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The mountainous border between Nepal and China. Photo: Xinhua/Tashi Tsering via Getty Images

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi heads to Nepal on Friday intent on keeping the small South Asian country away from China's grasp.

The big picture: Nepal is located between the two Asian giants. It has historically been closer to India, a fellow Hindu-majority country with which it shares deep cultural and economic ties. But India is worried that Chinese investment is causing its neighbor’s loyalties to shift.

Nepal's economic livelihood depends on Indian exports, tourism and remittances from its citizens working in India, says Shailesh Kumar, Asia director for the Eurasia Group. The Nepali rupee is also pegged to the Indian one.

  • But Nepal has felt overwhelmed by Indian influence. After the 2015 Nepali earthquake, India implemented an unofficial blockade of supplies during a time of dire need to protest Nepal's treatment of its ethnically-Indian citizens.
  • China, meanwhile, has made big-ticket offers to build roads and dams in Nepal without conditions based on Nepal's domestic politics. Every south Asian country needs infrastructure, Kumar says, but Nepal is desperate for it.
  • While campaigning, Nepali Prime Minister K.P. Oli espoused pro-China views, vowing to restarted stalled Chinese projects, but since taking power he has shown a willingness to cooperate with India, says Kumar.

Timing: Modi's trip to Nepal comes after Oli visited India last month and Modi himself went to China to meet with Xi just a few weeks ago.

What to watch: "Modi needs to make sure any drift that has been taking place ends," and he'll do that by offering greater Indian financing of and investment in Nepali infrastructure projects, Kumar says.

Go deeper: Nepal is just one of the flash points in the India–China rivalry

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Data: Twitter/CrowdTangle (Feb 24, 2021); Chart: Will Chase/Axios

In a swift reversal from 90 days ago, Democrats are now the ones with overpowering social media muscle and the ability to drive news.

The big picture: Former President Donald Trump’s digital exile and the reversal of national power has turned the tables on which party can keep a stranglehold on online conversation.

Here come Earmarks 2.0

DeLauro at a hearing in May 2020. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The House Appropriations Committee is preparing to announce details of a plan to restore a limited version of earmarks, which give lawmakers power to direct spending to their districts to pay for special projects.

Why it matters: A series of scandals involving members in both parties prompted a moratorium on earmarks in 2011. But Democrats argue it's worth the risk to bring them back because earmarks would increase their leverage to pass critical legislation with a narrow majority, especially infrastructure and spending bills.

Caitlin Owens, author of Vitals
46 mins ago - Health

New data reignites the debate over coronavirus vaccine strategy

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

New research is bolstering the case for delaying second doses of coronavirus vaccines.

Why it matters: Most vulnerable Americans remain unvaccinated heading into March, when experts predict the more infectious virus variant first found in the U.K. could become dominant in the U.S.

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