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China weighing in as Nepal crisis deepens?

As the political crisis in Nepal intensifies, the Chinese ambassador in Kathmandu, Hou Yanqi, has set tongues wagging that China could be making one final attempt to keep the flock of warring Communist leaders together. The ambassador met Nepal president B D Bhandari, who had lost no time in approving PM K P Oli's recommendation to dissolve Parliament, Tuesday.

While ToI was unable to independently confirm it from any official authority, the ambassador, according to a source in Kathmandu, also met P K Dahal Prachanda, the co-chair of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) and one of the chief protagonists in the political drama playing out in Nepal.

Hou's meeting with Bhandari was said to be pre-scheduled but it's well known that the ambassador has worked overtime to prevent a split in the ruling party. She had met Oli last month in the middle of his standoff with rival Dahal after the latter listed Oli's alleged failures both as PM and party co-chair in a document he presented before the party and sought his resignation. Dahal was elected parliamentary leader of the party Wednesday.

Hou had also courted controversy after she held a series of meetings with NCP leaders in July at a time as many as 30 of the 44 members of the party standing committee were demanding his resignation.

The NCP was formed in 2018 with the merger of Dahal's CPN (Maoist Center) and Oli's CPN-Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML). It's no secret that China has worked to keep the alliance of "ideologically like-minded" forces intact. Beijing is faced with a tough choice though as its favoured Oli's position gets increasingly shaky. Claiming two-third majority in NCP, Dahal has relieved Oli of his post of party co-chair and demanded that the election commission recognise his faction as the legitimate NCP.

If the party is split, China will still want the Communist parties to contest elections together, even if it means giving up on Oli. Hou's meeting with Dahal, who finally pulled the plug on Oli, is significant in that context.

Apart from the focus on trade and connectivity, China has also worked to build defence ties with Nepal as evident again from defence minister Wei Fenghe's visit to Kathmandu last month.

India can perhaps afford to be a lot less edgy about the situation despite signs of a rapprochement with the Oli government in the past couple of months, including a visit by foreign secretary Harsh Shringla to Kathmandu.

Oli is still seen here as having dealt perhaps the most serious blow to ties with India in recent times with his decision to unilaterally issue a new political map of Nepal showing territories held by India in it. After the resumption of bilateral engagements with India, the Oli government has continued to describe the map as one of its foreign policy highlights. Nepal though has justified its decision citing India's reluctance to hold dialogue on the Kalapani border dispute.

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