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Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s decision to visit China after being invited “several times” has left many in the TMC confused, others optimistic. However, the move, and the Centre’s approval of it, are reflective not just of the state’s need for investment, but also the tides of change in its politics. After arriving in Kolkata from New Delhi, Mamata had told reporters, “Our party has got an invitation from the Chinese Communist Party. I have been invited several times. China is interested in investing in Bengal. We may visit the country for a few days in June”. As per sources, the trip is likely to take place in the first week of June. Sources said the both the Chinese government and the Communist Party of China have sent invitations.
The CM had received her first-ever invite from China in November 2015, when she met Chinese vice-president Li Yuan Chao here. In March this year, a delegation led by Luo Zhaohui, China’s ambassador to India, had a 45-minute meeting with her. “During the meeting, interest was expressed regarding investment in manufacturing and MSME sectors in Bengal. Both sectors are ones the Bengal government has been attempting to look for investors in, but has not been able to find,” said an official.
The China visit has even got a nod from the Centre, The Indian Express has learnt. A source close to the chief minister explained, “When a chief minister represents India and goes abroad to meet another foreign government, approval of Centre is required. In this case, the Centre was very pleased. Particularly after the controversy with the Dalai Lama’s trip to Arunachal Pradesh, it was felt the move would help improve the present situation.”
One of the biggest criticisms of the TMC government has been its alleged inability to make Bengal an “investment-friendly state”. This, in spite of Bengal Global Business Summit, where the CM has routinely spoken of the state’s successes and promised investments. However, the Opposition points out, little impact has been felt on the ground. Till now, TMC government’s attempts at attracting investments have centred around the usual suspects — Singapore, England and Germany. But, now with the CM herself handling the issue, the government was hopeful because of China’s increasing investment in India, said sources. According to the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) website, Chinese foreign direct investment inflows into India was a whopping $1.61 billion between April 2000 and December 2016, making it the 17th largest investor in India, after climbing up from the 30th spot.
According to a senior leader, many within the TMC believe that while Mamata’s decision to agree to the visit is motivated by her need for investment, her previous reticence was triggered by the warm relationship China shared with the erstwhile Left Front regime. “The previous government would often go to China. In 2005, (then) industries minister Nirupam Sen had also gone to China to attract investment and came back speaking vividly about the success of communism. Perhaps Mamata Banerjee wanted to avoid that. But now, things have changed,” added the senior leader.
An example of this “change” was the political resolution adopted at the 21st Congress of the CPM. In spite of the warm relationship that the party has historically shared with the communist government in China, the party adopted a resolution that argued for a campaign “against the strategic tie-up” with the US, while advocating an “independent foreign policy”. A Left leader said, “The resolution for an independent foreign policy was a departure from the past resolution in 2012. A lot has changed, globally and also for the party in India.”