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Sunday, October 13, 2019

How Chinese President Xi Jinping travelled to Mahabalipuram !

We were seeing Fiat, Standard 10 and Ambassador cars on the streets when in 1985, Ravi Shastri was the Champion of Champions in World Championship in Australia and was  awarded an Audi 100 sedan.  Our feeling was Krish Srikkanth deserved the award more .. .. and by a special order of the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, Indian customs waived the heavy import duty the car entailed. At that time, the cricketer said he did not have a driving licence.

Have not heard much about this luxury car – ‘Hongqi H7’ manufactured by the Chinese manufacturer FAW under the Hongqi marque. FAW Group Corporation ("First Automobile Works") is a Chinese state-owned automotive manufacturing company headquartered in Changchun, Jilin, China.  Its principal products are automobiles; buses; light, medium, and heavy-duty trucks and auto parts. FAW is one of the "Big Four" Chinese automakers alongside Changan Automobile, Dongfeng Motor Corporation, and SAIC Motor.

The earlier version,  big beauty,  Hongqi L5, was touted the most expensive Chinese car, costing  five million yuan or $760,000; approx Rs.5.40 crores. Hongqi  company is famous for its enormous state limousines and parade cars. The frame is made of metal and the flag is made of glass.  Hongqi L5 is a giant car; 5.55 meters long, just over two meters wide, 1.5 meters high, and with a wheelbase of 3.4 meters. To put that into perspective: the current Mercedes-Maybach S600 is 5.2 meters long. The L5 is also very heavy, even in this non-armored civilian form. It weighs an incredible 3150 kilo, compared with "just" 2390 kilo for the Mercedes. The engine that has to move all those kilos is a 6.0 liter V12.  Fuel consumption is a mystery as well but bet it drinks a lot; that way  has a capacity of 105 litre.

When Govt heads visit other countries, lot of preparatory work and lot of intelligence work takes place.  Nothing is left to chance ~ most Head of the States travel in their own vehicle and their limousines travel by air preceding them.  In US, the  Presidential state car is the official state car used by the President of the United States. A variety of vehicles have both officially and unofficially been acknowledged as the presidential vehicle.  The most recent vehicle to be customized as the presidential car is a Chevrolet Kodiak-based, Cadillac-badged limousine often referred to as Cadillac One  as also ‘The Beast’.

A few years ago, US President Barack Obama was on a historical trip to Israel ~ the whole World was closely observing the development.  During the meticulously planned trip, can you imagine, the US President's $1.5m 'Beast' broke down and had to be  towed away in a recovery vehicle …… and can you imagine the reason !!! ~ media reports suggested that  the  armored limo broke down on the way to the airport.  The custom General Motors Cadillac limo was relegated to a pick up truck  because  the driver had accidentally put gas in the tank instead of diesel. The 18-foot car has an tank that holds 6.5 liters of diesel, and does not work when given gas.  Following that silly mistake, the President was forced to use the second vehicle that they brought over from the U.S.

Our Ex-President Pratibha Patil was provided a Mercedes Benz S600L Pullman, an armoured car whose special protection features provides cover from military-standard small-arms projectiles and fragments from hand grenades and other explosives. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh used a two B5-level armoured BMW 7 Series car.  The cost of the car of the President was  estimated to be around Rs 6 crore. During Shri Narendra Modiji's time as the Gujarat Chief Minister as well as during the promotional campaign in his run-up to becoming the Prime Minister,  Mahindra Scorpio remained an integral part of the politician's career. The SUV, armoured nevertheless, was synonymous with  Modiji
and was the vehicle he was driven-in to the Rashtrapati Bhawan for his swearing in ceremony.

Now for the meet at Mahabalipuram, PM Narendra Modi landed in Chennai and flew to Mamallapuram by helicopter, but President Xi covered the 57 km journey by road travelling. Chinese President Xi Jinping opted to travel to tourist town Mamallapuram by road instead of a helicopter as Chinese leaders, as matter of policy, shun travel by choppers.  Xi covered the 57 km journey to Mamallapuram from Chennai, where he is staying in a hotel, by road travelling in a specially flown in "Hongqi" limousine. The "Hongqi" is a luxury Chinese car used by leaders of the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) from the time of its founder Mao Zedong. In Chinese, "hongqi" means the red flag.

Chinese leaders, almost as a rule, don't use helicopters, the foreign ministry officials in Beijing said. "Chinese leaders travel by planes and cars and don't use helicopters," they said, when asked why the president chose a long car journey over a chopper ride during his India visit. Even when attending multilateral meetings, like the G20, Xi shunned the use of helicopters, the officials said. Xi, who is now the most powerful leader in China after Mao, heading the CPC, the military and the presidency with a prospect of staying in power for life after last year's constitutional amendment removing the two term rule for presidency, had introduced the practice of using the "Hongqi", similar to the US president travelling in a specialised Cadillac vehicle named "The Beast".

The first time Xi ferried Chinese-made vehicles was during his state visit to New Zealand in 2014, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported earlier. At the tme, Xi had opted for two Hongqi L5 cars. Xi rode on bulletproof Hongqi limousines during his three-nation tour of the Southeast Asia and the Pacific in April this year. The move was seen as an attempt to promote the Chinese brand on the international stage, in line with Xi's own 2012 directive to Communist Party cadre that they must eschew foreign wheels in favour of Chinese vehicles. It was seen as a defiant response to the actions and criticism that have been thrown at China by America's outspoken, Cadillac-riding president Donald Trump in his current trade war with China, it said.

"The Americans don't trust local security so they always bring their own [cars]," one spokesperson  said and added - "but I don't think the use of Hongqi is for the same reason." Mao used it during US President Richard Nixon's historic visit to China in the 1970s. But starting in the 1990s, the brand fell out of favour as Chinese leaders switched to using imported vehicles. Xi, in a 2012 speech to Communist Party cadre, said that China's leaders should only use Chinese cars. After Xi's speech, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi began using a Hongqi H7 as his official vehicle in 2013 and started providing Hongqi cars for the motorcades of visiting foreign leaders, according to the Morning Post's report.

Xi Jinping’s car can travel at a top speed of 400km/h and accelerate from 0 to 100kmph in just 1.9seconds, but the Chinese President decided to slow it down to savour the drive down scenic East Coast Road. Instead of zooming past, witnesses said the speed of the luxury vehicle was reduced to 30km/hr-40km/hr along the route to Mamallapuram. On Saturday, Xi’s convoy, which includes ambulances, a quick reaction team, a commando force apart from jammer vehicles, took 50 minutes to reach Chennai airport at 1.30pm from Mamallapuram. Usually, VVIP conyoys take only 30 minutes to cover the 50km distance.

In his car, the President travelled with his driver and a Chinese escort officer during the two-day visit to Chennai and Mamallapuram. Usually, when a head of state visits India, the ministry of home affairs deputes an IPS rank officer to accompany them and they also work as liaison officers. But Xi declined the offer of an Indian as a liaison officer. “As this was an informal meeting between the two leaders, we humbly accepted the request,” said a senior police officer.

Interesting !

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
13th Oct 2019.

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