Mamata’s China trip: Chinese consul hopeful

Mamata’s China trip: Chinese consul hopeful

Subir Bhaumik,
Mamata Banerjee

China has not given up on the proposed trip of West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, its consul-general in Calcutta Ma Jhanwu has said.

Jhanwu told a media briefing on the OBOR conference in Beijing that Banerjee is keen on the visit and so is Beijing.

“She is trying to attract Chinese investments to West Bengal, like many other chief ministers in India have done. We want to help her,” Ma Jhanwu said.

Asked if the current state of China-India relations influenced Delhi to put brakes on the visit, Ma Jhanwu said: “We dont know if Delhi has asked her not to go. We will seek to have the visit this year and if not possible now, then next year.”

Media reports in India suggested recently that Mamata’s visit in June has been put off after the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) asked her not to go ahead keeping in mind the present state of relations between the two countries.

The MEA letter pointed to “aggressive posturing by China” during Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh and said the “time was no suitable now for a senior Indian leader’s visit to Beijing.”

India also did not participate in the OBOR conference this month which was attended by more than 100 countries and 30 heads of state.

Delhi cites ‘sovereignity issues’ to object to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor which is part of the overall OBOR plan.

But Ma Jhanwu said China remained open to Indian participation at any point of time Delhi wanted.

“OBOR is the result of shared civilisational values, it is not geo-political manouvering like in Cold War days, and India is part of the civilisational values as much as China is,” said Ma Jhanwu.

Some pointed to the Chinese consul’s media briefing as significant, when no such briefing was organised by the Chinese embassy in Delhi or any other Chinese missions in India.

They said the West Bengal government has warmed up to China and was looking for Chinese investment.  If other border states felt likewise, that might influence Delhi’s policy.

Like neighbouring Bangladesh, India’s eastern and northeastern states may look up to the proposed BCIM corridor and the OBOR initiative as a positive development for bringing Chinese investment, trade and tourism — so Beijing may be focussing on some diplomatic capital in the region.

“Like Yunnan has for China, Beijing expects Indian border states to play a role in normalising and developing relations between India and China.” said Binoda Mishra of the Centre for Studies in International Relations and Development (CSIRD) which has piloted the Indian side in the Kolkata-Kunming (K2K) Forum.

Mishra said China’s push for land-to-sea access into Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea through Myanmar and Pakistan, and possibly Bangladesh, was driven by economic considerations.

Retired vice-Admiral P K Chatterjee, former chief of India’s Andaman & Nicobar tri-service command, had made that point a day before at an ORF seminar in Calcutta.

“It will be wrong to think China is trying to encircle us when it builds ports in Myanmar, Pakistan or Sri Lanka. They do it for economic considerations but they are paranoia about the security of these ports and the arrangements it has with the host countries and they turn aggresisve when they see a threat to them,” Chatterjee had said.

The Chinese consul insisted his country was trying to create a win-win for all neighbours, including India.

“It is wrong to believe we are trying to encircle India or dominate South Asia. As far India and Pakistan are concerned and the dispute in Kashmir, we don’t believe in interference and would leave it to the two countries to resolve it,” Ma Jhanwu said.

Though India is upset with China’s plans to go ahead with the CPEC corridor through Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, it may not find the Chinese line on Kashmir — one of leaving it to India and Pakistan to sort out and offering Chinese mediation only if the two countries want — more acceptable than Trump’ US.

Trump recently upset Delhi by suggesting UN and US mediation to resolve the Kashmir dispute. Delhi prefers bilateralism in dealing with neighbours.

“All disputes, the worst of them, can be resolved by dialogue. So, we should not lose our faith in diplomacy,” said Ma Jhanwu.

The Chinese consul said Beijing has indicated a ‘firm desire’ for an early resolution of the border dispute and it was ‘now upto India to reciprocate”.