Attempts by the Chinese leadership to install a Beijing-friendly government in Kathmandu have suffered setbacks, say specialists, according to South Asia Democratic Forum (SADF). The Communist Party of China (CPC) has for quite some time, ‘pushed for a united leftist party in Nepal that would enjoy widespread support and govern in the favour of officials in Beijing’.
To do so, the CPC supported merging the ‘two largest communist parties to establish a strong communist force in Nepal’. The newly formed party which was called the Nepal Communist Party (NCP), comprised the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML), headed by K P Sharma Oli, and the Communist Party of Nepal (CPN-Maoist Centre) of former rebel leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal (also known as ‘Prachanda’). The unified communists under the banner of the NCP came to power in 2018.
With this, it appeared that Beijing had successfully consolidated its influence in Kathmandu. However, the Communist ‘unity party’ was short-lived and split in March 2021. This led to the exit of the NCP from power and resulted in a government led by the Nepali Congress (NC). According to SADF, it is of course hard not to perceive the NCP split as a ‘a major setback to Beijing’s Nepal policy’. Under the then-new Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba (NC), the Nepali government’s criticism of India was toned down, another indicator of China’s declining influence in Kathmandu.
It appeared that after the November 2022 general elections, Beijing was regaining some of the political space in Kathmandu it enjoyed under the NCP rule. Nepal witnessed the return of the CPN-UML and the CPN-Maoist Centre to power as part of a broader coalition. The withdrawal of the pro-Chinese CPN-UML from the current ruling coalition was however a major set-back for Beijing.
To make things worse, the exit of the CPN-UML from the coalition was the consequence of a larger behind-the-scenes political manoeuvre by Prachanda. A presidential election took place earlier in 2023. Instead of supporting the candidate of his coalition partner, the PM decided to promote Ram Chandra Poudel from the opposition Nepali Congress.
The takeover of the presidential office by Poudel marks another Chinese defeat. His predecessor, Bidhya Devi Bhandari, had a ‘discernible proclivity toward China’. Prachanda’s decision therefore led both to the drop-out of CPN-UML from the ruling coalition but also to the removal of a ‘”pro-Chinese” communist face in the supreme post’, according to Asian Lite.