The trilateral relations between India, China and Nepal is getting complex as Kathmandu continues to please Beijing and ignore Delhi. Nepal will hold a second defence exercise under Sagarmatha Friendship-2 with China from September 17 to 28 in Chengdu. The joint exercise will mainly focus on counter-terror operations. Does this collaboration hint at Nepal not being pleased by Indian attempts to expand security and defence union within BIMSTEC?
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The decision of Nepal to withdraw from the joint BIMSTEC military drill in Pune couldn’t have come at a worse time for India with the Nepal army set to partake in a 12-day long defence practice with China later this month.
Nepal Army spokesperson Brig Gen Gokul Bhandaree told The Times of India on Monday “The main focus of the exercise is going to be on counter-terror operations.” The first such joint exercise between Nepal and China took place in April 2017, leading to concerns in India over growing security association between Nepal and its northern neighbour. The second Nepal-China joint exercise will come days after the Nepal government ordered its army to pull out of the first-ever joint military practice by BIMSTEC nations.
The government of Nepal is not particularly pleased with attempts by India to boost security and defence cooperation within BIMSTEC. India though is still smarting from Nepal’s decision to withdraw at the last moment from the BIMSTEC exercise – when an advance army outfit from Kathmandu had already landed in India – and the exercise with China is unlikely to soothe nerves here.
As former foreign secretary, Kanwal Sibal says, participating in the BIMSTEC exercise would have supported the exercise with China. He said it is unfortunate that Nepal gets pleasure in provoking India needlessly.
“By taking such inconsiderate steps they will alienate Indian opinion more and the cost will be felt when Nepal faces a crisis in the future. They have to nurture the India relationship, not create distrust,” says Sibal. To be sure, Nepal hasn’t scaled up its military practice with China from what it was last year. As Bhandaree said, not more than 20 soldiers will participate in the Chengdu exercise.