With a standoff over China's Kashmir policy looming between them days before Premier Wen Jiabao visits India, it was left to the special representatives of New Delhi and Beijing to evoke nostalgia and karma to thaw the chill.
National security advisor Shivshankar Menon and state councillor Dai Bingguo began the sensitive border talks inside villa number 10 on the grounds of Beijing's state guesthouse on Monday evening.
The special representatives referred to each other as old friends as they began the 14th round of negotiations for a framework toward resolving conflicting claims over Aksai Chin in Ladakh and northeast Arunachal Pradesh.
"I want to thank you because I know you recommended me as the Chinese special representative," a chuckling Dai addressed Menon across the green tablecloth. "Probably, you never thought that today you would be the Indian Special Representative."
Menon, a former envoy to China, responded that Indians believe in karma.
"Every action has its consequence," he said. "I never thought in 2003, when we started this process, that I would be sitting here today."
The meeting is crucial to ease tension before Wen visits New Delhi in mid-December. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Wen have asked for a 'sense of urgency' on border talks and the negotiators' rapport is expected to help make progress.
"You are China's old and good friend," said Dai. "I'm convinced you will make your unique contribution to further India-China relations and settlement of the border issue."
The talks will cover issues raised without progress in recent meetings — India's core concerns over China's stapled visas for Indians in Jammu and Kashmir and Chinese presence in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
High-level defense exchanges from India remain suspended since July. The talks are in the backdrop of resurgent Chinese rhetoric over Arunachal Pradesh, which it claims as southern Tibet. The state-run Global Times recently reported Indian military deployment in 'southern Tibet'.
On Tuesday, Menon will meet vice-president Xi Jinping, the heir apparent to succeed President Hu Jintao in two years.