KATHMANDU, Nepal (AP) – Xi Jinping on Saturday became the first Chinese president in more than two decades to visit Nepal, where he is expected to sign agreements on several infrastructure projects.
Xi arrived Saturday from India, where he met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Nepal is expected to tread cautiously while building relations with big neighbors India and China.
India has extensive influence on Nepal’s economy and politics, while China and Nepal share a border covered with high mountain peaks.
Jiang Zemin had been the last Chinese president to visit Nepal, making the trip in 1996, but other Chinese leaders – including premiers and foreign ministers – have since paid official visits to the Himalayan nation.
Tanka Prasad Karki, a former Nepalese diplomat, said that a Chinese president had not visited Nepal in such a long time because “China was waiting for a strong government in Kathmandu, as the last few decades were marked by a Maoist war, frequent changes of government and political instability.”
Xi was received by Nepalese President Bidhya Devi Bhandari and Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli at the Kathmandu airport.
Trans-Himalayan connectivity and an extradition treaty will be high on the agenda during official talks on Sunday, said Narayan Kaji Shreshta, a spokesman for the ruling Nepal Communist Party. He said the countries are also expected to sign a project report on constructing a rail link between Kathmandu and Keirung in Tibet.
Nepalese officials ruled out the possibility of any immediate agreement on the extradition issue. China has been pressing Nepal to sign the treaty for some years to improve administration of border areas and fight against illegal border crossing and transnational crimes like banking fraud, trafficking and the smuggling of gold and wildlife parts, Nepalese officials said.
Police said they had arrested 22 people, including some Tibetan refugees, since Friday to prevent any protests during Xi’s visit.
Xi’s two-day visit to India came at a time of tensions over Beijing’s support for Pakistan, India’s archrival, in opposing New Delhi’s downgrading of Kashmir’s semi-autonomy and continuing restrictions in the disputed region.
Indian Prime Minister Modi told Xi on Saturday that relations between their countries had attained stability and momentum in the past year, and that it should enable them to manage their differences and avoid disputes.
The two leaders avoided the vexed Kashmir dispute from clouding their summit in the seaside temple town of Mamallapuram. Modi said both countries agreed to be sensitive to each other’s concerns as they held delegation-level talks.
Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale said the two countries decided to set up a group at the finance ministers’ level to discuss trade and investment issues, especially India’s whopping $63 billion trade deficit with China.
According to India’s Commerce Ministry, India’s exports to China amounted to $13.33 billion in the 2018 financial year, compared with imports of $76.38 billion.
Tensions in Kashmir, which is divided between Pakistan and India but claimed by both in its entirety, have escalated since August, when India downgraded the semi-autonomy of Indian-administered Kashmir and imposed a security and communications lockdown.
China supported Pakistan in raising India’s actions at the U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York. China said India should not act unilaterally in Kashmir, a portion of which China also controls.
Xi arrived in India two days after hosting Pakistani Prime Minister Khan in Beijing.
India accuses neighboring Pakistan of arming and training insurgent groups fighting for Kashmir’s independence or its merger with Pakistan. Pakistan denies the charge. The two countries have fought two wars over the region’s control since they won independence from British colonialists in 1947.