President Pratibha Patil touched down in Beijing on Wednesday to a simple and warm welcome. The red carpet will be rolled out on Thursday when her week-long State visit officially begins with a meeting with President Hu Jintao at the Great Hall of the People.
Ms. Patil arrived at the Chinese capital amid alarmist western media reports — including one in the Guardian — indicating potential India-China tensions over unexplained Chinese constructions on the Brahmaputra River.
The mood on board Air India-1 was, however, one of cheerful optimism. Ms. Patil said India attached “great importance to China” and affirmed that the two Asian powers were poised to enter a phase of “peace, prosperity and cooperation.”
The President, who interacted with journalists on the flight, spoke about “a shared vision for the 21st century,” and a partnership that had evolved over the years from “the purely bilateral” to achieving common global objectives. As a case in point, she mentioned the exemplary unity of purpose witnessed at the climate change conference in Copenhagen in December last.
In an unusual gesture, Ms. Patil went beyond the text of her statement to take a wide gamut of questions, including stock ones on “years of mistrust” between the two countries intensified by super power ambitions on both sides. To this, her answer was that there was “enough space in the world for both countries to fulfil their individual aspirations and prosper.”
Asked about prospects for resolving the border dispute, she said that while there was scope for a “fair, reasonable and mutually satisfying solution,” it was important that both sides endeavoured to maintain peace and tranquillity on the borders pending such a solution.
Ms. Patil painted India-China relations on the large canvas of civilisational linkages and contacts established over many millennia, from “links along the Silk Route” and shared Buddhist scholarship and quests, to the trail blazed by such latter-day symbols of friendship as “Gurudev Tagore, Dr. Dwarkanath Kotnis and Professor Tan Yun Shan.”
To a question whether she would take up the matter of Security Council seat for India during her stay, Ms. Patil said she would: “We hope China will back us on this, and yes, I will be raising it.”
Officials travelling with the President as well as Indian embassy sources in Beijing did not seem overly affected by the Guardian speculation on a grand Chinese plan to divert the waters of the Brahmaputra.
(The original source of the report appears to have been a blog).
They affirmed that a dam was on construction on the river. But this, according to the Chinese government, was only for power generation. The Indian side said the technical feasibility of carrying out such a massive diversion was also in doubt.
Indian officials admitted to a definite sense of warmth post-Copenhagen. The challenge then was to move forward on areas of common interest — bilaterally on trade, globally on climate change and Doha — while trying to lower the pitch on areas of conflict.