(Eds: Updating with Chinese Consulate’s statement) Kolkata/Beijing, Jun 22 (PTI) West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee cancelled her first China visit today at the last minute as political meetings at the “appropriate level” were not confirmed by the Chinese government.
The Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief was slated to leave for China tonight on an eight-day visit.
Meanwhile, a statement issued by the Chinese Consulate at Kolkata said, “We have taken note of the fact that Mamata Banerjee, Chief Minister of West Bengal, announced the cancellation of her trip to China on the afternoon of 22 June 2018.” It said, “The Chinese side attaches great importance to its relationship with India and to the exchanges between the Chinese provinces and the Indian states. It was working hard to prepare for the Chief Minister’s trip to China, including on the relevant arrangements during the visit.” At the time the announcement was made, the Chinese side was still working on the arrangements and remained in contact with the Indian Embassy in China, it added.
According to the statement, the Chinese Consulate General in Kolkata has all along been committed to promoting the ties between the Chinese provinces and West Bengal and will continue with its efforts to enhance the friendly exchanges and cooperation between the two sides in economic, trade, cultural, educational and other fields.
Banerjee was scheduled to lead a delegation to China under the exchange programme of the Government of India with the International Department of the Communist Party of China.
West Bengal Finance Minister Amit Mitra said External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, who is at present out of the country, and Foreign Secretary V K Gokhale were informed about the cancellation of Banerjee’s visit.
In a Facebook post, the chief minister said, “In March this year, the Union Minister of External Affairs had recommended to me to kindly consider leading a delegation to China in the coming months under the Exchange Programme of the Government of India with the International Department of the Communist Party of China.” Noting that she had agreed to the proposal, Banerjee said, “I mentioned to her that since the interest of my country is involved, I wish to visit China sometime during last week of June, 2018.” Pursuant to letters from the state chief secretary and the ambassador of India in China, a programme was chalked out and the visit was planned, she added.
Till yesterday, everything was “going well”, the chief minister said, adding that unfortunately, “the political meetings at the appropriate level” could not be confirmed.
“It has now been intimated by our Ambassador in China 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,” she said.
According to sources in Beijing, the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) did not facilitate her meeting with any senior leader other than Song Tao, Minister of the International Department.
The international department is in charge of maintaining relations with various political parties of the world, including those in India, and hosts and interacts with visiting political leaders.
But considering Banerjee’s stature in Indian politics, India had proposed a meeting with a member of the powerful seven-member Politburo Standing Committee, the highest body of the CPC, the sources told PTI.
The committee is headed by Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is also the General Secretary of the CPC.
Banerjee’s tour was cancelled due to the failure of the CPC officials to understand and appreciate her stature — both as a chief minister and the head of a political party, the Trinamool Congress — and the importance of her visit, the sources said.
There was no immediate comment from the CPC on the cancellation of Banerjee’s visit.
When Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan had visited China in 2016, he had met Zhao Leji, a member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee and head of the CPC Central Committee Organisation Department, besides Song.
Sources said Banerjee’s visit was expected to be rescheduled as both the countries were making efforts to improve the bilateral relations, following the informal summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi providing a new direction to the ties.
Banerjee said although the Indian ambassador in China tried his best to make her visit a success, the non-confirmation of the political meetings “at the last moment”, had “unfortunately compelled us to cancel the visit”.
“However, I wish the continuation of the friendship of India and China in the days to come and it should strengthen further in the interest of both the countries,” she added.
Banerjee was scheduled to address a meeting of CEOs of Chinese companies in Shanghai as part of her efforts to scout for Chinese investment in West Bengal.
This is published unedited from the PTI feed.