The heads of the two Asian powerhouses did not sizzle on the Indian stage. Rather they struck a dry note.
In a visit expected to be high on atmospherics but low on substance, India and China sprung a surprise by signing a comprehensive joint declaration that was not spectacular but outlined the new template of a mature, all-encompassing cooperation.
But while President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh decided on steps to boost trans-border connectivity and signed 13 agreements in trade, agriculture and education, there was little personal chemistry visible between the two. Singh’s decision to not deviate from protocol to go to the airport to receive Hu on Monday set the tone for the poor “personal chemistry” between them. After the delegation-level talks on Tuesday at the Hyderabad House, when Hu and Singh came for what was euphemistically called a “joint press interaction' (in the event, there was no ‘interaction’ and even the mandatory two questions-a-side was dispensed with), they read from prepared statements and sat, “Buddha-like”— with stoic expressions, making no attempt to communicate or exchange witty asides. Their visages remained sphinx-like as the day wore on and the two countries signed 13 agreements. The blandness of expression was disconcerting — for not a single gesture of acknowledgement and reciprocity passed between them. Language was perhaps the wall. Officials blamed that the essence of communication was lost in translation, but it was evident that Hu understood English. He gave himself away when he smiled briefly and clapped after Singh finished his statement and peppered his own with some smiles. In words reminiscent of the “Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai (Indians and Chinese are brothers)” era of the fifties, Hu said, “I convey to the people of India best wishes of the Chinese people. India is a great country and Indians are great people.” But a little of the “Bhai Bhai” spirit came through as the strong man shared space with the Prime Minister at the public forum. The 40 minutes of one-on-one exchanges, officials said, “went off with greater ease”. And Singh accepted an invitation to China.