Kathmandu: Chinese top official Li Zhanshu's visit to Nepal is drawing speculations about Beijing seeking to encourage unity among the country's communist forces, media reports said.

This comes as Li Zhanshu, the chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress of China, is arriving on a three-day official visit to Kathmandu on Monday. He will be leading an eight dozen-strong delegation of ministers, deputy ministers, officials and leaders of the Chinese Communist Party.

Li, who is Chinese President Xi Jinping's close aide, is the third-ranking member of the Politburo Standing Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, the top decision-making body of China, after President Xi and Premier Li Keqiang, reported Kathmandu Post.

The visit is happening ahead of the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in October, which will likely give another term extension to Chinese President Xi. It also comes ahead of the general and provincial elections scheduled to be held in Nepal on November 20.

During his visit, Li will also meet CPN-UML Chairman KP Sharma Oli as well as CPN (Maoist Centre) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal.

Following the split in the strong Nepal Communist Party in March 2021, the visit from the Chinese appears to be with a laced agenda of trying to consolidate the communist forces in the country.

Earlier, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Foreign Department chief of the Communist Party of China (CPC), Liu Jianchao during their visits to Kathmandu encouraged UML and Maoist leaders to ally but pushed no particular strategic agenda. Now, whether Li will also push for communist unity this time, as per Kathmandu Post.

Those who are closely following and understand the Chinese attitude on left unity in Nepal are divided on whether Li will make such attempts during his meetings with Oli, Dahal and others. "The Chinese interest is in strengthening interactions between parliamentarians," said Rupak Sapkota, a China watcher, reported to Kathmandu Post.

He added that the focus is on strengthening parliamentary relations and discussing China's growing international stature. "Not to push for unity between communist forces."

The visit is also taking place as the major political parties in Nepal are seeking to gain support ahead of the elections in November. Traditionally, the Chinese leadership has encouraged Nepali communist leaders, particularly those from the CPN-UML and the CPN (Maoist Centre), to forge an electoral alliance.

Sundar Nath Bhattarai, chairman of the China Study Centre, said the visit preceding the all-important CPC plenum is highly meaningful. The plenum will solidify Xi's leadership and clarify to neighbouring and friendly countries what course Chinese leadership will pursue in the next decade under Xi. "We will also know about how China intends to resolve the ongoing crisis in Taiwan and other priority issues," Bhattarai said.

Unlike Sapkota, Bhattarai believes the Chinese delegation will once again push for left unity. The Chinese have a soft corner for Nepal's communist parties and they have been encouraging them to come together and forge an alliance, he said.

"While the Chinese will this time certainly engage with the Nepali Congress, they will continue to push for unity or working cooperation among the major communist forces in Nepal," said Bhattarai, media reports said.