For Mamata Banerjee, Beijing Remains A Bridge Too Far, For Second Time

The Consul General Mr Ma Zhanwu's response cautiously contradicted Mamata Banerjee's.

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For Mamata Banerjee, Beijing Remains A Bridge Too Far, For Second Time

This is the second time Mamata Banerjee's visit to China has fallen through at the last minute. (File)


Kolkata:  The abruptness with which West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee cancelled her visit to China just hours before she was to board a flight to Beijing has stunned diplomatic circles. They are equally surprised that China's consul general in Kolkata issued a press note contradicting the chief minister's version of the reason behind the pull out.

"No use" going to China, Mamata Banerjee tweeted, since "political meetings at the appropriate level" could not be confirmed by the Chinese side to India's Ambassador in Beijing.

"Till yesterday, everything was going well, but unfortunately, the Chinese side could not confirm the political meetings at appropriate level as informed by our Ambassador in China..."

"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.

The Consul General Mr Ma Zhanwu's response cautiously contradicted Ms Banerjee's.

"The Chinese side was working hard to prepare for the Chief Minister's trip to China, including 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," his statement said.

Not a word from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) that had requested Mamata Banerjee to go to China under an exchange programme. At least not in the public domain.

This is the second time Mamata Banerjee's visit to China has fallen through at the last minute. Last year, around this time, she was to travel to that country and, though the MEA has not said anything formally, it is believed the MEA asked her not to go because of tensions over Doklam.

Sources suggest the exchange programme had a fixed plan, which is a normal practice, and Ms Banerjee was to visit Beijing and Shanghai. But she wanted to tweak the plan to kick off her visit from Kunming which was recognized as Kolkata's "sister city" by the MEA in October 2013.

It takes less than three hours to fly from Kolkata to Kunming and there are half a dozen flights to and fro every day.

But the MEA did not give Kunming its nod. Ms Banerjee was reportedly peeved.

Ms Banerjee also reportedly wanted to meet a member of the extended Politburo of Communist Party of China. But that appointment did not come through till this afternoon. Sources say even her business meetings started to unravel yesterday.

The "yesterday" element has raised eyebrows. The MEA does not leave things to the last minute and the schedule of a chief minister's visit abroad is tied up to the last detail well in advance. But Ms Banerjee says "till yesterday, everything was going well" and the consul general says "at the time the announcement (cancelling the visit) was made, the Chinese side was still working on the arrangements...."

China does not leave arrangements for a foreign delegation's visit till the last minute either.

And why did China's consul general call a press meet on June 8, officially, to talk about cultural exchanges between India and China but ended up announcing confirmation of Ms Banerjee's visit. The MEA, say sources, was taken aback. The exchange programme was being set up between New Delhi and Beijing. The consul general's role was limited, if any.

No clear answers yet to what went wrong. But a lot of questions on the development. And some wariness of possible repercussions from multiple fronts.

Sources say Mamata Banerjee is severely miffed that this is the second time her visit to China has fallen through. She is, however, already looking forward to her visit to Washington DC, New York and Chicago in August-September.

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