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National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon could not even meet the new Chinese leadership during his recent visit to Beijing. On the other hand, the Maldives’ Defence Minister was given the red carpet treatment
Is India a ‘big’ country? One should ask this question to the mandarins in Beijing. If they genuinely answer, one might be surprised. In any case, certain facts speak for themselves.
Soon after the conclusion of the 18th Communist Party of China’s Congress in Beijing, Chinese official Li Junru headed towards Delhi as the leader of a goodwill delegation from the CPC. Mr Li also visited Pakistan and Sri Lanka. But who is Li Junru who was busy in Delhi meeting political leaders at the end of November? When you type his name on China Vitae, a website listing thousands of Chinese officials, you get, ‘no match’.
According to the Chinese embassy in Delhi, Li Junru is a former Vice President of CPC’s Central Party School, and till March he was a member of the Standing Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. One could ask: Why did Beijing not send a very senior Party official to India? A commentator in a ‘national’ newspaper rightly remarked that ‘much higher’ delegations were due to visit the West (and particularly the United States) to brief the Governments and local parties there about the outcome of the 18th Congress.
At 65, Mr Li is still an active official. He is apparently Vice-Director of the China Reform Forum and Vice-Director of the China Society for Human Rights Studies. What these organisations are, is a separate issue.
Mr Li’s unique selling proposition seems to be his fluency in English and the fact that he is able to eloquently convey the position of the Party in proper perspective; further he obviously enjoys the CPC’s trust. During the 18th Party Congress in Beijing, Mr Li was already spotted answering overseas TV channels’ reporters. His trip to South Asia was sponsored by the International Department under the Party’s Central Committee.
In the past, this Department used to liaise with other so-called fraternal Communist Parties (It probably explains the casual dress worn by Comrade Li when he met Comrade Yechury). Today, the Department has contacts with all political parties. The delegation’s job was to brief foreign party leaders and the media about the ‘peaceful’ transition witnessed during the 18th Party Congress.
According to the Chinese Embassy’s communiqué: “During the visit, the delegation met with Mr PJ Kurien, Deputy Chairman of Rajya Sabha, Mr Karan Singh, Chairman for Foreign Affairs of the Indian National Congress Party, Mr Ravi Shankar Prasad, Deputy Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha and chief spokesperson of the BJP, Comrade Sitaram Yechury, a senior member of the Politburo of the CPI(M) and Comrade Suravaram Sudhakar Reddy, the General Secretary of the CPI.”
The embassy added: “During the meetings, Mr Li thanked the Indian political parties for their congratulations to the 18th National Congress of the CPC and the newly elected leadership, briefed them about the CPC Congress, and had an in-depth discussion on party-to-party exchanges and cooperation, China-India relations as well as regional and international issues. The delegation also held seminars with the India China Economic and Cultural Council and the Observer Research Foundation on the 18th CPC National Congress, China’s future development road, regional and international issues.”
Mr Li also gave a joint Press conference for the Indian and Chinese media during which he acknowledged that the border issue has ‘hindered development’ of bilateral ties, though he asserted that both countries “should try to turn over to a new page as soon as possible so that the matter is resolved forever.”
He also affirmed: “Border issue is a headache and trouble left over to us by the British colonists. It happens because of historical reasons and we did have some unhappy and unfortunate incidents in this regard in the past.”
Most journalists were delighted to hear his sweet words: “I think we should try to turn over to a new page as soon as possible.” And of course, he brushed aside the problem of the visas issued on maps showing Arunachal Pradesh and Aksai Chin as part of China. The question remains, why did not a senior Chinese official visit India?
One can always argue that National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon went to Beijing and was briefed by Dai Bingguo, Mr Menon’s outgoing counterpart ,in the border talks and still a State Council for a couple of months. Though the NSA said that India and China had made ‘considerable progress’ on the border dispute, many observers remained doubtful for the simple reason that he did not meet anybody of the new team.
In fact, though ‘official sources’ had announced that Mr Menon was expected to call on Vice Premier Li Keqiang, the number two in the seven-member new Standing Committee (and soon-to-be Chinese Premier), the meeting did not materialise. Instead, the NSA met Wu Bangguo, the outgoing head of the National People’s Congress, and State Councillor Dai Bingguo. In other words, Mr Menon did not meet tomorrow’s leaders of China.
It has not been the case with Mohamed Nazim, the Maldives’ Minister of Defence and National Security when he visited China. His visit occurred in the midst of the controversy which recently erupted between infrastrucutre firm GMR and the Male Government. The Indian company had been operating the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport at Male after investing some US$511 million, but after a dispute, GMR had to eventually hand over the airport to the Maldives government. Rumours that Beijing was behind the move started circulating.
In Beijing, the Maldives’ delegation met General Xu Qiliang, the newly appointed Vice-Chairman of the all-powerful Central Military Commission. General Xu, a former Air Chief, is also a member of the CCP’s Politburo (which is not the case of Dai Bingguo).
According to Xinhua, Mr Xu asserted that the Maldives and China have in recent years increased “mutual political trust, expanded trade and economic cooperation, diversified cultural exchanges and set an example for countries to treat each other as equals and cooperate with sincerity”.
The last sentence was probably meant to send a message (not delivered by Li Junru) to India. More importantly, the CMC Deputy Chairman told Mr Nazim that “the two armies should continue to enhance high-level contact, strengthen pragmatic cooperation, expand the scope of cooperation and upgrade military relations.”
Interestingly, Mr Xu also briefed the Maldives’ Minister on the 18th CPC’s Congress. He affirmed that “China will continue to hold high the banner of peace, development, cooperation and mutual benefit and commit itself to world peace and development”.