India and China showed unusual, broad-based warmth on Thursday as leaders of the two nations cosied up as outreach partners at the G-8 summit of global leaders. The latest impetus for the closeness once shaken by their border war in 1962 is an emerging commonality on issues related to trade and climate change.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, meeting President Hu Jintao in Berlin a day before they head for the Baltic resort of Heiligendamm for the Group of Eight summit, described China as India's "greatest neighbour."
"China-India relations have reached the stage of fast track growth," Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon quoted Hu as saying. "We are impressed by what we have achieved so far," Menon said. "We have a multifaceted relationship. It used to be a single point one on the border."
For the moment, India and China appear happy that special representatives of the two countries are meeting to discuss a festering border dispute, with the absence of tensions itself being considered a good signal. Dr Singh is also planning to visit China, possibly later in the year.
"There is progress on the ground," Menon said. Significantly, neither leader took up on Thursday a recent controversy over China's denying a visa for a government officer from Arunachal Pradesh, an Indian State that Beijing claims as its own territory.
"It is part of the border issue," Menon said, focusing instead on high growth in bilateral trade as a key driver in a new, broad-based framework. He said two-way trade grew by as much as 56.8 per cent year-on-year to $11.4 billion in the first four months of the current calendar year, with prospects bright to take trade to $40 billion ahead of the targeted date of 2010.
On climate change, China and India took up similar positions this week before their leaders headed off to the G8 meeting as outreach partners, which also include Mexico, South Africa and Brazil. Both countries, which are among the world's fastest growing economies, say there is a need to cut greenhouse gases and carbon emissions that cause climate change, but it should not be at the cost of growth and development.
"There are issues on which there is a large degree of congruence or identity of issues," Menon said. He said joint action with China could be considered later but right now, the focus was on exchanging views.
Dr Singh also met United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. The two discussed ways to help Nepal hold elections and strengthen democracy and the future of the world trade in the wake of the stalled Doha accord aimed at boosting multilateral trade.
Climate change also figured prominently. The Secretary-General invited Prime Minister Singh to a special meeting on global warming ahead of the UN General Assembly session later this year. India has been pushing hard to ensure that formal agreements on climate change take place within the UN framework, though it is willing to discuss it anywhere.
The US, considered the world's biggest contributor to global warming, is not part of the current UN-sponsored Kyoto Protocol to reduce emissions but President George W Bush has signalled that Washington in future would veer towards UN-supervised agreements.
Dr Singh is expected to meet Bush on Friday at the G8 summit venue and informally discuss progress on various issues, including their stalled nuclear cooperation agreement.