadur Karki.
The Chinese Ministry of National Defence spokesperson and senior Colonel Yang Yujun announced on Dec. 29 last year that a military exercise would be conducted with the NA in February.
Nepal has been conducting similar drills with India and the U.S. on a regular basis.
The first drill with the PLA is seen as a significant step to further cement the centuries-old relationship with Nepal’s northern neighbor and contribute to the regional peace.
“The decision to hold the Nepal-China combined military drill is a very welcome move, which should have been organized 15 or 20 years ago,” said Dr Prem Singh Basnyat, a retired brigadier general of NA.
Dr Basnyat said that combined drills opened the door for further military cooperation between the two nations. “They will exchange their skills and also learn each other’s shortcomings. This will enhance our military prestige in the world community.”
He noted that the countries such as the U.S. and the U.K. that lie in far-away locations came to participate in joint military exercises with the NA. “But China is our close and immediate neighbor, so it is natural for Nepal to carry out military exercise with it.”
According to him, the NA’s relation with the Chinese army is older than India’s. It began with the Betrawoti Treaty, also known as the Nepal-Tibet Treaty, following the Sino-Nepal War in 1792, in which the Qing emperor pledged to help Nepal defend against any external aggression. However, the Qing Dynasty became weak in the 19th century and failed to respect this treaty when the British East India Company invaded Nepal in 1814.
The NA, created by Nepal’s founding father Prithvi Narayan Shah, fought bravely against the British invaders and protected Nepal from going into the fold of the British East India Company. Amar Singh Thapa, Balbhadra Kunwar and Bhakti Thapa were the generals who effectively stopped the British soldiers.
Similarly, the PLA, founded by charismatic generals Zhu De, He Long, Ye Jianying and Zhou Enlai in 1927, during the Nanchang uprising when troops of the Kuomintang (KMT) rebelled after the massacre of the Communists by Chiang Kai-shek, drove out foreign aggressors and emerged victorious in the civil wars under its supreme commander Chairman Mao.
Against this backdrop, the decision to carry out the combined drill between the NA and PLA has drawn positive response in Nepal, but a section of Indian media and intellectuals showed some signs of jitters over it, prompting Indian State Minister for External Affairs V K Singh to allay their unfounded fears.
“The Nepal-China military drill will not affect Nepal-India relations. Relations between the Nepal Army and Indian Army stand on their own. Let’s not see these relations through the lens of a third country,” Singh told a press meet organized at his office about a month ago.
NA spokesman Karki made it clear that Nepal was free to propose and conduct any kind of military exercise with nations that it has bilateral relations with.
“The military drill, either with China or India or America, takes place as per our annual calendar. Thus, the Nepal-China military drill should not be viewed from another angle,” Karki told The Rising Nepal, English daily published from Kathmandu.