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Who's Hou: How the Chinese Envoy is Tightening Beijing's Influence over Nepal

A file photo of Hou Yanqi. (Twitter/Ambassador Hou Yanqi)

A file photo of Hou Yanqi. (Twitter/Ambassador Hou Yanqi)

Nepal's media reported that former diplomats and political analysts have expressed concern over Hou Yanqi’s recent meetings with senior leaders of Kathmandu's ruling party amid the political crisis.

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Padmaja Venkataraman

Chinese Ambassador Hou Yanqi’s recent meetings with Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli and senior leaders of the Nepal Communist Party have raised questions about her alleged role in the ongoing political crisis in the country.

As uncertainty about the future of the Oli-led government looms, the envoy held meetings with former prime ministers Madhav Kumar Nepal and Jhala Nath Khanal within a span of two days, purportedly to quell tensions between the PM and the disgruntled ruling party executive chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal 'Prachanda'.

Hou, who is believed to have the ear of several top leaders of the Himalayan republic, has played an instrumental role in furthering Beijing’s influence over Nepal.

The 50-year-old diplomat assumed charge as the ambassador of China to Nepal in 2018, according to the curriculum vitae available on the Chinese embassy’s website. Prior to that, she was the Deputy Director General of Asian Affairs of China’s foreign ministry. Hou, who holds a Master of Arts degree, also served in the Chinese embassy in Pakistan from 1998-2001.

Hou’s Soaring Twitter Popularity

Hou enjoys a considerable following on Twitter, with some of her posts being retweeted over 2,000 times. The envoy regularly shares posts of Chinese medical supplies reaching the landlocked Himalayan nation amid the Covid-19 crisis and uploads photos of her against picturesque spots to promote Nepal’s tourism.

In a May 13 tweet, where she shares photos of the PLA’s medical supplies being received by the Nepali Army, the diplomat hails China as Nepal’s “friend in need”.

“It's a great pleasure to attend the Handover Ceremony for Chinese PLA's medical supplies to Nepali Army with Gen. Purna Chandra Thapa, Chief of the Army Staff. A friend in need is a friend indeed. China is always in solidarity with Nepal!” the post read. In another, the ambassador tweeted photos from the ‘Support China's Fight against the Novel Coronavirus and Promote China-Nepal People-to-People Connectivity’ programme held in Kathmandu in February. The event was attended by current and former leaders of Nepal, including Padma Kumari Aryal, minister of land management, cooperatives and poverty alleviation, and Sujata Koirala, former deputy prime minister. “In ‘Support China's Fight against the Novel Coronavirus’ Program, I'm deeply touched by the warm words from Nepali friends. China and Nepal are friends supporting each other and we fight shoulder by shoulder!” the envoy wrote.

In November last year, Hou also shared photos from her visit to the Pokhara International Airport site, a project that is being funded by the Chinese government. In recent years, China has ramped up its investment in Nepal in order to increase connectivity. The two countries inked eight agreements in 2018 for the creation of infrastructure projects and strengthening bilateral ties.

Political Analysts in Nepal Term Envoy’s Meetings ‘Unusual’

Nepal's media reported that former diplomats and political analysts have expressed concern over Hou’s recent meetings with senior leaders of Kathmandu's ruling party amid the political crisis. Political analyst Jay Nishant told The Himalayan Times (THT) that in the last five-six years Chinese interference in Nepal’s domestic affairs had surged and that was a reflection of China’s flexing of economic and military muscle in the region and beyond.

Talking to The Kathmandu Post, Lokraj Baral, a former ambassador, blamed his country's leaders for inviting interference. Baral, who is also a professor of political science, said, “How long can the party sustain an artificial unity promoted by a foreign envoy anyway?” He added that when the Indian ambassadors did the same thing, it was called interference, but the same was not being applied to the Chinese.

Nepal’s former permanent representative to the United Nations Dinesh Bhattarai told THT that Yanqi’s meeting with Nepal looked unusual and untimely. Bhattarai added that if China acted to keep the party united repeatedly, the move could "anger other powerful countries who have a presence in Nepal".

Tensions between New Delhi and Kathmandu have been on the rise since last month after Nepal's upper house of parliament unanimously voted to amend the constitution to update the country's new political map, laying claim over three strategically important areas along the border with it.

Speculation was rife about China’s involvement in the development, but Hou, in a recent interview with The Rising Nepal, said that the Chinese side respected Nepal’s sovereignty and maintained that the issue was between Nepal and India.

“The issue of Kalapani involves Nepal and India. We hope the two countries will resolve their differences properly through friendly consultations and refrain from taking any unilateral action that may complicate the situation,” she was quoted as saying. She further accused some “irresponsible media and individual groups” of trying to divert public attention to China.


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