The menus at the banquets included stir-fried lobster, codfish in Sichuan sauce, crisp duck rolls, pastries and fruit platters. But the real hunger was for “peace and tranquility” along the disputed borders and the desire for “the friendliest of relations”.
Spurred by changing times and the need for cordial relations, the two Asian giants – China and India -- took a cautious yet optimistic step forward on Tuesday, laying the foundation for shedding the burden of their unresolved boundary with a pact to maintain “peace” along the border and pledging to realise the “full promise” of their partnership in an atmosphere of mutual trust.
At the end of three-hour-long discussions between visiting Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Premier Li Keqiang, the two sides signed nine pacts including the Border Defence Cooperation Agreement and agreed to focus on strengthening relationship between the two nations, home to one-third of humanity.
“The moment is ripe… We have charted (the) course for the future. We need to stand tall and look far. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” Chinese President Xi Jinping later told Singh after hearing him speak about how the “Chinese and Indian dreams were interconnected and mutually compatible”.
India and China share a total of 3,488-km border which has been the main irritant in relations between the two countries. Beijing claims vast tracks of Arunachal Pradesh as its territory.
Li and Singh had earlier in the day agreed that peace on the border must remain the foundation for growth in relationship even as the negotiations on the boundary question continued. “This is our strategic benchmark,” Singh said at a media conference with Premier Li by his side at the Great Hall of the People minutes after the nine pacts were signed.
The border pact -- the first concrete initiative since 2005 – not only restricts border patrols from tailing each other and requires them to exercise maximum restraint when they come face to face with the other side but also enhance understanding amongst defence force personnel deployed in the field.
Significantly, the two premiers also decided to shape their relations with third countries in a way that they did not become a source of concern for Beijing or Delhi.
Setting the tone early in the day, Li started the formal talks thanking Singh for saving 17 Chinese sailors from a cargo ship which sank in the Bay of Bengal due to Cyclone Phailin.
Li described the agreement on signing of agreements on three sister cities as “a new breakthrough in the bilateral friendly exchange” that will promote local and people-to-people cooperation between the two countries.
Both Xi and Li hosted banquets in Singh’s honour, who had arrived in Beijing on Monday on a three-day official visit to the Communist nation.
Visibly pleased at the direction, outcome and contents of the talks, foreign secretary Sujatha Singh said the two leaders discussed the entire gamut of issues, right from the boundary issue and terrorism in the neighbourhood to trade deficit that the prime minister called “unsustainable”.
Li said China and India will make 2014 a Year of Friendly Exchange and discuss with Myanmar also how to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, known in India as the Panchsheel Treaty.