Ambassador bids a quiet farewell after 2-year tenure

Updated: 2016-01-06 08:18

By An Baijie(China Daily)

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Unlike India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has blazed a trail on social media with almost 180,000 Chinese followers on his Weibo account, Indian Ambassador to China Ashok K. Kantha prefers a low profile, both online and offline. His approach, as he prepares to leave office after a successful two-year tenure, has helped ensure the success of “hometown diplomacy" a phrase that captures the essence of the relations between the leaders of China and India.

The ambassador has, however, opened a Weibo account, attracting around 120 followers, a tiny fraction of Modi's followers.

His quieter approach was evident during his farewell reception on Monday evening, as the ambassador, who is leaving China on Thursday to enjoy retirement, gave no speech. Instead, he chatted with more than 200 guests from the diplomatic, military, academic and media circles, for nearly three hours.

Kantha became Indian ambassador to China in January 2014. Before coming to Beijing, he was secretary to the Indian Ministry of External Affairs. Vijay Gokhale, the incumbent Indian ambassador to Germany, will be his successor, according to sources from the embassy.

As ambassador to China he has witnessed enhanced communication between the leaders of the two countries. President Xi Jinping made a state visit to New Delhi in September 2014 and Modi visited Beijing in May last year.

Ambassador bids a quiet farewell after 2-year tenure

"The two visits showcased the high level of personal rapport between our leaders and coined a new term – 'hometown diplomacy'. Modi has met with Xi and Premier Li Keqiang as much as eight times over the last eighteen months," Kantha told China Daily.

Aided by the ambassador, Modi, an enthusiastic fan of social media, has seen his popularity soar among Chinese Internet users after his Weibo account was opened early last year. Indian embassy sources said two people at the embassy are responsible for updating and maintaining the account.

On May 15, Modi uploaded a selfie with Li during a visit to the Temple of Heaven in Beijing. It's the first time that a Chinese central government leader's selfie was publicized by his counterpart. The micro blog entry drew more than 107,000 likes and was forwarded 67,000 times.

When discussing the potentiality of ties between the two countries, Kantha uses two acronyms that suggest momentum and progress.

"If I have to describe the potential of India-China ties, I will say INCH (India and China) towards MILES (Millennium of Exceptional Synergy)," Kantha quoted Modi as saying in an article written exclusively for China Daily ahead of his farewell.

Kantha expressed his satisfaction at the "all-round progress" of the bilateral relationship.

"I am happy that my country is the second-largest participant after China in the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB)," he said.

The ambassador recalled his first visit to Peking University in 1982. "At that time, there were barely a dozen Indian students in China; today, there are some 14,000 Indians studying here."

India strongly welcomes Chinese participation in development campaigns such as Make in India, Digital India, and Smart Cities, Kantha said, adding that investments from China are flowing into India.

Last year, both Jack Ma, founder and chairman of e-commerce giant Alibaba, and Lei Jun, chairman and CEO of Xiaomi Inc, visited India. The two businessmen were also among the list of 19 entrepreneurs met by Modi during his visit to Shanghai on May 16.

Lian Peng, a manager of Chongqing-based automaker Changan International Corp, said that the company is planning to set up factories in India as the Modi government is seeking foreign investment.

"The potential of the Indian market is huge given its large, young population," he said.

During his visit to India in September 2014, Xi said that "China and India have a combined population of over 2.5 billion. If we speak with one voice, the whole world will listen, and if we join hands, the whole world will pay attention".

Born in May 1955, Kantha graduated in History from Patna University in 1975. He joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1977 and studied Chinese at Nanyang University, Singapore from 1979 to 1981, according to the introduction on Indian embassy's website.

"During my travels in China, I have always been impressed with the warmth, friendship and keen interest of local leaders towards India, and I am sure this will translate into more active cooperation on the ground." he said.