The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Suri tipped to pick up Beijing baton

New Delhi, May 11: Nalin Suri, additional secretary heading the China division in the foreign ministry, is likely to take over as India’s ambassador in Beijing.

The present incumbent in China, Shiv Shankar Menon, is being appointed as high commissioner to Islamabad. Delhi will formally announce Menon’s name for the Islamabad post once the documents sent to Pakistan are handed back.

Ashok Kanth, who recently returned from Hong Kong where he was the consul-general, may replace Suri as head of the China division in the ministry.

Suri may soon have to leave for China as Menon, whose tenure in Beijing was to expire this August, has been pulled out before its completion.

Indications are that Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s proposed visit to China in June could get postponed to the year-end and may not take place before September-October.

Though this may not be admitted officially, one of the reasons for keeping the Prime Minister’s trip on hold is because of the SARS scare. With the World Health Organisation issuing fresh travel advisories asking people to stay away from that country, South Block mandarins feel it is best not to expose Vajpayee and his delegation to the virus.

Politically, however, the peace initiative undertaken by him to normalise relations with Pakistan may be another reason why the Prime Minister will not like to go to China at this juncture. Moreover, defence minister George Fernandes, who till recently topped the Chinese leadership’s hate list, completed a week-long visit to the country last month.

Though Delhi is keen to strengthen ties with Beijing, it does not want to rush through with such high-level visits in such quick succession.

Sources said Fernandes, whose visit to China was successful, had very candidly voiced some of India’s major security concerns to the leadership in Beijing. If any shift in China’s stated policy — particularly its stand on cooperation with Pakistan on its nuclear and missile programmes — is to take place, it will take time, they say.

The defence minister’s visit to Beijing may have been an opportunity to probe the Chinese leadership on some important issues that are stumbling blocks to improving bilateral relations at a faster pace. But if and when Vajpayee undertakes an official visit to China, a first by an Indian Prime Minister since 1993, Delhi expects some significant movement forward in bilateral ties.

The interval between Fernandes’ and Vajpayee’s visit to China may provide the lull required to take relations forward and make the Prime Minister’s visit more fruitful — both in terms of substance and signal.

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