Alarmed that a political crisis in Nepal could endanger China's strategic interests and Belt and Road projects, a Chinese Communist Party emissary has held days of talks to try to stop the Himalayan country's ruling communist party from tearing itself apart.
The crisis erupted on Dec. 20 when Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, decided he could no longer work with rival factions within his Nepal Communist Party (NCP), which was formed in 2018 to unite the Marxist-Leninist and main Maoist parties following their success in elections in late 2017.
With two years of his term to run, Oli dissolved parliament and called for fresh elections in a move that foreign diplomats say caught China by surprise and plunged the impoverished nation of 30 million people into uncertainty.
Seven ministers quit Oli's government, and anger over the descent into political infighting at a time when the economy is reeling from the coronavirus sparked protests at which effigies of the prime minister were burnt.
Within days, Beijing dispatched to Kathmandu Guo Yezhou, a vice-minister in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) International Liaison Department, which manages relationships with foreign political parties of all hues, both in power and opposition.
Oli has recommended an election be held in two phases in April and May, but what happens next could be in the lap of the Supreme Court, as his opponents have challenged the dissolution of parliament as unconstitutional. A hearing will resume in January.
Guo has held separate meetings with Oli, and rivals in the communist party to get their sides of the story, as well as leaders of the main opposition party and other politicians.
Still, some foreign diplomats in Kathmandu viewed Guo's mission as a brazen demonstration of China's growing influence over Nepal's internal affairs.
"Why would a country rush a delegation to a neighbouring nation amid a pandemic? It's rather obvious they control the internal politics of Nepal as they want to expand investments in near future," a senior Western diplomat said.
An Asian diplomat struck a similar note.
"They have been buying land and investing in large-scale infrastructure projects by keeping a tight control on the ruling party and the opposition," said the Asian diplomat.
"A lot is at stake for Beijing," he said.