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Singh conveys to Li dismay at border foray

New Delhi, May 19: China’s Premier Li Keqiang went into “restricted talks” with Manmohan Singh this evening within hours of landing here and hoped his visit “will inject new vigour” into bilateral relations despite the shadow of the Ladakh standoff.

But sources in the government said Prime Minister Singh was “firm and upfront” in expressing disappointment over the Chinese foray into Raki Nala in eastern Ladakh. The foray resulted in a standoff for three weeks till May 5.

The sources said Singh also expressed apprehensions that the relations could be hit if frequent transgressions of the undemarcated Line of Actual Control (LAC) were reported.

India believes the latest standoff was designed by China. At its peak, defence minister A.K. Antony had said “what is happening in Ladakh is not of our doing”.

Singh tonight hosted for Li — who is accompanied by a large delegation of businessmen and government officials — a dinner where leaders from across the Indian political spectrum were present. Among those on the guest list were Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, and Prakash and Brinda Karat.

Indian foreign office sources had indicated yesterday that Singh and Li “will have everything on the table” for the talks. But other government sources had said Singh would bring up the issue of the border and the Chinese foray at Raki Nala in the “restricted talks”.

Although the tent tiff ended two weeks ago, the standoff brought into sharp focus a border defence co-operation agreement proposed by China a month before the foray.

The formal delegation-level talks begin tomorrow morning and both sides are working on a joint statement.

Though the agenda includes border issues and sharing of river waters, particularly the Brahmaputra, officials expect Li’s visit to have a greater impact on trade ties than on resolving territorial disputes.

The Chinese Premier took the initiative to portray the relations better than they looked under the shadow of border transgressions. In a statement shortly after landing, he said: “It serves the fundamental interests of the two countries and their people and it is a blessing to Asia and the world at large that China and India co-exist peacefully, maintain friendly relations and work together to realise national rejuvenation...I am looking forward to exchanging views with Indian leaders on bilateral ties and regional and global issues of common concern.”

The Indian side expects to deal with the contentious border delineation and demarcation issues at the 16th round of talks later this year between special representatives of the two governments — India’s national security adviser Shivshankar Menon and a former foreign minister of China. The last 15 rounds have taken 10 years.

Premier Li is scheduled to visit Mumbai on Tuesday and focus on trade relations at a meeting organised by the apex chambers of commerce. Before that, he is slated to speak to students at a meet in Delhi organised by the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA).

Tagore bridge

Li, who last visited India 27 years ago as a youth leader, invoked Rabindranath Tagore in several interactions with Indian officials.

The two governments are expected to sign during his current visit a pact on translating Chinese literary classics into Indian languages, and vice versa.

Tagore visited China in 1924, 11 years after winning the Nobel prize.

The trip was controversial and he wrote and spoke extensively about a great Asian internationalist perspective that India and China together could portray.

Tagore had established a China Bhavan in Santiniketan after being deeply influenced by its literature.

But in invoking Tagore today, soon after the tent tiff, Li may have been keeping up with a tradition: successive Indian leaders have invoked Tagore while visiting China. So have Chinese dignitaries on trips to India.