Sonia’s Beijing visit raises protocol woes for China

August 3rd, 2008 - 3:50 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Sonia Gandhi

New Delhi, Aug 3(IANS) Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s possible presence at the Aug 8 opening of the Beijing Olympic Games is creating a protocol puzzle for her Chinese hosts. India has not announced the name of the person to head its delegation at the grand inaugural ceremony on Friday. But in private it has conveyed to the Chinese that it will be Sports Minister M.S.Gill, informed sources said.

In the Indian political pecking order Gill ranks much below Sonia Gandhi. Though she is president of the Congress party and chairperson of the ruling United Progressive Alliance, she holds no government post.

If Sonia Gandhi decides to go, she might be seated in an enclosure reserved for guests of the Communist Party’s Beijing Olympic Committee, the sources said.

It will, however, not be the one that will have Chinese President Hu Jintao, his American counterpart George W. Bush and the other heads of states and governments. But by virtue of being head of the Indian government’s delegation, Gill will earn a seat in that privileged enclosure.

“If Sonia Gandhi is seated in the other enclosure, she will not get the kind of focus and media attention that she deserves. But if she is seated along with Gill, it might raise embarrassing questions in India,” sources told IANS.

China is keen that Sonia Gandhi should come for the inaugural ceremony of Beijing 2008 next Friday. The Communist Party of China has invited Sonia Gandhi and her “family members” to be its guests for the gala event. Her daughter Priyanka along with her husband Robert Vadra and their two children are going to Beijing for the inaugural ceremony.

But so far it is not clear whether Sonia Gandhi’s son Rahul, who is a member of parliament and also a general secretary of the Congress party, will be going. Nor has there been any confirmation yet on Sonia Gandhi’s presence at the ceremony.

“We are keen she comes for the inaugural ceremony. But so far she has not confirmed whether she can make it,” a senior Chinese official told IANS.

A 99-member Indian squad comprising athletes, sportsmen, trainers, physio-therapists and officials are scheduled to leave for the Olympic Games on Aug 5. The Chinese ambassador in New Delhi, Zhang Yan, is planning a warm send-off for the Indian delegation at the Indira Gandhi International Airport on Monday night.

The other problem that China faces is in finding a suitable accommodation for Sonia Gandhi and her delegation if she decides to go. The best hotels and clubs in Beijing have been booked by various countries months in advance to house their respective leaders and official delegations for the Games.

The Chinese government has booked over a dozen rooms for Sonia Gandhi and her delegation that might include her family members, other senior members of the Indian delegation and her personal staff, in one of the better hotels in the capital city.

But if Sonia Gandhi travels to Beijing, she will also have a large posse of security personnel from the elite Special Protection Group (SPG) with her. Finding accommodation for members of her security team has only added to the worries of the Chinese government.

“Even if they try and accommodate two security personnel in each room, they will need a large number of rooms in the same hotel. And at this juncture that is a tall order,” the sources said.

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