India, China and Nepal's political crisis

The four-member Chinese delegation after landing in Kathmandu on Sunday. Photo: RSS

The arrival of a senior Chinese Communist Party (CCP) official in Kathmandu on Sunday, just as the ruling Nepal Communist Party is on the verge of a formal split, has underlined Beijing’s interest in keeping its fraternal party together.

The four-member delegation, clad in personal protective outfit, is led by Guo Yezhou, vice minister in the international department of the CCP. He is regarded as being the architect of the unification of the UML and the Maoist parties after their electoral alliance swept the federal polls in 2017.

“The CCP appears to be worried that the NCP is headed for a split, and Beijing thinks that if the party splits, India will increase its influence in Nepal,” an NCP source told Nepali Times. “By sending Guo Yezhou to Kathmandu, China is also signalling how worried it is about the political instability in Nepal.”

Guo Yezhou had come to Nepal three years ago after the UML and the Maoists signed a 7-point agreement to forge an electoral alliance, and NCP sources said he had played a pivotal role then in bringing the two parties together.

Guo Yezhou, vice minister in the international department of the CCP who arrived in Kathmandu on Sunday had in 2018 greeted Pushpa Kamal Dahal in a T-shirt at Guangzhou airport. Photo: Nepali Times archive

Guo Yezhou is also the same CCP official who greeted Pushpa Kamal Dahal (pictured above) when he visited China in September 2018. His appearance in a T-shirt to greet Dahal at Guangzhou airport was seen by many at the time as a snub to Dahal, who was party co-chair and K P Oli had been prime minister for just months. 

Just before going to China, Dahal had returned from a visit to New Delhi where he was greeted with the kind of welcome that heads of governments on official state visits get — he had meetings with Prime Minister Modi, and a banquet in his honour. 

However, in China a week later, neither President Xi Jinping nor Premier Li Keqiang met Dahal. Instead it was Guo Yezhou in an airport lounge in Guangzhou. For analysts who say every move by China is symbolic, Guo’s attire was taken as a deliberate snub to Dahal.

Even then, things were already turning frosty between Oli and Dahal, and New Delhi had appeared to send a message that Dahal was the PM-in-waiting, whereas Beijing wanted Oli to serve his five-year term and for the NCP to remain united. Dahal used to describe himself at the time as a “co-pilot" in the party and government.

Chinese Ambassador to Nepal Hou Yanqui had tried to patch up the personal rift between Oli and Dahal that has threatened to split the party twice in 2020, however even she seemed to have given up after Oli dissolved the Lower House on 20 December. 

She did meet Dahal last week before his faction faction registered a no-confidence motion and claimed the party name and symbol for itself in the Election Commission.

Guo Yezhou’s visit also comes amidst reports in the Indian media that Prime Minister Oli may be visiting New Delhi next week. Nepali officials have neither confirmed nor denied the report.

Guo Yezhou, senior Chinese Communist Party official arrived in Kathmandu on Sunday. Photo: RSS

The interest of Nepal’s two giant neighbours in the political crisis in Kathmandu has been heightened as embattled Prime Minister Oli fights for his political survival after the Dahal faction of the NCP is intensifying a campaign to unseat him. For all practical purposes, the NCP is already behaving like two separate parties.

There have been a flurry of visits by senior Indian and Chinese officials in the past month. On 27 November, Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla came to Kathmandu on a fence-mending exercise, following back-to-back visits earlier by Indian Army Chief Manoj Mukund Naravane and top Indian intelligence chief Samant Goel.  

This was followed by the one-day visit to Kathmandu by Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe last month during which he met PM Oli and other NCP leaders. Ambassador Yanqui appears to have signalled to Beijing that the NCP rift was too serious, and has called in party heavy lifters from Beijing.

Guo Yezhou is scheduled to meet PM Oli, President Bidya Devi Bhandari as well as Dahal and his other loyalist Madhav Kumar Nepal on Monday.