China dominates Nepal as rival communist factions create crisis

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* Communist Prime Minister dissolves parliament due to internal conflicts in his own party

* Supreme Court to decide whether unconstitutional

* Street protests against the Prime Minister’s policies during the pandemic

* Foreign diplomats say China angered by PM’s decision

* China has a strategic interest, infrastructure projects at stake

By Gopal Sharma and Rupam Jain

KATHMANDU, Dec.31 (Reuters) – Alarmed that a political crisis in Nepal could endanger China’s strategic interests and Belt and Road projects, a Chinese Communist Party envoy has held days of talks to try prevent the ruling Communist Party of the Himalayas from tearing itself apart.

The crisis erupted on December 20 when Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli decided he could no longer work with rival factions within his Communist Party of Nepal (NCP), which was formed in 2018 to unite the main parties. Marxist-Leninist and Maoist after their success in the elections at the end of 2017.

With two years of his tenure to run, Oli dissolved parliament and called for new elections in a move that foreign diplomats say took China by surprise and plunged the impoverished nation of 30 million people into it. uncertainty.

Seven ministers have resigned from Oli’s government and anger over the descent into political infighting at a time when the economy is reeling from the coronavirus has sparked protests in which effigies of the prime minister were burned.

Within days, Beijing sent Guo Yezhou, a vice-minister of the Communist Party of China (CPC) International Liaison Department, to Kathmandu, who manages relations with foreign political parties of all shades, both in power and in the opposition.

“It is obvious that China is angered by Oli’s sudden move in the midst of a pandemic … they are clearly concerned about the massive investments they have promised,” a senior European diplomat said.

“They are shocked at how Oli could make a bold political decision without prior consultation,” the diplomat said, requesting anonymity as he is not authorized to speak to the media.

Oli recommended that an election be held in two phases in April and May, but what happens next could be in the hands of the Supreme Court, as his opponents have challenged the dissolution of parliament as unconstitutional. A hearing will resume in January.

SPEAKING FROM ALL SIDES

Guo held separate meetings with Oli and Communist Party rivals to get their side of the story, as well as leaders of the main opposition party and other politicians.

Commenting on the delegation’s visit to Kathmandu, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said China hopes “all different parties in Nepal can put the national interest and the overall situation first. , and go from there, while properly managing internal differences and working for political stability and development of the country. “

Madhav Kumar Nepal, former prime minister and one of the main critics of Oli in the Communist Party of Nepal (NCP), was high on Guo’s dance card, and Ram Karki, the NCP’s deputy foreign chief attended their meeting.

“They want to listen more than they speak. They wanted to know the reason for the split in the party,” Karki said of the Chinese delegation.

“China still wants stability in Nepal. Since the CCP has a fraternal relationship with the PCN, they are concerned about the current situation. Certainly they tried to find out if there was a possibility of uniting the party,” Karki said.

Guo also held talks with the opposition leader of the Nepalese Congress Party and former Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba.

“Regardless of any changes in Nepal, China is keen to continue its relations with all political parties and economic cooperation, including the trans-Himalayan multidimensional connectivity network,” Dinesh Bhattarai, a Deuba aide present at the conference, told Reuters. meeting.

The network – involving the construction of ports, roads, railways, aviation and communications – was agreed during a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Nepal in October 2019. And the multibillion-dollar investment dollars in infrastructure could be a boon to Nepal’s struggling economy. .

INFLUENCE ON DISPLAY

Yet some foreign diplomats in Kathmandu viewed Guo’s mission as a cheeky demonstration of China’s growing influence over Nepal’s internal affairs.

“Why would a country rush a delegation to a neighboring country in the midst of a pandemic? It is quite obvious that they control Nepal’s internal politics because they want to increase investment in the near future,” a senior diplomat said. western.

An Asian diplomat struck a similar note.

“They bought land and invested in large-scale infrastructure projects while keeping tight control over the ruling party and the opposition,” the Asian diplomat said.

“The stakes are high for Beijing,” he said.

Sandwiched between India and China, Nepal’s tilt to China’s orbit is a growing concern for India.

Oli has raised border disputes between Nepal and India at a time when India is already grappling with the worst tensions in decades along sections of its long border with China in the Himalayas.

“India has its own history of meddling in Nepal, but it has taken a back seat this time, leaving China more exposed to a growing sense of resentment among Nepalese,” said Constantino Xavier, analyst at the Center for Social and Economic Progress, an independent organization. think thanks to New Delhi.

Feyzi Ismail, a researcher at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, suspected that China might be disappointed if it maintained its support for Oli in the hope of restoring political stability.

“Protests against Oli’s authoritarianism, his crackdown on civil liberties are likely to intensify,” Ismail said.

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