China tests Nepal waters with $2.6 mn military aid

December 7th, 2008 - 5:10 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Dec 7 (IANS) A high-level military delegation headed by the deputy chief of China’s People’s Liberation Army Sunday met Nepal’s new Maoist Defence Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa ‘Badal’ to sign a $2.6 million military aid pact that analysts say is just a token to test the situation in the Himalayan republic.China’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Lt-Gen Ma Xiaotian, who arrived in Kathmandu Saturday at the head of a 10-member delegation, inked with Badal the security agreement that besides being “peanuts”, is also an old gift.

In January, the chief of Nepal Army, Gen. Rookmangud Katawal, had visited Beijing when Chinese Defence Minister Cao Gangchuan had offered assistance of 8 million yuan (about $1.1 million) that was to have comprised non-lethal military hardware.

Also, in September, when Badal visited China soon after assuming office, Beijing had pledged an additional security assistance of 10 million yuan (about $1.4 million).

The agreement signed by Ma Sunday is for the 18 million yuan committed during the two earlier visits.

Besides the assistance, China is also interested in holding joint military training with the Nepal Army, Nepal’s defence ministry said after the visit.

Nepal, on its part, has sought China’s help to regulate its open northern border with the Chinese republic.

Beijing is also said to have shown interest in helping with the integration of the Maoists’ guerrilla army, also called People’s Liberation Army that waged a 10-year war on the state from 1996, with the Nepal Army.

The integration remains a contentious issue. Though Nepal’s ruling parties in 2006 had agreed to the Maoist demand that the merger would take place once the rebels laid down arms, now there is both covert and open opposition by some of the very parties that had earlier agreed to it.

As a result, the all-party committee that was to have begun the merger is still to be formed in its entirety and even two years after signing the peace pact, the Maoist combatants are still languishing in cantonments that have become virtual prisons.

Besides China, the US and UN have expressed willingness to assist with the reintegration, an offer that till now has been spurned by Nepal, which says the committee would be able to do the job.

Ma’s visit therefore, coming close on the heels of the visit by another Chinese delegation last month, indicates Beijing’s desire to mend fences with the Maoists, whom it had branded as anti-government forces during the insurgency, without committing itself too much.

The wary dragon first wants to see if the Maoist government would be stable and is therefore going slow on gifts.

Developments are likely early next year when Maoist Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda is scheduled to visit Beijing again. China was Prachanda’s first port of call abroad after he took oath of office in August.

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