| Vajpayee and Putin on board the Silver Whisper luxury liner in St Petersburg. (Reuters)
St Petersburg, May 31: The twenty-first century could truly become “an Asian century” if India and China, which account for one-third of humanity, strengthened their cooperation, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has suggested to Chinese President Hu Jintao.
The two leaders are here at the invitation of Russian President Vladimir Putin to participate in the tercentenary celebrations of St Petersburg.
Vajpayee’s first ever meeting with Hu took place when he called on the Chinese leader at the Corinthia Nevskij Hotel this morning.
On his part, Hu seems to have reacted positively to Vajpayee’s sentiments. He did not use the term “Asian century” like Vajpayee but reciprocated by saying that both sides should work for a constructive and cooperative relationship.
He claimed that the new Chinese leadership gave “top priority” to the relationship with India and wanted to proceed “vigorously” to strengthen it.
Hu told Vajpayee that India and China being two big developing countries, with identical views on several international issues, should strengthen their cooperation. This, he felt, could contribute to both regional as well as international stability.
The meeting between the two leaders was considered an important preparatory engagement before a summit meeting in Beijing in the fourth week of June.
This would be the first visit to China in a decade by an Indian Prime Minister.
Ten years ago, then Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao had travelled to China and signed the Peace and Tranquillity Treaty with Beijing. As a consequence, the two neighbours managed to tackle issues relating to demarcation of the border between them without letting the process of clarification of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) become an obstacle in the way of realising their potential for cooperation.
Now Vajpayee seeks to transform the relationship further with China which has emerged not only as an economic giant with a significant share of global trade and investment but also as a huge modern military power.
Foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal, who was present at the meeting between Vajpayee and Hu, claimed that a clear desire to expand and reinforce bilateral ties was evident on both sides. And the Prime Minister’s forthcoming visit to China was seen as contributing to this goal, he claimed.
Although the two sides are willing to tackle the border demarcation question through “time and patience”, no contentious issues were raised today. “This was not the occasion to discuss the border issues. The attempt is create a propitious atmosphere to address them,” Sibal said.
The Chinese President apparently recalled visiting India in 1984 and told Vajpayee that the visit had left a deep impression on him. Hu also said that he was quite convinced that during the last 20 years, a lot of progress had been made in India.
The issue of India-Pakistan relations did not figure in any significant way in the meeting between Hu and Vajpayee. “There was merely a mention of Pakistan but I would not say that they discussed Pakistan,” Sibal said.
Sibal said Hu and Vajpayee also discussed the situation in Iraq and agreed that “the Iraq question had not been fully resolved”. The two leaders exchanged views on the humanitarian situation in Iraq, the need for reconstruction and the possible post-war arrangement within the US framework. “Both sides agreed that their respective missions to the UN would remain in close touch on Iraq,” Sibal claimed.
The Indian foreign secretary summed up the Vajpayee-Hu encounter, saying: “It was a very good meeting with all the right things being said.”
If Vajpayee wanted to convey the message that India is seeking to take its relationship with its northern neighbour to a higher level, he could not have done it better in the brief encounter he had with Hu. The two leaders met for about 30 minutes and about half the time is likely to have been taken up in interpretation.
Hu apparently spoke in Mandarin and his interaction with Vajpayee was easy, warm and functional.