By Dr Yukteshwar Kumar
Talks with top Chinese leaders, the inauguration of the Indian Consulate at Guangzhou, and conferring the Padma Bhushan on Professor Ji Xianlin.
These were the top three items on External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee's agenda during his visit to China June 3-7.
Of these, it was the honour accorded to the Chinese scholar which dominated the Chinese media, which showcased the event immediately after the Indian Foreign Minister visited the army hospital in Beijing, where Professor Ji is being treated for more than 5 years now, and handed over the Padma Bhushan certificate and medallion to the eminent Indologist. He is the first Chinese to receive the award.
In business and commercial terms, the opening of an Indian Consul at Guangzhou is significant, as the city is very close to Hong Kong and it might help rich businessmen from Southern China to get an Indian visa with ease. But in diplomatic terms, opening an Indian consulate in Lhasa would have had far more impact.
Pranab Mukherjee is no stranger to China, having visited it earlier as Defence Minister barely two years ago. While his meeting with the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao was cancelled, he did meet the recently crowned Chinese Vice-President, Xi Jinping, who is widely tipped to succeed President Hu Jintao, also the General Secretary of the Communist party of China.
As expected, there were no major breakthroughs in the talks with Chinese leaders. But by traversing all the way to the hospital in Beijing and conferring the Padma Bhushan on Professor Ji, Mukherjee may have done his bit towards strengthening the relationship between the two ancient nations, at the least at 'people to people' level.
Of course, probably due to their ignorance of the Indian system, some silly errors crept into the Chinese media coverage of the event.
Image: External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee presents the Padma Bhushan award to Chinese indologist Prof. Ji Xianlin in Beijing on June 5, 2008. He became the first Chinese to receive the award. (Copyright PTI. Any unauthorised reproduction is prohibited)