In a significant development, China indicated on Wednesday that it will back India when it approaches the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to conduct nuclear commerce.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao gave the assurance to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit in Singapore.
Indian officials said Wen was "forthcoming and supportive of international civil nuclear energy cooperation with India", remarks that are seen as Beijing's decision to back New Delhi's case in case it goes to the 45-nation NSG.
China was one of the countries that took a stridently anti-India stand after New Delhi's 1998 nuclear tests. It is a key member of the NSG, and its support is vital for India to enter the world of nuclear commerce.
India is to discuss with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) an India-specific safeguards agreement for the civilian nuclear reactors that will be separated in line with the Indo-US nuclear deal.
If and when that happens, India will approach the NSG to seek an exemption to conduct nuclear commerce. The NSG's green signal is necessary because it is the biggest cartel of nations preventing nuclear commerce with India, which has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Wednesday's meeting between Manmohan Singh and Wen was their second this year, and officials said the talks were marked "by cordiality and friendship".
The two leaders reiterated their readiness to take the India-China Strategic and Cooperative Partnership for Peace and Prosperity "to a new level".
Wen told Manmohan Singh: "Friendship with India is the strategic and long term objective of China".
Manmohan Singh responded in kind, stating India attached great importance to partnership with China and was committed to build bilateral relations "for mutual benefit and on the basis of mutual sensitivity to each others' concerns".
The two leaders also expressed their readiness to see "a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable solution" to their long-standing border dispute that sparked a war in 1962.
Manmohan Singh and Wen also discussed opportunities for furthering cooperation in regional and multilateral forums on global issues such as climate change and energy security.
Wen said China eagerly awaited the visit by Manmohan Singh scheduled early next year.