President Pranab Mukherjee will land in Guangzhou, an industrial city in south China with ancient links to India, for a four-day visit to China beginning May 24 that is aimed at strengthening bilateral business ties.
The Hualin temple in a densely populated part of Guangzhou stands testimony to the legend of old Sino-India links: Bodhidharma, believed to be from India, came to the city to spread Buddhism in the 6th century.
In modern times, more than 5,000 resident Indians and many more travelling traders have strengthened that connect, trading in commodities ranging from garments to home furnishing.
Mukherjee will address a handful of them within hours of landing here at a reception in a five-star hotel.
His speech is expected to touch on the old Sino-India links and the strengthening of trade between the two countries.
The following morning, Mukherjee will attend a high-profile business event jointly organised by the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) and the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade (CCPIT), the country’s foreign trade and investment promotion agency. Top Chinese companies are expected to attend the forum.
In 2015, Guangzhou with $.28 trillion was the third-ranked city in China after Shanghai and Beijing in terms of GDP.
The last Indian president to visit China was Pratibha Patil in 2010. Mukherjee’s visit comes at a time when high-level visits between the two sides appear to have been regularised.
President Xi Jinping visited India in September 2014, followed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s tour of Beijing, Shanghai and Xian last May.
Compared to prime ministerial visits, presidential ones are more symbolic in nature.
But in diplomatic relations like those between India and China, it indicates the two countries – despite sharp differences across spheres – are working on normalising relations.
Indian residents of Guangzhou are happy that Mukherjee will visit the city, a first for an Indian leader.
“The visit will benefit us. Not on the scale of (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi’s event in Shanghai, this will still be a big function for Indians staying here,” said an Indian who did not want to be named.
Mukherjee will travel to Beijing on May 25 and a range of bilateral meetings are expected in the capital, a three-hour flight away.
Besides meeting President Xi , Mukherjee is expected to have one-on-one meetings with the next three most powerful leaders of the seven-member Standing Committee of the Communist Party of China’s politburo – Premier Li Keqiang, Zhang Dejiang, head of the National People’s Congress or China’s parliament, and Yu Zhengsheng, chief of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the country’s top advisory body.
Mukherjee is also expected to give a speech and interact with students at Peking University, one of China’s top educational institutions.