After 18-month gap, China to send new ambassador to India this month | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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After 18-month gap, China to send new ambassador to India this month

May 02, 2024 09:36 PM IST

The Chinese embassy has been without an envoy since October 2022, the longest such gap in ambassadorial postings since 1976

NEW DELHI: China is expected to send a new ambassador to India this month after keeping the crucial post in New Delhi vacant for almost 18 months, with veteran diplomat Xu Feihong tipped for the appointment, people familiar with the matter said.

Xu Feihong, assistant minister of foreign affairs, served as China’s envoy to Afghanistan during 2011-2013 and to Romania during 2015-2019. (Chinese Embassy in Romania)
Xu Feihong, assistant minister of foreign affairs, served as China’s envoy to Afghanistan during 2011-2013 and to Romania during 2015-2019. (Chinese Embassy in Romania)

The Chinese embassy has been without an envoy since October 2022, the longest such gap in ambassadorial postings since 1976, reflecting the current downslide in relations because of the military standoff on the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

The people cited above said on condition of anonymity that the new Chinese ambassador could be in his post before the conclusion of the Indian elections in early June. The posting could happen as early as mid-May, two persons said.

There has been no official word in this regard from the Chinese or Indian side. Experts have described the absence of a Chinese ambassador in New Delhi as a missing link in the channels of communications at a time when bilateral ties are at a low ebb.

Xu, aged about 60, is a member of the Chinese Communist Party’s committee of the foreign ministry and an assistant minister of foreign affairs. He served as China’s envoy to Afghanistan during 2011-2013 and to Romania during 2015-2019. He has also done diplomatic assignments in Finland, South Korea, New Zealand and the UK and is not seen as an India hand.

The last Chinese ambassador, Sun Weidong, completed his term on October 26, 2022, and was appointed one of China’s three vice foreign ministers. Since then, President Xi Jinping has appointed new envoys to Japan and the US, but there was no word whether the post in India would be filled.

The Chinese leadership has been insisting that the military standoff, which has taken bilateral relations to the worst low since the 1962 border war, should be put in its “appropriate place” in the overall relationship while the two sides work on enhancing ties in areas such as trade and investment.

This has been roundly rejected by the Indian side, with external affairs minister S Jaishankar maintaining that bilateral relations won’t be normal until peace and tranquillity is restored on the border. He has also accused the Chinese side of damaging relations by violating agreements and protocols for managament of the border.

Last year, Xi skipped the G20 Summit hosted by India, instead sending Premier Li Qiang to represent China. It is widely believed a lack of confirmation from the Chinese side about Xi’s participation in the SCO Summit in July 2023 was a key reason for the meeting being held virtually.

The last time there was a gap of a year or more in the posting of a Chinese ambassador in India was in 1976. Between the border war of 1962 and the normalisation of relations in 1976, the embassy was headed by either a chargé d’affaires or a first secretary (for a brief period in 1972). Following Sun Weidong’s departure, the embassy has been headed by chargé d’affaires Ma Jia.

The Chinese envoy’s post in India, along with those in Japan, the US and the UK, is among the most coveted postings for Chinese diplomats since the ambassador in New Delhi is considered at par with the rank of vice foreign minister. Both Sun Weidong and his predecessor in New Delhi, Luo Zhaohui, became vice foreign ministers.

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