KATHAMANDU, AFP -- Nepal's prime minister left Tuesday on his first official visit to China as the impoverished Himalayan nation seeks closer ties and much-needed energy and infrastructure investment from its powerful northern neighbour.
K.P. Sharma Oli will meet President Xi Jinping during his six-day visit to China, which has flexed greater economic and diplomatic muscle in Nepal in recent years and raised hackles in traditional ally India.
In an address Monday to parliament, Oli praised China's economic support for Nepal, one of the region's poorest countries and sandwiched between the two Asian giants.
"Our government's agenda is to expediate development and during my visit we will focus on securing support for our work," Oli said.
China is the single largest donor to Nepal's reconstruction after a devastating earthquake in 2015, and Kathmandu has signed up to Beijing's ambitious Belt and Road initiative, which New Delhi opposes.
India, which has long considered Nepal part of its sphere of influence, has pledged its own major infrastructure projects to counter China's influence but Beijing still outspends it in the Himalayan nation.
The Belt and Road infrastructure project will be on the agenda when the two leaders meet, Oli's office said, as will energy, power transmission and plans for a railway linking Kathmandu to the border with China.
China has courted favour with Nepal in recent years, particularly through costly hydropower projects to alleviate its crippling energy shortages.
In 2017 Chinese firms pledged more than $8.3 billion in investment, dwarfing Indian commitments of $317 million.
As prime minister in 2015, Oli blamed India for interfering in protests in Nepal's south that saw the border blocked and energy and goods restricted as the country struggled to recover from an earthquake.
Oli won strong public support as he stoked anti-India sentiment over the blockade. He used the platform again during his re-election campaign last year.
But Oli chose India for his first official overseas visit in an apparent attempt to improve relations.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi returned the favour a month later by inaugurating a mega-hydropower plant during a visit to Nepal.