China to give $21 million to Nepal army to help future disaster relief

FILE PHOTO: Nepal's President Bidhya Devi Bhandari and China's President Xi Jinping inspect an honor guard during a welcome ceremony at the Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu, Nepal October 12, 2019. Bikash Karki/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Nepal said on Monday that China will give its army about $21 million in unspecified “disaster relief materials” over the next three years, as Beijing strengthens its ties with Kathmandu.

Xi Jinping visited the Himalayan nation, which has traditionally leaned on neighboring India for help, on Oct. 12 in the first such trip by a Chinese president in more than two decades.

Nepal and China signed several agreements during Xi’s visit, including two connectivity projects that the Nepali government hopes will eventually reduce its dependence on India.

China has made rapid inroads into Nepal with aid and investment, amid growing concerns in India which considers the landlocked nation its area of influence.

After a devastating earthquake in 2015, which killed 9,000 people, China was among the first countries to send rescue and relief teams to Nepal.

One of the projects is part of Xi’s high-profile Belt and Road Initiative that seeks to connect Asia with Europe and Africa by roads, railways and sea.

The agreement on disaster relief was signed by Nepali defense minister Ishwar Pokharel, who is on a visit to China, and his counterpart Wei Fenghe over the weekend in Beijing, a government statement said.

“The humanitarian and disaster relief materials will be handed over to Nepal as per our army’s requirement over the next three years,” Ministry of Defence official Santa Bahadur Sunwar told Reuters.

Army spokesman Bigyan Raj Pandey said the list of items had not yet been finalised.

Editing by Alexander Smith