New Delhi, May 2: “I never called China enemy No. 1,” George Fernandes said today.
The defence minister, back from China this week, held wide-ranging discussions with the leadership in Beijing that are expected to set the tone for the Prime Minister’s visit later this year.
“Your calling me a China-baiter does not make me a China-baiter. (The) whole media told a lie. There has to be some reasonableness. You cannot carry a lie to the grave,” Fernandes said.
The minister is said to have identified China as India’s biggest threat during the rationalisation by the Indian leadership for its 1998 nuclear tests. The statement, attributed to Fernandes, upset India-China diplomatic relations and Beijing had taken strong exception to it.
Fernandes met Chinese Premier Hu and a large section of its political leadership. “Everywhere I went, I was told that they were waiting with expectation for the Prime Minister’s visit,” he said, after gifting Chinese envoy Hua Junduo cartons of medicines to aid the Chinese combat Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. “China is waiting to receive the Prime Minister.”
“The approach during my trip was that all problems have a solution. But we did not really get into specifics,” Fernandes said when asked if the disputes on the Line of Actual Control in Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh had come up. Asked if Beijing empathised with India’s case against “Pakistan-sponsored terrorism”, he said China had made it clear that they were part of the global war against terrorism in general.
The defence minister said there were preliminary talks for military-to-military cooperation that would involve visit by Indian officers and Chinese counterparts. He said the Chinese were particularly keen on economic cooperation in the form of joint ventures.
Speaking about his meeting with the Chinese premier in Beijing and with Jiang Zemin, the chairman of the Central Military Commission, in Shanghai, Fernandes said: “The thrust of our discussions were on building mutual relationship and fighting against terrorism.”