With stability refrain, Chinese delegation explores unity formula for Nepal Communist PartyThe team during meetings with Dahal, Nepal and Khanal sought to know how the situation reached a tipping point and what political course Nepal may take, leaders say.
When Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli suddenly dissolved the House on December 20, it may not have taken long for the information to reach China. It, however, must have taken a while before its meaning sank in among Nepal watchers in Beijing.
Political crisis then quickly unfolded in Nepal. Two days after Oli’s move of dissolving the House, the Nepal Communist Party on Tuesday visibly split in two–led by Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal factions.
Chinese Ambassador Hou Yanqi then sprung into action. The same evening she rushed to Sheetal Niwas to meet with President Bidya Devi Bhandari who has in the past played crucial, but unwarranted, roles in keeping the party united.
Hou then met with Dahal, Nepal and some other leaders from their factions–Krishna Bahadur Mahara and Barsha Man Pun.
It dawned upon China that things had slipped out of hand. A week after Oli dropped the bombshell, Beijing rushed a four-member team led by Guo Yenzhou, a vice-minister of the International Department of the Communist Party of China, to Kathmandu in a desperate attempt to effect a patch-up between the two factions, which by then had already declared a war on each other.
In the last two days, Guo’s team has separately held talks with President Bhandari, Oli, Dahal, Nepal and Khanal. The delegation on Monday evening also met with Baburam Bhattarai, former prime minister and senior leader of the Janata Samajbadi Party.
The Chinese delegation is staying in Kathmandu for two more days, so more meetings are lined up.
Multiple leaders, including close aides to Bhandari, Oli, Dahal, Nepal and Khanal, the Post spoke to said during the meetings with all the leaders, the Chinese delegation’s central message was but one–keep the party united and that Beijing wants to see stability in Nepal.
“Though I have not been part of any of the meetings, per my communication with all three leaders, they are concerned about the party split and possible ramifications in Nepal’s national politics,” said Narayan Kaji Shreshta, spokesperson for the Nepal Communist Party (Dahal-Nepal faction). “The delegation has, however, not prescribed any roadmap to deal with the present crisis.”
Beijing is believed to have hugely invested in bringing together Oli’s CPN-UML and Dahal’s Maoist Centre in May 2018.
During the meetings, according to leaders, the Chinese delegation wanted to know the reason behind the discord between Nepal Communist Party top leadership, whether there is a possibility of a patch-up between the two factions, whether the split will have any impact on Nepal-China relations and future political course in Nepal.
Though the long-drawn-out Nepal Communist Party infighting culminated in Oli’s move of House dissolution, by his own admission too, many say, China had been closely following the developments in Kathmandu.
Analysts say Beijing’s concerns had started to grow in the wake of a series of visits from Delhi–chief of Indian spy agency in October and chief of Indian Army and foreign secretary in November. Those visits coincided with India and the United States signing an agreement aiming at strengthening strategic ties in the face of growing Chinese influence in the region.
But Beijing appeared to be confident that it still held sway over the Nepal Communist Party leaders–until Oli took the drastic step.
Sources say that the Chinese side, during its meeting with Oli, had expressed dismay over recent political developments in Kathmandu.
Oli, while holding the Dahal-Nepal faction responsible for the present mess, told the Chinese delegation that he took the step of House dissolution after not receiving adequate support from his party colleagues, according to a leader familiar with the meeting.
Rajan Bhattarai, Oli’s foreign relations advisor, told the Post that the Chinese delegation during its meeting with Oli expressed happiness about the deepening ties between the two countries.
“Discussions focused on areas of friendship and mutual cooperation,” Bhattarai told the Post. “Oli thanked the visiting delegation for China’s continued support and assistance in various sectors in Nepal.”
During their meetings with Dahal, Nepal and Khanal, according to leaders, the Chinese members urged them to join hands with Oli.
A leader said all three leaders, however, told the delegation that the situation has gone beyond repair.
“After enquiring how the situation unfolded to reach this point, they wanted to know about Nepal’s future political course,” said Shrestha. “They were of the view that it’s up to us to take a decision but expressed hope that Nepal will not go through any political upheaval, robbing the country of stability.”
China is also concerned that political turmoil in Nepal could put the efforts, amplified by President Xi Jinping’s visit in October last year, made to elevate Kathmandu-Beijing ties to “strategic partnership” go down the drain.
A joint communiqué issued after the conclusion of Xi’s visit last year categorically mentioned that both sides have “decided to elevate Nepal-China Comprehensive Partnership of Cooperation Featuring Ever-lasting Friendship to Strategic Partnership of Cooperation.”
Many say Beijing is now worried if the Nepali leadership that made the commitment is now backtracking.
According to Nepal Communist Party leaders, the Chinese delegation though did not bring up external forces, it conveyed Beijing’s message to the Nepali leadership that it is concerned about any political instability in Nepal.
“In all his meetings, the Chinese delegation said that Beijing believes that the Nepali leadership is capable of dealing with any challenges,” said a leader familiar with the meetings. “The delegation said that stability in Nepal is Beijing’s prime concern in the face of fast-changing geopolitical situations.”
Back in Beijing, during a daily press briefing, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian said that China hopes relevant parties in Nepal can take into account the national interests and the big picture, properly manage internal differences and commit themselves to political stability and national development.
Responding to a query on the purpose of the Chinese delegation’s visit to Kathmandu, Zhao said: “For a long time, the Communist Party of China has maintained close and friendly exchanges with the major political parties in Nepal, which has played a positive role in enhancing political mutual trust, deepening mutual learning of state governance, promoting cooperation, and consolidating traditional friendship.”
“By paying this visit, the International Department of the CPC Central Committee wishes to exchange views with the Nepali side on issues of mutual interest, such as epidemic prevention and control, state governance, and cooperation and development, and strengthen exchanges and cooperation between Chinese and Nepali political parties,” said Zhao.
Zhao stressed that the Communist Party of China “adheres to four principles guiding inter-party relations, namely, independence, complete equality, mutual respect and non-interference in each other's internal affairs”.
“China stands ready to work with the political parties of Nepal to promote the continuous development of the China-Nepal strategic cooperative partnership featuring ever-lasting friendship for development and prosperity for the benefit of the two countries and the two peoples,” said Zhao.
Nepal’s Foreign Ministry failed to provide any details about the Chinese delegation’s meetings with Nepali leaders.
Its representatives were not present in the Chinese delegation’s meetings with the President, prime minister and former prime ministers.
As per the practice and set tradition, representatives of the foreign ministry should be present during such high-stake meetings.
“The delegation did not come at our invitation so we are not much aware of the visit,” Sewa Lamsal, spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry, told the Post. “The ongoing engagements seem to be at the party-to-party level. So we were not involved in the meetings.”