External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee will, during his visit to China next week, formally inaugurate India’s new consulate in China’s economically vibrant province of Guangzhou – a step that promises to take rapidly burgeoning business ties between the two countries to a new high. Mukherjee’s four-day visit to China starting June 4, announced by the Indian external affairs ministry Thursday, marks the first high-level political exchange between the two countries since Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to China in January. It is also Mukherjee’s first official visit to China since he became the external affairs minister in the Oct 24, 2006, cabinet reshuffle. Jaswant Singh was the last foreign minister of India to visit China on a bilateral visit over six years ago.
Besides discussing an entire spectrum of bilateral, regional and global issues including the boundary row and intensification of economic ties with his counterpart Yang Jiechi, Mukherjee will call on Premier Wen Jiabao in Beijing. Mukherjee’s formal inauguration of the consulate in Guangzhou, that opened quietly in March, is a significant step that will boost trade, investment and tourism between the two Asian powers.
The decision to set up India’s consulate in Guaggzhou and China’s consulate in Kolkata was taken during the visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao to India in 2006. Gautam Bambawale is India’s consul-general in Guangzhou, a province that is known for being in the forefront of China’s economic reforms programme and boasts external trade of over $650 billion. India’s bilateral trade with China has already surpassed $40 billion. During Manmohan Singh’s visit to Beijing early this year, the two countries set a target of scaling their bilateral trade to $60 billion by 2010. Mukherjee will also meet Ji Xianlin, one of China’s leading Indologists who warmed the hearts of millions of his countrymen with his translation of the Ramayana from the Sanskrit to Chinese during the ‘Cultural Revolution’.
Ji was this year named for the Padma Bhushan, one of the top civilian honours of India, for his contribution to strengthening Sino-Indian cultural ties. The 97-year-old scholar is the first Chinese to receive this honour. Announcing the visit in Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters Thursday that Mukherjee’s visit, at the invitation of the Chinese foreign minister, will help promote “mutual political trust” and take forward the Strategic Partnership between the two countries.
Mukherjee’s visit to China takes place at a time when both countries feel more confident with each other to raise and discuss any issue that is of concern to them. The leadership in Beijing has already expressed its appreciation over the way India handled the Tibetan demonstrations in its capital last month without allowing this to affect the torch relay for the Beijing Olympic Games.