The external affairs ministry has turned down Chief of Army Staff General S Padmanabhan's proposal to visit China this week.
According to sources, the ministry said the visit would only show unwarranted enthusiasm on the part of the Indian military leadership to visit China and not pay any dividends.
The ministry, they said, pointed out that the Chinese military leadership was yet to reciprocate the visit of former air force chief A Y Tipnis.
So, it told Army Headquarters, Gen Padmanabhan could undertake a 'reciprocal' trip after a high-level Chinese military visit to India comes about.
The sources also argued that Gen Padmanabhan's visit to China at this juncture was not needed because Defence Minister George Fernandes and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee are themselves slated to visit the country later this year. "It would have been merely ceremonial," one external affairs ministry official said.
But army sources say these arguments are flawed. They point out that visits by Chinese naval and air force chiefs are not a true measure of the importance Beijing attaches to military contacts with India, because China's naval and air chiefs rank below more than a dozen top People's Liberation Army officers in that country's military hierarchy. And as late as early this year, a senior Chinese officer ranked higher than the air force and naval chiefs had visited India.
The last time a PLA chief visited India was in April 1998, when General Quanyou Fu, who still heads the army, came to Delhi as part of a high-level delegation.
Regardless of these arguments and counters, General Padmanabhan's visit is off. And with this cancellation, he is certain to go down as one of the least-travelled army chiefs in recent history.
The general has only visited the United States, Japan and Nepal, the last not strictly a foreign visit, because every Indian Army chief visits Nepal to be conferred an honorary generalship of the Royal Nepal Army.
Gen Padmanabhan's visit to South Africa was decided twice, only to be cancelled on both occasions. An army chief is entitled to four foreign trips a year.
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