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May 29, 2000
We are not rivals: Narayanan
Nikhil Lakshman in Beijing
"From a strategic height we must continue to work for a constructive partnership of co-operation in the 21st century," Chinese President Jiang Zemin told President K R Narayanan at their summit in Beijing on Monday morning. "Both countries complement each other in international affairs," the Indian President responded." We are not rivals."
The first Sino-India Presidential summit in nearly four years was held in a "warm and friendly atmosphere," Foreign Secretary Lalit Mansingh informed the Indian media after the talks. "The personal chemistry was evident as the talks proceeded. President Jiang made frequent departures from the prepared text and spoke in English," the foreign secretary added.
The meeting went beyond the scheduled two hours, with both Presidents animatedly discussing issues of bilateral and multilateral interest for another 30 minutes.
Jiang emphasised repeatedly Narayanan's special status in China, describing the Indian President as an old friend of his country, referring to his role as ambassador when India and China normalised relations in 1976 for the first time after the 1962 war, and how he had worked towards improving the bilateral equation.
In a country where abrupt gestures can often convey much meaning, Foreign Minister Tang Jixuan attended the discussions. In China, the foreign minister is usually absent from such encounters if the other delegation does not include his counterpart.
Earlier, 21 guns boomed across Tiananmen Square as Jiang greeted Narayanan at the forecourt of the Great Hall of the People. The President and First Lady were greeted by the Chinese president, Vice-Premier Qian Qiachen (the former foreign minister who is currently overall in charge of foreign policy), Foreign Minister Tang and Jiang Xheng Hua, vice-chairman of the National People's Congress. Vice-chairman Jiang, who is a member of the non Communist Democratic Party, is a former alumnus of the Institute of Population Studies, Bombay.
After inspecting a guard of honour presented by all three arms of the People's Liberation Army, the Presidents retreated to the Great Hall of the People for their conclave. They initially held a restricted meeting for 30 minutes where they discussed issues, accompanied only by senior ministers (Manohar Joshi from the Indian side and Tang on the Chinese side) and senior officials. Narayanan was later joined by the four MPs who are part of his entourage - Ramachandra Pillai, Somnath Chatterjee, Sushil Kumar Shinde and Sushma Swaraj - and former MP Murli Deora, patron of the India-China Chamber of Commerce.
Though ministry of external affairs officials would not confirm if Jiang and Narayanan discussed the border issue, it is understood that the Indian President raised the longest pending dispute between Beijing and New Delhi. Referring to the two agreements of the past and the 12 Joint Working Group meetings held so far, he emphasised the need to accelerate the process of delineating the Line of Actual Control. The Chinese and Indian Expert Groups will meet in five months with their respective cartographers and maps to debate the nearly 40-year-old border conundrum.
In a typically indirect Chinese response, Jiang referred to disputes left over by history, saying the differences must be resolved by patience, when the conditions are right. "They must be resolved in a spirit of mutual understanding, mutual accommodation and mutual adjustment," the Chinese leader said.
"It is true that problems have been left to us by history," Narayayan is reported to have responded. "But these problems should be resolved and not be left again to history. This is not a problem we should bequeath to future generations."
The President then gave his Chinese contemporary a brief "expose" of India's relations with Pakistan, specifically mentioning how Islamabad's support for terrorism had become a menace to the new world order. While Jiang indicated that his government opposed all forms of terrorism -- "there is no justification for terrorism for political goals" -- and mentioned the need for all countries to get together to fight terrorism, he predictably did not mention Pakistan by name.
Interestingly, the President did not bring up the issue of China transferring missile and nuclear technology to Pakistan, since he believed the matter had already been discussed at some length at the Sino-Indian security dialogue in March and the JWG meeting in April.
If India raised the issue of Pakistan, sources indicated that the Chinese leader brought up the issue of the Dalai Lama and the Karmapa Lama. Jiang said he hoped India would not encourage the Dalai Lama's political activities and expressed the apprehension that anti-Chinese groups may exploit the Karmapa Lama's presence in India for their own ends.
Narayanan is believed to have assured Jiang that his government considered the Dalai Lama a religious, and not a political, leader. He added that though the Indian government did not place any restrictions on the Karmapa Lama, the monk -- who turns 15 on June 26 -- would not be permitted to engage in political activities.
The Chinese leader accepted Narayanan's suggestion that an Eminent Persons Group be set up on both sides to promote the bilateral relationship. India already has such an arrangement with France and Germany, and such a group -- comprised of eminent Chinese and Indians -- would discuss all aspects of the relationship, make suggestions and supplement the governments's efforts. Jiang, on the other hand, wanted greater people to people contact between the two sides, greater emphasis on economic and scientific co-operation, and Indian assistance in e-commerce.
Jiang hosts a banquet for the Indian President this evening. However, since the Chinese do not like speeches to be made on such occasions, what had to be said on both sides during this visit was stated this morning. After the meal, the two Presidents attend a concert performed by Dr L Subramaniam and the Beijing Symphony Orchestra. By attending the event, observers say Jiang -- who incidentally prefers Benny Goodman and Elvis Presley -- is making another one of those gestures that says much about current thinking in Beijing about relations with its southern neighbour.
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