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Chini clicks, Hindi doesn’t: parting hug

Phnom Penh, Nov. 19: The Indian photojournalists missed the moment of the day but their Chinese counterparts didn’t.

As Manmohan Singh and Wen Jiabao parted after a “fruitful and detailed” meeting this morning, the Chinese Prime Minister beckoned to his Indian opposite number and embraced him.

By then, the Indian shutterbugs had left. But the Chinese photographers had hung around and were able to snap up a moment that seemed straight out of the sepia-toned “Hindi-Chini bhai-bhai” era.

To India-China watchers, the Singh-Wen “love fest” in the Hotel Intercontinental’s Sihanoukville Room had more than an emotional underpinning.

A perception persists that despite all the unresolved issues between their countries, Singh and Wen are on the same page about fast-tracking economic reforms. Both seem to recognise that their nations are bountifully endowed with the natural and human resources that can accelerate the process, and appreciate the merits of cementing long-term partnerships in trade, commerce and infrastructure.

The media were later briefed by foreign secretary Ranjan Mathai, who was part of the team that called on Wen along with national security adviser Shiv Shankar Menon and commerce and industries minister Anand Sharma.

Mathai said Wen spoke of how this was the 14th meeting between the two leaders in eight years and perhaps their last before he handed over power to Li Keqiang.

“He said the two PMs had been able to develop an equation and a system of working,” Mathai told reporters.

Sources said Singh told Wen he hoped to “keep meeting” him in other capacities. The Chinese Premier assured him that the new leadership in Beijing would give “greater impetus” to relations with New Delhi because China recognised the “importance of unity” with India.

Mathai said: “Reflecting on the past eight years, the PM (Singh) said India and China had put in place a joint mechanism to ensure peace and tranquillity on the border and worked on a rapid build-up of trade and people-to-people contacts.”

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard at a gala dinner hosted by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen in Phnom Penh on Monday. (PTI)

He cited how the two countries had organised reciprocal visits by the heads of China’s provincial governments and India’s chief ministers.

What wasn’t mentioned was how Beijing’s numerous red carpet roll-outs for Narendra Modi had not only triggered a business impetus on both sides but helped legitimise the Gujarat chief minister to the West, which had virtually declared him persona non grata after the 2002 pogrom.

Among the significant bilateral visits in the offing are one by Menon, on a still unspecified date, and by China’s special representative for border talks, state councillor Dai Binggcio. Like Wen, Binggcio will demit office soon.

Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the Planning Commission deputy chairman, is expected to meet the head of China’s National Development and Reforms Commission for an economic dialogue in end-November.

Asked if the Singh-Wen talks featured the vexatious subject of the South China Sea and the code of conduct for Beijing that the ongoing East Asia summit might want to evolve, Mathai said they didn’t.

However, it is expected that the issue, which has been worrying “vulnerable” countries such as the Philippines and Vietnam, will be raised at the summit-level talks at a retreat tomorrow.

“Leaders can discuss any issue at the retreat. From our perspective on the East Asia summit, the PM emphasised economic development, acceleration and promoting economic growth at all levels,” Mathai said.

“What will happen in the summit is in the realm of speculation. India supports the efforts to arrive at a code of conduct and firm up efforts “for peace in the South China Sea.”