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Chinese activity on Brahmaputra no cause for worry: PM

By Sheela Bhatt
March 29, 2013 00:37 IST
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Chinese activities on the river don’t impact the actual flow of water into India, says prime minister.

At his first meeting with China's supreme leader Xi Jinping on Wednesday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh proposed that India and China set up a joint mechanism to study the Chinese activities on the Brahmaputra river, which has become a contentious issue.

Dr Singh, however, does not think there is any cause for worry about China’s recent activity on the river. The prime minister's assessment is that the Chinese activity on the Brahmaputra river in Tibet are essentially run-of-the-river projects which do not impact the actual flow of water into India.

Both leaders met in Durban on the sidelines of the BRICS summit. Speaking to the Indian media who accompanied him to South Africa, the prime minister shared his impressions of the interaction with Xi.

“We reviewed the whole gamut of our bilateral relationship and also discussed the opportunities that exist in exchanging views and coordinating our positions in various regional and international fora,” Dr Singh said.

“I also took the opportunity to raise the issue of trans-border river systems and I requested the Chinese government to provide a joint mechanism to enable us to assess the type of construction activity that is going on in the Tibetan Autonomous Region,” he added.

“The president of China assured me that they were quite conscious of their responsibilities and the interest of the lower riparian countries,” the prime minister said.

“As regard to the specific mechanism that I had suggested, he said they would have it further looked into. But as of now, our assessment is that whatever activity is taking place on the Brahmaputra river in Tibet, they are essentially run-of-the-river projects and therefore there is no cause for worry on our part,” he noted.

Asked what he thought of the five steps for the India-China relationship that Xi had highlighted after taking over as president, Dr Singh said, “This was my first meeting and both of us, I think, were keen to get acquainted. We did not go in depth into specific solutions for specific problems."

"I got a distinct impression that the new Chinese leadership is as serious as the former Chinese leadership to promote good neighbourly relations and to find practical, pragmatic solutions to outstanding issues between our two countries,” Dr Singh added.

The prime minister was asked why all engagements at the BRICS summit appear to be engagements with China by the rest of the BRICS fraternity. Dr Singh sidestepped the direct question and said, “I think for us BRICS is a very important forum. It represents nearly 27 per cent of the global GDP, about 40 per cent of the world population, and as such there is a growing complimentarity. Of course, the relationship between India and China has elements of coordination, cooperation and competition.”

Dr Singh was categorical that India means business at BRICS. “For us, it is very useful to have a forum like BRICS whereby we can exchange views not only on events which have implications for the management of our bilateral relationship, but also how the global system affects our interests and our concerns."

"So I find this a very useful forum, I certainly value this opportunity annually to review the strength of the global economy, the events that are taking place in various regions of the world and events which have obvious implications for our own growth and prosperity.”

While summing up his interaction with the Chinese president, Dr Singh noted, “It was our first meeting and both of us agreed that we would continue to maintain the strong tradition of frequent high-level exchanges between our two countries to further strengthen our relationship."

"We also agreed that high-level visits will be exchanged this year between India and China," the prime minister said. "I look forward to the opportunity of an early meeting with the new prime minister of China (Li Keqiang) as well.”

Before their encounter on Wednesday, Dr Singh met Xi almost four times -- at the BRICS summit, at lunch and at the African leaders’ meeting.

During the photo session of the BRICS leaders, Xi took Dr Singh’s hand and drew him closer to the group so that the prime minister could fit into the camera frame.

“Even before the formal meeting last evening, I had a very productive exchange of views with the new president of China on the sidelines of the summit," Dr Singh said.

"We both agreed that the type of intimate exchanges that used to take place when President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao were holding their respective positions, and both of us agreed that we should aim to maintain a similar relationship under the new leadership of China.”

Image: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with Chinese President Xi Jinping during the meeting at the sidelines of the BRICS Summit in Durban

Photograph Courtesy: PMO

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