China formally invites Sonia and family members for Beijing Olympics

July 25th, 2008 - 9:12 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Sonia Gandhi

New Delhi, July 25 (IANS) China has formally invited United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi and her “family members” to attend the August 8 inaugural ceremony of the Beijing Olympic Games. Sources said Chinese ambassador to India Zhang Yan called on Gandhi Thursday at her 10, Janpath residence and handed over a formal invitation from the Communist Party of China (CPC).

“The Chinese ambassador took the opportunity to congratulate her on the UPA government winning a confidence vote in parliament and also handed over the invitation to attend the inaugural function of the Olympic Games,” the sources said.

Though neither Gandhi, who also heads the Congress party that leads the UPA, nor any of her family members have so far confirmed their acceptance of the invitation, the Chinese authorities are hopeful that the Gandhis would attend the event.

Sonia Gandhi and her MP son Rahul Gandhi, who is a Congress general secretary, had visited China last October soon after the CPC congress and held wide-ranging discussions with all the top leaders of the country, including President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao.

This was followed by a visit by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Beijing in January.

The Chinese government also appreciated the manner in which India had facilitated the Olympic torch relay in New Delhi earlier this year and had forestalled any protests by Tibetan exiles here.

A number of heads of states and governments, including US President George W. Bush, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and French President Nikolas Sarkozy have already confirmed their participation at the Olympics’ inaugural.

India is one of the countries that is yet to announce who will represent the government at the event.

Sources said the issue came up for discussion during a meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Hu when they met on the sidelines of the G-8 meeting in Japan earlier this month.

The political developments in India in the wake of the Left parties withdrawing support to the government - that prompted the trust vote, had kept the ruling UPA “too preoccupied” to concentrate on the high-level political delegation that should be sent to Beijing.

With the trust vote out of the way, the UPA leadership could now focus on the composition of the delegation.

“India and China attach much importance to their bilateral relations and the leadership of the two countries would try to ensure no major strains come in the way to slow down the way relations are moving forward,” sources said.

It is in this context that the composition of the delegation becomes extremely important.

There are sections in India that continue to have misgivings about China - particularly about the support Beijing would extend to India on the India-US civilian nuclear deal. China is one of the five declared nuclear weapons states in the world and a member of both the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).

The IAEA board of governors is scheduled to meet Aug 1 for approving an India-specific safeguards agreement. Later in August, the NSG members are also scheduled to meet to amend its guidelines to enable the resumption of nuclear commerce with India after a hiatus of more than 30 years.

India needs the support of China at both these stages. The government has already decided to send Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) Prithviraj Chavan to Beijing to enlist China’s support at these two forums.

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