Beijing is sending a senior party leader to Nepal as political crisis unfoldsGuo Yenzhou, a vice-minister in the Chinese Communist Party, is arriving today, days after the Nepal Communist Party split following the House dissolution by Prime Minister Oli.
In May this year, when the wrangling within the Nepal Communist Party was at its peak, Chinese Ambassador Hou Yanqi visited the ruling party’s top brass and President Bidya Devi Bhandari.
There was a temporary truce in the party.
Again in July, Hou had to do the rounds as the bitter infighting within the party erupted once again.
Subsequently, matters settled down once again.
But Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s decision to dissolve the House of Representatives on Sunday, knowing well enough that it could lead to a split in the party, seems to have caught Hou and her political masters in Beijing by surprise.
Beijing is now sending a senior Chinese Communist Party leader to Kathmandu.
Guo Yezhou, a vice-minister of the International Department of the Chinese Communist Party, is arriving in Kathmandu on Sunday, according to at least two Nepal Communsit Party leaders. He is leading a four-member team to Nepal for a four-day visit, according to sources in both factions of the Nepal Communist Party.
Bishnu Rijal, deputy head of the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Nepal Communist Party (Dahal-Nepal faction), confirmed to the Post that the Chinese had communicated about Gou’s visit to Kathmandu.
“I don’t have much detail to share with you at this point of time,” said Rijal.
The Chinese leadership, observers say, made a lot of efforts to bring the then CPN-UML and Maoist Centre together so as to form the Nepal Communist Party, and their interest to keep their unity intact continues.
“They have invested hugely in Nepal and are competing with India so their interest is growing,” said Dinesh Bhattarai, a former ambassador who served as foreign relations adviser to prime ministers Sher Bahadur Deuba and Sushil Koirala. “Now, with the sudden political changes in Kathmandu, they must be concerned.”
After a gap of almost a year, Delhi, with which Oli’s relations had soured over border issues, in October suddenly began to show its renewed interest in Nepal.
The absence of official exchanges between Nepal and India ended after Delhi sent the chief of the Research & Analysis Wing, Samant Goel, to Kathmandu. The visit was followed by visits by Manoj Mukund Naravane, the chief of the Indian Army, and Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla in November.
Delhi broke the ice with Kathmandu days before it hosted US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Pompeo and US Defence Chief Mark Esper’s visit was aimed at strengthening strategic ties in the face of growing Chinese influence in the region.
Concerns grew in China.
Beijing decided to rush its Defence Minister Wei Fenghe to Nepal on November 29, two days after Indian foreign secretary concluded his visit. But an advance team from China had already done the rounds among the Nepal Communist Party leadership.
A Nepal Communist Party leader admits that the larger Chinese interest in Nepal is also in the context of India’s influence in the country.
“The Chinese were concerned about a series of visits from India in the past few months,” a Standing Committee member who is aware of the Chinese position on Nepal told the Post. “But [Oli’s] decision to dissolve the House seems to have caught the Chinese unwares.”
Even though the Chinese concerns were there about the infighting in the Nepal Communist Party, by dissolving the House on Sunday, Oli dropped a bombshell.
The House dissolution had an immediate impact on the party.
On Tuesday evening, hours after the party virtually split, Chinese Ambassador Hou called on President Bhandari.
On Thursday, Hou met with Dahal and then on Friday, she held talks with Madhav Nepal. She also held meetings with Krishna Bahadur Mahara, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives and a confidant of Dahal, and Barsha Man Pun, another Dahal ally and energy minister until he resigned in protest against the House dissolution on Sunday.
“Besides other matters, she inquired about recent developments in our party and wanted to know whether there was any chance of reconciliation [in our party],” Pun told the Post. “She was also interested to know if Chinese investment in Nepal would suffer in the changed scenario.”
Chinese investments include the construction of an international airport in Pokhara, which is on track, and the second phase of Ring Road expansion in Kathmandu is also moving ahead, according to Finance Ministry officials.
“Due to the Covid pandemic, some China-funded projects with investment by the Chinese private sector were hit hard but overall progress is not bad,” said a Finance Ministry official on condition of anonymity.
China has its own security concerns and it wanted to see political stability and a stable government in Nepal, according to observers.
“The Chinese are concerned about the Nepal Communist Party, chances of party unity in the future,” Sundar Nath Bhattarai, chairman of China Study Center, told the Post. “Any changes or political turmoil can easily be cause for concern for Being as it has its own security interests.”
Despite having relations with Kathmandu for the last six decades, Beijing has never been as visible as of late, especially since the Nepal Communist Party government was installed nearly three years ago.
The Nepal Communist Party and the Chinese Communist Party had increased engagements. In September last year, a month ahead of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Kathmandu, the Nepal Communist Party had even organised a two-day symposium on Xi Jinping Thought.
Ambassador Hou too had suddenly increased her meetings with Nepali communist leaders.
“By their very nature, the Chinese were not involved in micro-management of Nepali politics like the Indians,” said former ambassador Bhattarai. “They were against this split. They thought there would be some give and take between the Nepal Communist Party leadership but that did not happen. So they must be unhappy.”