DIPLOMACY: LI PENG'S VISIT
On The Mend
The visit of the Chinese leader signals that Sino-Indian ties are almost on a pre-Pokhran footing
In diplomacy the Chinese love symbolism. So to show that relations with India were on the mend they sent Li Peng, currently chairman of China's National People's Congress, on a prolonged eight-day visit to India that has him travelling as much across the country as US President Bill Clinton did last March.
|MAKING UP: Li (centre) being welcomed by Balayogi in Delhi|
Indians are more familiar with Li as the former prime minister of China. For it was during his two contiguous tenures in that powerful post that India's relations with China made rapid strides forward after years of misgivings. In many ways he was the architect of the great leap forward in Sino-Indian relations.
However, the aftermath of the 1998 Pokhran explosion and the Indian diplomatic gaffe of openly identifying China as the reason for ending its nuclear ambiguity saw relations between the two countries turn acrimonious. China launched a volley of harsh words against India in the UN and other fora. Yet with India keen to make amends and China realising the practicality of maintaining better bilateral relations, there has been significant improvement in ties. The two sides have initiated the first-ever security dialogue between officials and also taken big steps to solve the border issue by exchanging maps. Li's visit is China acknowledging that relations are almost back to pre-Pokhran days.
Given his position-Li's Indian counterpart is Lok Sabha Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi who had invited him to India-there aren't going to be any major official agreements being signed. Apart from the prime minister, he is meeting a large number of key Indian politicians, senior officials and leading businessmen. "Extensive" and "candid" are the words that Li chose for the sort of talks he hopes to have with Delhi during his visit. But on his first leg in Mumbai, with the issue of cheap Chinese goods flooding the Indian market still rankling Indian businessmen, Li got a lukewarm reception when he visited the Santa Cruz Electronic Export Processing Zone on January 8. Despite being accompanied by a 120-member delegation, interactions with business people do not form a major part of his itinerary.
In Delhi he was feted by Indian parliamentarians and was slotted to meet Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee after his return from Indonesia. After the mandatory visit to Agra, Li will fly to Bangalore to see the Infosys campus. During his trip, a new book which exposed embarrassing details of the role of Chinese leaders, including Li, during the ruthless Tianamen Square crackdown of 1989 was released in the US. Li maintained an inscrutable silence over the affair. But in the end many would agree with Professor Manoranjan Mohanty of the Institute of Chinese Studies, Delhi, when he says, "It is an important visit." Most of all for the goodwill that Li brings with him.
Ninad D. Sheth