Describing her ongoing visit to China as a "milestone" in Sino-Indian relations, Congress President Sonia Gandhi on Friday said she was "amazed and astounded" at the progress made by the neighbouring country.
In her initial remarks at her first political engagement on the second day of her five-day visit with the Minister of the International Department of the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) Wang Jiarui, Gandhi said "this (her trip) is a milestone in strengthening the relations between the two countries".
Welcoming Gandhi, the Chinese Communist leader said Gandhi's visit was a "milestone" not only at the party-to-party level but also between the two countries. "Your visit has captured the attention of the whole world", Wang told Gandhi.
Responding to the warm words of welcome, Gandhi, accompanied by her son and newly appointed AICC General Secretary Rahul Gandhi and a high-level party delegation, said, "I am amazed and astounded at the progress made by the people of China and its leadership."
Gandhi recalled that Chinese President Hu Jintao, who is also the newly elected CPC General Secretary, had invited her to visit China when he was in India last November. The UPA Chairperson also recalled that she was in China 11 years ago.
Apart from Rahul, senior Congress leader Karan Singh and Union Ministers Prithviraj Chavan and Anand Sharma and Indian Ambassador to China Nirupama Rao were also present at the meeting.
Earlier the delegation visited the Capital Museum in Beijing, where Sonia was shown glimpses of Chinese history and culture.
Sonia will meet Hu this evening and also call on the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao later in the afternoon and exchange views with the newly-elected Chinese Communist Party leadership on a range of bilateral and party-to-party issues.
She will also meet Politburo member Liu Qi and former Chinese Foreign Minister Huang Hua, who had played a major role in fostering bilateral ties in the early stages of Sino-Indian relations.
In a rare honour, Sonia is expected to be the first leader of a foreign political party to meet with Hu and Wen, after they were re-elected to the all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee of the CPC Central Committee on Monday at the first plenum of 17th National Congress of the Party.
Besides Beijing, Sonia will also visit Xian, one of China's ancient capitals in northwest China and Shanghai, the communist giant's gleaming commercial hub in the east.
Meanwhile, the Chinese Foreign Ministry has said that China attaches "great importance" to the visit of Sonia and it will have an important role in the further development of Sino-Indian relations.
"China attaches great importance to her visit and believes the visit will play an important role in promoting mutual understanding, bilateral relations and cooperation," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Liu Jianchao said.