China’s Li Zhanshu to arrive in Nepal today

China’s third-highest leader Li Zhanshu will arrive in Nepal on Monday, officials said, in the third high-level visit to Nepal since foreign minister Wang Yi’s trip in March.

Although officials are tight-lipped about the agenda of Li’s visit, it comes amid concerns in Beijing over the US’ rising influence in Nepal where a general election is just weeks away.

“So far we know he is going to pay a courtesy call on President Bidhya Devi Bhandari, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba…” Foreign Ministry sources told The Indian Express. “Where as most other meetings will be with the chiefs of various communist parties that include 5/" class="">K P Sharma Oli of the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist and Pushpa Kamal Dahal of the Maoist Party, Presiding officers of both houses of parliament who incidentally also belong to the communist parties.”

The sources cited above said Li’s visit to Nepal comes after an invitation by Nepal House of Representatives Speaker, Agni Prasad Sapkota. Most of the visiting leader’s activities in the country are being coordinated by the Parliament, the sources added.

Li, the chairperson of the National Peoples Congress standing committee or the Chinese Speaker, will be leading a delegation of around 100 members. Nepal is the last leg of his 4-country visit, which included Russia, South Korea and Mongolia.

With elections just nine weeks away, many see Li’s visit as only observatory, with the leader seeking to assess thelikely poll outcomes as the communist parties that China had helped come together during the last elections have now parted ways and are going to the polls as bitter foes.

However, Dr Rupak Sapkota, an expert on China affairs, says the visit before the polls is just a coincidence. He said the invite to Li had been sent “long ago”.

“Communist unity could be China’s wish, but it knows the two countries have different political systems, and it is only natural that there is cordial relations between different constitutional wings of the state and the other apparatus,” Rupak Sapkota, who’s the son of the Speaker, said.

For many, however, the frequency of the visit by top Chinese officials to Nepal, which matches those by US officials, indicates that China is growing more apprehensive about the US game-plan in the country, especially after it succeeded in getting Nepal’s approval to the long-pending $500 million ‘Millennium Challenge Corporation’ agreement.

What has added to Chinese concerns is Nepal’s condemnation of Russia over the Ukraine invasion, and the US efforts to push for a military exchange with Nepal despite the latter opting out.

There are also concerns about the closure of Nepal’s two check posts with China –Tatoppani and Kerung. Given the fact that Speaker Sapkota represents one of these areas in Parliament, he is likely to solicit Li’s facilitation to open the check posts given the approaching festival seasons–dahsain and Tihar– in Nepal.