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China deepens bilateral defence ties with Sri Lanka, Maldives, and Nepal

By: Staff Writer

March 14, Colombo (LNW): A Chinese military delegation on Wednesday wrapped up a visit to three of India’s closest neighbours – the Maldives, Sri Lanka and Nepal – to boost bilateral defence ties, deepening relations in a region that New Delhi considers its sphere of influence.

Beijing is seeking to build closer ties in South Asia in a push to counter its strategic rival India for influence.

Last week, the Maldives said it had signed a “military assistance” deal with China after ordering Indian troops deployed in the small but strategically-placed archipelago to leave.

And Beijing confirmed Wednesday that a delegation had visited the country and met with pro-China President Mohamed Muizzu during a trip that also took them to Sri Lanka and Nepal from March 4 to 13.

In all three countries, “they exchanged views on military relations and regional security issues of common concern”, the Chinese military said in a statement on its official WeChat account.

The delegation of officials from the military’s international military cooperation department focused on “in-depth consultations on promoting bilateral defence cooperation”.

“A series of consensus was reached to further enriched defence cooperation between the PLA and the relevant countries,” it added, referring to the Chinese military by its official acronym.

India is suspicious of China’s growing presence in the Indian Ocean and its influence in the Maldives, a chain of 1,192 tiny coral islands stretching around 800 kilometres (500 miles) across the equator, as well as in neighbouring Sri Lanka.

Both South Asian island nations are strategically placed halfway along key east-west international shipping routes.

Beijing also enjoys close ties with Nepal, led by Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, an ex-Maoist guerrilla known by his nom de guerre Prachanda.

Ties between Beijing and New Delhi have grown tenser in recent months, strained by disputes over how their borders should be drawn to the passage of Chinese survey vessels in the Indian Ocean. In 2020, relations nosedived after 20 Indian and four Chinese soldiers were killed during a border skirmish.

 On Tuesday, India rejected Chinese objections to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s weekend visit to Arunachal Pradesh in the eastern Himalayas, which China claims to be a part of southern Tibet.

Adding to India’s unease, China has been trying to boost ties with nations in the Indian Ocean since the world’s second-biggest economy reopened its borders after three years of self-imposed pandemic curbs.

China this year elevated ties with the Maldives when its newly elected President Mohamed Muizzu pivoted from India and paid his first state visit to Beijing after winning on on “India Out” campaign platform, vowing to remove a small Indian military presence of about 75 personnel from the island nation.

China would provide it with “military assistance”, a media report cited the Maldivian defence ministry as saying earlier this month.Beijing’s interest in the Indian Ocean is also commercial.Half of its oil imports pass through the region.

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