Wen seeks to win Indians with Tagore, tai-chi, calligraphy

By Manish Chand, IANS
Saturday, December 11, 2010

NEW DELHI - In a bid to improve the public image of China that has taken a beating in recent months due to Beijing’s diplomatic postures, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao will visit a school in the Indian capital when he comes here next week to project the country’s soft power to the younger generation.

Wen will begin his three-day trip to India with a visit to the Tagore International School at Vasant Vihar Dec 15. He will informally interact with schoolchildren where he is expected to tell them about Chinese culture, tai-chi and calligraphy, informed sources told IANS.

He is also expected to announce at the school about China’s decision to provide textual and audio-visual material to Indian schools to help teach Mandarin, a proposal floated by Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal when he visited China recently. He is also likely to declare that China was ready to send teachers to teach Mandarin to India if India wanted, said the sources.

The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) has already announced plans to introduce Mandarin Chinese as a foreign language in its 11,000 affiliated schools from Class 6 onwards next year.

Tagore School has an ongoing exchange programme with a Chinese school whereby Indian teachers impart lessons to Chinese students in yoga through videoconferencing and Chinese teachers teach Indian students about calligraphy.

During Wen’s visit, his second to the country, the two sides will focus on ironing out a host of irritants that has clouded bilateral ties like stapled visas for Indian citizens of Jammu and Kashmir and Beijing’s massive investment in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir that New Delhi sees as an inimical move.

Tagore School has been chosen for the premier’s visit due to the enduring Chinese fascination with Nobel laureate poet-philosopher Rabindranath Tagore. In a recent poll by Global Times, a Chinese daily, Tagore was voted as one of two Indians (that included Jawaharlal Nehru) who have influenced the Chinese the most.

During her visit to China in May, President Pratibha Patil unveiled a bust of Tagore in Shanghai. Another bust of Tagore can be seen at the Peking University in Beijing.

The Chinese were keen to include a visit to the school by the premier as the powers-that-be in Beijing thought this would be a good step to dispel the notion of rivalry and confrontation between India and China among impressionable schoolchildren.

The idea is to create a positive image of China in the new generation which will be leading India in the next 10-20 years, a source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

When he last came to India in 2005, Wen had visited Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) where he spoke about youth exchanges to promote better understanding between the two countries.

Wen will amplify on the theme of India and China as a partners and not rivals in his address to the Indian Council for World Affairs Thursday.

The cultural diplomacy will also be in spotlight when Wen and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will participate in the closing ceremony of the Festival of China in India at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium Thursday evening.

Says Srikanth Kondapalli, a China expert at Jawaharlal Nehru University “It’s time to scale up youth exchanges as they are a good way to build better understanding, specially between India and China. There hasn’t been much on this front so far.”

(Manish Chand can be contacted at manish.c@ians.in)

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