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Beijing beckons, Sonia game
- With Left spitting fire, Congress chief warms to China tour

New Delhi, Sept. 12: Beijing has blinked back to life on Sonia Gandhi's roadmap just when what the Chinese would call 'interesting times' have dawned.

After earlier invitations that did not elicit a firm commitment, the Congress chief has expressed willingness to cross the Great Wall following a fresh Chinese initiatives.

The positive response coincides with the Congress-led coalition's teething troubles with the Left parties which look up to China as a shining example of socialism, though it has embraced the market economy with gusto. The Left kept up the tempo today, frowning on some Congress policies.

Last month, a delegation headed by China's international departmental chief was in India to attend a meeting. He invited the Congress president on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party general secretary.

'This is not the first time the Chinese Communist Party has invited Sonia. This time she wants to go,' said a Left leader. In her conversation with Left leaders, Sonia has expressed her wish to take up the invitation. The schedule will be drawn up later.

The timing of the invitation could not have been more opportune as both the Congress as well as the Left cite examples from China ' which has tailored its political lexicon to suit its economic policies ' to back up their respective views. The two sides also feel that a visit would improve bilateral ties.

The communist parties of Vietnam and Cuba had also invited Sonia but she has yet to take a decision.

Sonia had gone to China before ' with Rajiv Gandhi in 1988 when he was Prime Minister.

The last Prime Minister to tour China was Manmohan Singh's predecessor Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2002 against the backdrop of then defence minister George Fernandes' blunt statements.

Left leaders said the possible visit by Sonia to China would be in keeping with the letter and spirit of the coalition government's common minimum programme (CMP). According to the CMP, 'trade and investment with China should be expanded and further talks on the border issue will be seriously pursued'.

Over the last two months, various Indian delegations had visited China. First, CPI leader D. Raja led a five-member delegation to China at July end. This was followed by a tour by an all-party delegation that included leaders from the Congress, the BJP and the Left.

The trips were undertaken in the middle of a standoff between the Congress and the Left over increasing the foreign direct investment cap in telecom, insurance and civil aviation.

China has allowed Alcatel Shanghai Bell, a foreign-controlled company, to operate in Shanghai and opened up its insurance sector. But in civil aviation, China has limited its reforms.

After returning from China, the Left leaders had submitted a note to the UPA government saying the comparison between Indian and Chinese growth of the telecom market is 'adverse'.

'The entire Chinese telecom boom is based on domestic manufacture, unlike India which imports almost all its mobile, other infrastructure and handsets,' the note said.

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