A 100-member youth delegation comprising young Indian students, politicians, sportspeople and artists is visiting three Chinese cities in an attempt to bridge misperceptions and reach out to China's next generation.
The group arrived here on Thursday, but with one member less: A student from Arunachal Pradesh had to drop out at the last minute after being denied a visa by the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi. The trip also faced the risk of postponement on account of long bureaucratic delays between different Indian government ministries; several dozen passports were submitted to the Chinese Embassy only hours before the trip was scheduled to begin.
China has a long-standing policy of not issuing visas to residents of Arunachal Pradesh, which China has claims on and refers to as "South Tibet". Last year, members of a karate team from the State who were travelling to China for a competition were issued stapled visas.
Last minute move
Delays in submitting the passports of the delegation meant that the student was informed only hours before the flight out of New Delhi on Wednesday. Several dozen passports were submitted "at the last minute" on the day of the group's departure, according to one official.
"We learnt, only when we were leaving, that one person who was a former Youth Corps volunteer was not given a visa," said Nita Chowdhury, Secretary, Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs. "It was already 6 pm in the evening, when we were leaving, that we got to know." MEA officials were only informed after the delegation arrived in China.
As China has not issued regular visas in the past to residents from the State, whether or not the inclusion of the student - a former National Youth Corps volunteer - was intended to gauge any change in China's policies was unclear. The list of students proposed by the Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan (NYKS), an autonomous body under the Ministry of Youth Affairs, was sent to both the Ministry of External Affairs and the Home Ministry before visa applications to the Chinese Embassy were made.
Ms. Chowdhury said there was no condition that every State had to be represented, with deserving candidates put forward only according to the recommendations of zonal offices. The delegation also included two students from Jammu and Kashmir, who, like recent visitors from the State to China, received regular visas, suggesting a shift in China's earlier stapled visa policy.
The delegation, which spent Friday and Saturday in Beijing, visiting tourist sites and also attending a banquet thrown by its hosts, the All China Youth Federation, will travel to Hohhot in Inner Mongolia and Shenyang in Liaoning. The group is comprised of outstanding National Service Scheme (NSS) performers, representatives of the NYKS, Panchayati Raj Institutions and youth wings of political parties, including Congress, BJP, CPI and CPI(M).
"The purpose of this visit is to get both of our young people going," Ms. Chowdhury said. "A lot of questions are there in our minds as to what new China is. There are many things which we need to know about this country."
She said the youth delegation was given a very positive welcome by scholars at the official China Institute for International Studies (CIIS), who urged them to look to the future and even cited China's settling of border disputes with Russia as an indication that past problems could be solved.
The timing of the delegation has, however, disappointed both its student representatives and Chinese universities. As schools and colleges here are now closed for the summer, the delegation will have little interaction with young Chinese, leaving some to wonder why a different time was not chosen for the trip.