Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) yesterday arrived in Kathmandu for talks marking the first visit to Nepal in a decade by a leader of the world’s second--largest economy.
The agenda for the visit has not been disclosed, but analysts expect Wen and Nepalese Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai to discuss investment from Beijing worth billions of US dollars in wide-ranging infrastructure projects.
“Baburam Bhattarai himself welcomed his Chinese counterpart at the international airport in Kathmandu. The visiting prime minister will be escorted to the premier’s office, where the two will hold talks on bilateral political and economic issues,” said Bishwadeep Pandey, Bhattarai’s personal secretary.
Nepalese Minister of Finance Barsha Man Pun said the leaders would sign agreements “on increasing Chinese assistance to Nepal” and discuss the Himalayan nation’s fractious peace process.
Wen is also expected to seek support for Beijing’s policies in Tibet, which has seen a wave of self-immolations over the past year in protest at Chinese rule.
Nepal, home to 20,000 Tibetan exiles, is under pressure to stem the flow of Tibetans fleeing their homeland.
Hundreds make the difficult and dangerous journey to neighboring Nepal every year, though their numbers have fallen sharply in the past few years.
More than 200 Tibetan exiles have been arrested in the past few days for illegally entering the nation, Nepali police said, as part of a security crackdown in the capital.
Sudhir Shahi, a police inspector at Thankot checkpoint, the main entrance to Kathmandu by road, said the detainees were held on Thursday and Friday.
Then-Chinese premier Zhu Rongji (朱鎔基) was the last Chinese leader to visit Nepal, in 2001, although recent years have seen a flurry of visits by Chinese delegations.
“This is the highest-level visit from China to Nepal in more than 10 years. It will be an important platform to strengthen the relationship between the two countries,” former Nepalese ambassador to Beijing Tanka Karki said.
“We can expect Chinese support in infrastructure development. China’s support for peace and constitution-making is also important,” Karki said.
Wen is expected to hold talks at a lunch meeting with the leaders of Nepal’s major political parties and visit Nepalese President Ram Baran Yadav.
The Chinese leader had been due to visit last month, but the trip was canceled amid speculation over security concerns.
He was scheduled to depart for the Middle East late yesterday.
Analysts say that while India has traditionally been the influential player in Nepal, China is making huge inroads in a country which is recovering after the end in 2006 of a decade-long civil war that killed about 16,000 people.
Since the end of the conflict, political infighting has paralyzed the country, but recent progress has been made in key areas of the peace process, including an agreement on the integration of 6,500 former Maoist fighters into the army.