Most analysts agree that there was important Chinese mediation to prevent the NCP from splitting, which could have lead to the dissolution of Parliament and a general election.
Although Ambassador Hou’s back-to-back meetings with President Bhandari, Oli, Dahal and Nepal last week were officially said to have been about discussing China’s role in the coronavirus response, the timing of the one-on-ones just a day before the crucial Friday meeting was significant.
President Xi Jinping himself called President Bhandari earlier in the week, although the content of that conversation has not been revealed.
However, not everyone agrees that the Chinese ambassador played a role in bringing the NCP factions together. They say Oli was so isolated within he party that the only way he could stay on as prime minister was to strike a deal with his party rivals.
Says Nepal’s former ambassador to China Tanka Karki: “At a time the world is dealing with a pandemic, I do not think it is the priority for China, or any other country, to meddle in Nepal’s internal politics.”
Premier League, Editorial
Baral does not agree. He says ambassadors do make courtesy calls on government officials, and that is part of their job. But he adds that the slew of meetings with factions of the ruling party at a time when the power struggle was reaching a climax was not normal.
The day of the ambassador’s meetings on 30 April was also when the report of the task force set up to look into the US-funded Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) issued its report, concluding that the Compact was a part of America’s Indo-Pacific Strategy and suggested amending it. Many see the MCC as a counter to China’s own Belt Road Initiative (BRI) of which Nepal is also a signatory.
The MCC had also divided the party, with Prime Minister Oli’s loyalists including Finance Minister Yubaraj Khatiwada and Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali backing it, while the Dahal faction opposed it.
A senior NCP central committee member admitted that Ambassador Hou’s main message to everyone she met last week was to heal the rift within the party. “It is logical for the public to assume that the Chinese were putting some pressure on the party leadership, but the ambassador was not telling us what to do. She was just encouraging unity, and that is not tantamount to interference,” said the source on condition of anonymity.
Even so, the unusual increase in Chinese diplomatic activity in Kathmandu does show that geopolitical tensions globally and the region are manifesting themselves in Nepal as well.
Political geography of India-Nepal-China ties, Passang Dorji
YAM BETWEEN 3 BOULDERS, Editorial