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

A Chinese military delegation recently visited the Maldives, Sri Lanka and Nepal to discuss further cooperation in defence issues.

Noteworthy, 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 this week 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”.

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.