Mamata calls off China trip

Mamata Banerjee cancelled her seven-day China trip just hours before she was to board her flight on Friday night.

By Our Bureau
  • Published 23.06.18
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Mamata Banerjee at Nabanna on Friday. Picture by Shyamal Maitra

Calcutta/Delhi: Mamata Banerjee cancelled her seven-day China trip just hours before she was to board her flight on Friday night.

A media release from the chief minister's office claimed the June 23-30 visit had been called off because political meetings at the "appropriate level" could not be confirmed.

State finance and industry minister Amit Mitra, who announced the cancellation, said Mamata had waited till noon as the Indian ambassador to China, Gautam Bambawale, had sought time to confirm the political meetings.

"But it has now been confirmed by our ambassador to China that the political meetings at the appropriate level could not be confirmed. Therefore, the purpose of my visit with a delegation to China under the exchange programme is of no use," read the CMO release.

No one wanted to be quoted on what "appropriate level" meant. Off the record, one source said Mamata wanted to meet a politburo standing committee member of the Communist Party of China, and another claimed she had sought a meeting with the Chinese Vice-President.

"The itinerary had the name of a mayor, which the chief minister didn't like," a source said.

The Chinese responded cautiously. "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," a press note released by the Chinese consulate in Calcutta said.

Mamata was to visit China under an exchange programme between the Indian government and the Chinese communist party's international department. The chief purpose of her visit, organised by the Indian foreign ministry, was to meet representatives of the Chinese political system.

On the sidelines, the state government had organised two business meetings - one in Beijing and the other in Shanghai - to try and attract investments to Bengal. "The trip is called off and hence the business meetings also stand cancelled," Mitra said.

A source told The Telegraph that bureaucrats in the foreign ministry's East Asia division had learnt of the trip's cancellation when an official from Calcutta rang them after seeing the news in the media.

State government sources said that Mitra had coordinated with Bambawale till the last minute to ensure the visit took place.

"Mamata thought the Indian embassy could organise political meetings at the level she wanted. As there was no confirmation till last evening, the finance minister spoke to the foreign secretary (Vijay Gokhale)," a source at Nabanna said.

The source said the Indian embassy in China was drawing up the itinerary. "They could not deliver what they had promised," he said, refusing to explain further.

The media release, though, appreciated Bambawale's efforts to make the visit a success.

Sources underlined that any Chinese dignitary who visited India as part of the exchange programme got to meet the Prime Minister if they so wanted. However, no chief minister who has visited China under this programme has so far sought to meet any Chinese politburo standing committee member.

Officially, the foreign ministry did not comment, with officials merely pointing to Mamata's statement. The Chinese embassy in New Delhi did not comment either.