China says to hold first military drills with Nepal next year

BEIJING (Reuters) - China will hold its first military drills with Nepal next year, China’s Defence Ministry said on Thursday, in a move that could unnerve neighboring India.

China is vying to increase its influence in landlocked Nepal, which serves as a natural buffer between China and India, challenging India’s long-held position as the dominant outside power.

While China and India have tried to improve ties, a festering border dispute and deep mutual suspicions remain.

Speaking at a monthly news conference, Chinese Defence Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun said that China and Nepal’s militaries had in recent years had many forms of exchanges.

China and Nepal had been in “initial communication” about joint army exercises, and details would be announced in due tome, Yang said without giving details.

The ministry said on its website this would be the first joint military exercises between the two countries.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie