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23 Jun 2018

Hours before boarding flight, Mamata calls off China visit

TNN | Jun 23, 2018, Kolkata: Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee had to cancel her China trip hours before boarding the flight on Friday after getting no confirmation till noon (IST) of a proposed political dialogue with Central Committee members of the Communist Party of China.
Banerjee, who was to leave for an eight-day trip as the head of a 40-member delegation by a late-night flight, felt there was no use going to China without a political dialogue with CPC members of a “certain level commensurate with her role in Indian politics”, state finance minister Amit Mitra said.
Banerjee set her itinerary following a request from external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj three months ago, urging her to lead a delegation to China under the Exchange Programme of the Indian government and the International Department of the Communist Party of China (CPC).
China had invited the Bengal CM to Beijing but the latter did not firm up her plans till the request came from Swaraj. Banerjee wrote on April 2 that she “appreciated” the recommendation and mentioned in the letter that she wished to visit China in the last week of June. State chief secretary Moloy De and India’s ambassador in China, Gautam Bambawale, chalked out a programme with the political dialogue as the pivot. A business summit in Shanghai was woven into the itinerary to promote trade and commerce between China and Bengal.
Officials said the Chinese authorities kept the Bengal government waiting till Thursday over the confirmation of the political meeting. “Our ambassador in China informed us that the Chinese side could not confirm the political meetings at an appropriate level,” Mamata Banerjee said after the trip was cancelled. “Our ambassador requested us time till noon (2.30pm Beijing time) on Friday for a confirmation of the proposed political meetings,” she added. The Bengal government was also in touch with Indian foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale, who tried to get in touch with his Chinese counterparts, officials here said.
“It has now been intimated by our ambassador that the political meetings at the appropriate level under the exchange programme could not be confirmed. Therefore, the purpose of my visit with a delegation to China under the exchange programme is of no use,” Banerjee said around eight hours before she was to board the flight.
The exchange programme, part of a special arrangement between the CPC Central Committee’s International Department and India’s ministry of external affairs since 2004, facilitates exchanges between CPC leaders and Indian chief ministers. Many CMs, like Chhattisgarh’s Raman Singh, have been to China under this programme.
The CM insisted the called-off trip would not affect India-China relations. “Our ambassador in China tried his best to make the programme a success, but non-confirmation of the political meetings at an appropriate level compelled us to cancel it. But I wish the the friendship between the two countries continues for mutual benefit,” Banerjee said. The Chinese consulate in Kolkata said it had “taken note” of the cancelled trip. “The Chinese side was working hard to prepare for the CM’s visit and was still working on the arrangements and remained in contact with the Indian embassy in China when the cancellation was announced,” it said.

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