New Delhi (AP) — Nepal’s prime minister held talks with his Indian counterpart on Thursday as India and its rival China bid for influence in the tiny Himalayan nation as part of a greater regional power struggle.
Pushpa Kamal Dahal met Narendra Modi in New Delhi during a four-day visit to India, his first trip abroad since taking office last December. After the meeting, the two prime ministers remotely inaugurated several projects, including a cargo railway line and two border checkpoints, and oversaw the signing of a slew of agreements.
Modi said they agreed to further deepen their historic ties and “take our relations to Himalayan heights.” He said they agreed to resolve all their outstanding issues, including a border dispute.
Dahal said at a joint news conference that they reviewed ongoing projects and discussed ways to further cooperate in connectivity, energy and people-to-people contact.
New Nepalese prime ministers traditionally visit neighboring India soon after taking office.
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Nepal is bordered on three sides by India, with an open frontier allowing traffic without passports or visas.
Until recently, India was a dominant force in Nepal, but China’s involvement has grown in the last few years. China has invested in the building of airports, highways and hydropower projects. Beijing views Nepal as key to its massive transcontinental infrastructure Belt and Road Initiative that builds on old Silk Road routes that once connected China to the West.
Landlocked Nepal, however, remains dependent on India for all its oil needs and many other necessities.
In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Nepali Foreign Minister Narayan Prakash Saud said his country will work to enhance its relations with both India and China while maintaining a policy of nonalignment.
India has been wary of Nepal since it elected a communist government in 2017. A coalition government headed by a communist prime minister has again taken power after an election in late 2022.
Relations with India soured in 2015, when it supported protests by ethnic groups in southern Nepal against a new constitution and imposed an unofficial economic blockade, shutting down the supply of oil and goods over the border.
The previous communist government issued a new map of the country in 2020 that includes an area claimed by both India and Nepal, further angering New Delhi.
This is Dahal’s third time in office since his Maoist group abandoned a decade-long armed revolt and joined a U.N.-assisted peace process and entered mainstream politics in 2006. The conflict killed more than 17,000 people.