Delhi say no to Mamata’s China trip

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SUBIR BHAUMIK

The Indian government has refused to clear West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s proposed trip to China in June.

She was destined to visit provinces like Shandong, which have a thick concentration of manufacturing industries, to attract investment for West Bengal.

The Ministry of External Affairs in Delhi has told Banerjee in response to her seeking clearance that ‘the time is not right for a trip to China by a senior Indian politician’.

Chinese Vice-President Li met Mamata at Calcutta in November 2015

This refusal comes in the backdrop of India’s reluctance to attend a major conference on ‘One Belt One Road’ (OBOR) due this month in Beijing.

China has said India will stand isolated if it does not attend the conference.

Beijing has already indicated it will not attend a India-Russia-China foreign ministers level meeting in Delhi due this month if India does not join the OBOR meet in Beijing.

The sharp nosedive in India-China relations follows India’s stiff opposition to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) citing sovereignty issues and China’s loud and furious objections to Tibetan leader Dalai Lama’s recent visit to Arunachal Pradesh.

“The way China kept threatening us during the Dalai Lama visit is unprecedented. How can our politicians go to China if Beijing maintains such an aggressive posture! Dalai Lama is a spiritual leader and his Arunachal visit had nothing do to with politics. It was also not the first time he had gone to the frontier state,” said a top MEA official.

But he was not willing to be named on grounds he has not been authorized to brief the media.

Ministry of External Affairs in Delhi has told Banerjee in response to her seeking clearance that ‘the time is not right for a trip to China by a senior Indian politician’

India is also miffed by China’s strident opposition to India joining the Nuclear Suppliers Group and to its UN proposal to declare Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar as an international terrorist.

China is upset with India for providing a platform to its dissidents (Uighurs, Falungongs, Tibetans and the anti-Tiananmen groups) who held a conference at Mcleodganj two years ago.

Despite the downturn in bilateral relations, Chinese companies have shown interest in investing in India, especially West Bengal.

The Chinese government had also invited Mamata Banerjee to visit China.

“Our party received an invitation from the Chinese Communist Party to visit that country.” the Bengal chief minister told journalists recently.

“They have requested me many times. Perhaps we may go there in June for four-five days….. They want to invest (in Bengal). That is why I want to visit.”

A source close to Mamata said the invitation had come from both the Chinese government and the Communist Party of China during Vice-President Li Yuanchao visit to Calcutta in November 2015.  ” Since then, visiting Chinese delegations have been pushing her to visit China,” said a top official of West Bengal Industries Department.

China’s ambassador to India, Luo Zhaohui, had taken a five-member delegation to meet Mamata in March this year. After the meeting, Luo expressed Chinese interest in investing in the state, principally in the manufacturing and micro, small and medium enterprises sectors.

Mamata’s government has developed closer proximity with China in recent months. More than five delegations have come to Bengal in the past six months, which included vice-governors of several Chinese provinces

Mamata had then written on her Facebook page: “He extended an invitation to us to visit China to explore Bengal-China business possibilities in manufacturing and other key sectors.”

As Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi visited China several times and managed to attract much Chinese investment to his state.

“But when Modi visited China, bilateral relations were not so bad.” reasoned the MEA official.

Mamata’s government has developed closer proximity with China in recent months. More than five delegations have come to Bengal in the past six months, which included vice-governors of several Chinese provinces.

China was looking at Bengal as the gateway to eastern and northeastern India. Calcutta has a direct flight to Kunming, capital of Yunnan, which has the third-largest airport in China.

Vice-President Li met Mamata at Calcutta’s Eco Park in November 2015.

“That was the first visit in over 50 years by our highest leadership to Bengal – after Premier Zhou Enlai’s visit in 1957,” Chinese consul-general Ma Jhanwu said.

China is keen to increase its foreign investments — some estimate Beijing wants to invest $750bn abroad in the next five years as part of its ambitious geo-political and geo-economic initiatives to make China the undisputed economic superpower.

In April this year, a delegation representing 15 companies from the coastal province of Shandong visited Calcutta for business-to-business meetings and many signed memorandums of understanding with Calcutta-based companies.

Shandong has the third-highest provincial GDP in China, amounting to $1 trillion, and accounts for a fourth of China’s agricultural exports.

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