Ties hinge on peaceful border, Manmohan tells Li

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New Delhi, May 19:  In a frank exchange of concerns, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told visiting Chinese Premier Li Keqiang that the Depsang incursion incident by troops of the People’s Liberation Army had violated a critical understanding lasting many years between leaders of both countries to maintain peace and tranquility on the border at all costs. In an hour-long restricted meeting between the two leaders in the presence of a few aides, Dr. Singh sought to convey that the rest of the India-China relationship flowed from a peaceful border.

It will be difficult to maintain an even keel in bilateral ties if incidents such as the three-week-long encampment at Depsang took place. Sources privy to the meeting, originally pencilled for 30 minutes, said the Chinese leader agreed with Dr. Singh’s observations and felt it was important to further build trust and understanding in order to maintain a peaceful border.

The Chinese leader, who made India his first overseas destination after becoming Premier in March, expressed concern over India-based Tibetan exiles whipping up sentiments against his country and named their leader, the Dalai Lama, as one of the key persons fuelling the unrest in Tibet. Dr. Singh assured his Chinese counterpart that the Indian position had not changed and said the Dalai Lama was only a religious and spiritual leader.

With the Metro Station near the venue of talks at the Prime Minister’s residence shut to prevent Tibetan exiles from congregating, Dr. Singh reiterated that India will not allow any anti-China activity to be conducted from its soil.

The second issue raised by the Prime Minister was that of common rivers. Trans-border rivers should not divide but unite us, he told Mr. Li while suggesting an expanded dialogue on water. Cooperation in this respect should not remain restricted to exchange of hydrological data but expanded so that both countries are upfront about other aspects such as water use and construction activity, added Dr. Singh.

The third major issue flagged by the Prime Minister — lopsided trade flow — found the Chinese Premier at his responsive best. Mr. Li appreciated India’s willingness to boost trade ties with China and listened attentively when Dr. Singh pointed out that expansion in trade is not possible in an atmosphere of fundamental imbalance. Mr. Li agreed on the need for providing some balance to the trade that is now overwhelmingly in China’s favour and said some initiatives were in the pipeline. These include purchase arrangements with Indian companies and agreements to increase their footprint in China in some sectors.

The restricted meeting took place in a “cordial but candid” atmosphere during which the Prime Minister’s approach was “constructive but firm,” according to the sources. The meeting lays the groundwork for a longer and more detailed format of discussions on Monday.

During dinner, Mr. Li surprised the Indians by opting for vegetarian dishes. Dr. Singh and he also had a long discussion on the international economic crises. The Chinese Premier went down the memory lane by recalling his last visit in 1987 during which he had visited the Taj Mahal in Agra.

Mr. Li arrived here on Sunday afternoon and was received at the airport by Minister of State for External Affairs E. Ahamed besides senior officials including Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai. His 35-car cavalcade first swept him to his hotel fronting a major city artery that has been shut down to discourage protests by Tibetan exiles. The Chinese Premier will be visiting Rajghat tomorrow followed by a series of interactions. After delivering a lecture here, he leaves for Mumbai on Tuesday where industrialists will interact with a 100-member delegation of executives from top Chinese companies.

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