Shedding its image of being a reluctant player in the internal politics of Nepal, China has been playing an active role these past few days in Kathmandu’s power games.
Ambassador Hou Yanqi, Beijing’s envoy to Kathmandu, is being credited, in large measure, for the rapprochement at the top level of the ruling Nepal Communist Party and, in the process, saving the chair of Prime Minister K P Oli.
A crucial meeting of the nine-member party central secretariat ended Saturday night with Oli’s victory after a ‘let’s go together as a united face’ appeal by dissident leader and former Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda – on Wednesday night, it was Prachanda who had used the same forum to ask Oli to resign.
In the past ten days, ever since Chinese President Xi Jinping had a 40-minute phone conversation with Nepal counterpart Bidhya Devi Bhandari, ostensibly to promise all support to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, Ambassador Hou Yanqi has been very active – and visible.
President Xi had dropped broad political hints, lending support to Prime Minister Oli at a time when at least six of the nine central secretariat members had come out openly in favour of his exit as party chairman as well as Prime Minister.
“His Excellency the President of China expressed his happiness over the return of Right Honourable Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli to normal work schedule after his kidney transplant surgery and conveyed his best wishes to the Rt. Hon. Prime Minister of Nepal for his good health and happiness,” stated a press release issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on April 27, hours after the phone conversation.
“It was unusual for the Chinese President to convey his message to the Prime Minister of another country through the President,” a senior diplomat of Nepal, now retired, said. “After all, his happiness is also linked to his political success and defeat of dissidents,” the diplomat said.
Between April 27 and May 1, an official holiday, Ambassador Hou Yanqi met President Bhandari, Prime Minister Oli, Prachanda and former Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal — 15 minutes separated the last two meetings.
There has been no official word from any side about the meetings, but a highly placed source said Ambassador Hou Yanqi advised unity in the party and a stable government.
China has much at stake in Nepal given its involvement in developmental projects. Kathmandu is also a signatory to Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative.
Incidentally, Prachanda’s appeal for unity, following his call for ouster of Oli, took Madhav Nepal by surprise.
“I opposed Prime Minister Oli because I wanted the party to work under a system and as per norms and law and not as some one’s pocket borough. Two chiefs can always be on one side, but not at the cost of party principles,” said Nepal who declined to accept Oli’s offer to be the third chairman of the party after he and Prachanda.