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India, China to promote cooperation in civil nuclear energy

Pallavi Aiyar

No breakthrough on the boundary dispute in ‘A Shared Vision for the 21st Century’

— Photo: PTI/Shahbaz Khan

Setting common goals: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh exchanges documents with his Chinese counterpart, Wen Jiabao, after they signed a joint statement, titled “A Shared Vision for the 21st Century,” at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Monday.

Beijing: Bilateral cooperation in civil nuclear energy, Chinese support for India’s desire to play a greater role in the United National Security Council, and the possibility of commencing discussions on a Regional Trade Agreement, all found place in a joint document signed by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on Monday evening.

The document, titled “A Shared Vision for the 21st Century” did not however indicate any breakthrough on the boundary dispute. There was instead a reiteration of the official position of both sides to seek a “fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable solution,” to the issue on the basis of the political parameters and guiding principles announced in 2005.

Moving beyond the statement on nuclear cooperation made in the joint declaration issued during Chinese President Hu Jintao’s visit to New Delhi in November 2006, the “Shared Vision” states that “the two sides pledge to promote bilateral cooperation in civil nuclear energy, consistent with their respective international commitments, which will contribute to energy security and to dealing with risks associated with climate change.”

Briefing reporters on the statement, Indian Foreign Secretary Mr. Shiv Shankar Menon said that it showed the “clear expression of the will to cooperate in this [civilian nuclear energy] area.”

Responding to a question on whether or not China had indicated its willingness to support India on the nuclear issue at the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), Mr. Menon replied, “If NSG members are ready to cooperate with us for nuclear energy, it will have certain implications for their response to the nuclear issue at the NSG.”

The joint statement also mentioned for the first time that “The Chinese side understands and supports India’s aspirations to play a greater role in the United Nations, including the Security Council.” Mr. Menon called the inclusion of the phrase “including the Security Council” an “incremental” but important development.

The interaction between Dr. Singh and Mr. Wen took place over a four-hour period, including talks, a signing ceremony and a banquet hosted by the Chinese Premier. Dr. Singh described his talks with Mr. Wen as “constructive and forward looking.”

The positive chemistry between the two leaders was evident during the welcoming ceremony at the Great Hall of the People when on occasion Mr. Wen placed a light hand on Dr. Singh’s back to guide him through the guard of honour given to the leaders by the People’s Liberation Army. Mr. Menon also stressed the element of personal warmth in the relations between the two leaders, highlighting the fact that the Premier had given Dr. Singh a private dinner on Sunday night, a gesture that was not the norm on these occasions.

A major focus of both the joint statement and the talks themselves was on the global and regional dimensions of bilateral ties. The “Shared Vision” document thus includes common positions that the two countries share on a range of issues including the WTO and climate change. It also stressed that “India-China relations are not targeted at any country,” nor will the relations affect their friendship with other countries.

On trade, the two sides announced a new bilateral target of $60 billion by 2010, given that the earlier target of $40 billion was almost met in 2007 itself. The joint document also revealed that the report of the Joint Feasibility Study on a potential Regional Trade Agreement had concluded an India-China RTA would be “mutually advantageous.” Despite strong opposition from Indian industry, an agreement to “explore the possibility of commencing discussions” on the RTA through the mechanism of the Joint Economic Group was thus announced. It was also decided to establish a business leader’s forum to give feedback to the government on ways in which to strengthen the economic engagement.

In addition to the Shared Vision document, 10 other bilateral documents were signed, including memoranda of understanding in a diverse range of sectors from railways, housing, land resources, cultural exchanges, geo-sciences, traditional medicine, agriculture and exports of Indian tobacco to China. The determination to intensify high-level exchanges was also expressed.

Mr. Wen invited President Pratibha Patil to visit China in 2009, while Dr. Singh extended an invitation to the Chairman of China’s National People’s Congress, Wu Bangguo, to visit India this year itself. The Foreign Ministers of both countries will make exchange visits this year as well.

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