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Beijing to send high-ranking party leader to Nepal as political crisis unfolds

Beijing to send high-ranking party leader to Nepal as political crisis unfolds

In May this year, when the dispute within the Communist Party of Nepal was at its height, Chinese Ambassador Hou Yanqi visited the top brass of the ruling party and President Bidya Devi Bhandari.

There was a temporary truce in the party.

Again in July, Hou had to make the rounds when bitter infighting within the party erupted once more. Subsequently, the situation calmed down 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, appears to have caught Hou and his political masters in Beijing by surprise.

Beijing is now sending a senior leader of the Chinese Communist Party to Kathmandu.

Guo Yezhou, a vice minister of the International Department of the Chinese Communist Party, will arrive in Kathmandu on Sunday, according to at least two leaders of the Communist Party of Nepal. He is leading a four-member team to Nepal for a four-day visit, according to sources from both factions of the Communist Party of Nepal.

Bishnu Rijal, deputy head of the Foreign Relations Department of the Communist Party of Nepal (Dahal-Nepal faction), confirmed to the Post that the Chinese had communicated about Gou's visit to Kathmandu.

"I don't have many details to share with you at the moment," Rijal said.

Chinese leaders, observers say, made many efforts to unite the then CPN-UML and the Maoist Center to form the Communist Party of Nepal, and their interest in keeping their unity intact continues.

"They have invested heavily in Nepal and are competing with India, so their interest is growing," said Dinesh Bhattarai, a former ambassador who served as foreign affairs 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 nearly a year, Delhi, with which Oli's relations had deteriorated over border issues, in October suddenly began to show renewed interest in Nepal.

The absence of official exchanges between Nepal and India ended after Delhi sent the head of the Research and Analysis Wing, Samant Goel, to Kathmandu. The visit was followed by visits from 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 hosting US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The visit by Pompeo and the US Defense Chief Mark Esper aimed to strengthen strategic ties in the face of growing Chinese influence in the region.

Concerns grew in China.

Beijing decided to bring its Defense Minister Wei Fenghe to Nepal on November 29, two days after India's Foreign Secretary concluded her visit. But an advance team from China had already made rounds among the leaders of the Communist Party of Nepal.

A leader of the Communist Party of Nepal admits that the increased 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 recent months," a Standing Committee member familiar with the Chinese position on Nepal told the Post. "But [Oli's] decision to dissolve the Chamber seems to have caught the Chinese off guard."

Despite Chinese concerns about infighting in the Communist Party of Nepal, by dissolving the House on Sunday, Oli dropped a bomb.

The dissolution of the Chamber had an immediate impact on the party.

On Tuesday night, hours after the party practically split, Chinese Ambassador Hou visited President Bhandari.

On Thursday, Hou met with Dahal and then on Friday, held talks with Madhav Nepal. He also held meetings with Krishna Bahadur Mahara, former speaker of the House of Representatives and Dahal confidant, and Barsha Man Pun, another Dahal ally and energy minister until he resigned in protest against the dissolution of the House on Sunday.

"In addition to other matters, she asked about recent events in our party and wanted to know if there was any possibility of reconciliation [in our party]," Pun told the Post. "She was also interested in whether Chinese investment in Nepal would suffer in the changed scenario."

Chinese investments include the construction of an international airport in Pokhara, which is under way, and the second phase of the ring road expansion in Kathmandu is also progressing, according to Finance Ministry officials.

"Due to the Covid pandemic, some projects financed by China with investment from the Chinese private sector were severely affected, but the overall progress is not bad," a Finance Ministry official said on condition of anonymity.

China has its own security concerns and wanted to see political stability and a stable government in Nepal, according to observers.

"The Chinese are concerned about the Communist Party of Nepal, the party's chances of unity in the future," Sundar Nath Bhattarai, president of the Center for China Studies, told the Post. "Any change or political upheaval can easily be of concern to Ser, as he has his own security interests."

Despite having relations with Kathmandu for the past six decades, Beijing has never been more visible in recent times, especially since the government of the Communist Party of Nepal was installed nearly three years ago.

The Communist Party of Nepal and the Communist Party of China had increased their commitments. In September last year, a month before Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to Kathmandu, the Communist Party of Nepal had even organized a two-day symposium on Xi Jinping Thought.

Ambassador Hou had also suddenly increased her meetings with the Nepalese communist leaders.

"By their very nature, the Chinese did not participate in micromanaging Nepalese politics like the Indians," said former Ambassador Bhattarai. "They were against this division. They thought there would be a give and take between the leaders of the Communist Party of Nepal, but that didn't happen. So they must be unhappy."

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