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Short ceremony, relaxed air

The tension associated with prime ministerial visits to countries like China and Pakistan appear missing during Manmohan Singh's China visit this time, reports Amit Baruah.

world Updated: Jan 15, 2008 03:52 IST

The Great Hall of the People, which hugs the Tiananmen Square, is an imposing building. Unlike India, where official welcome ceremonies take place at the forecourt of the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the guard of honour for a visiting dignitary takes place inside the Great Hall.

As the press waited inside the main hall of the massive, Soviet-style structure, in walked Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Wen Jiabao. The Indian and Chinese national anthems were played and the two leaders then inspected a guard of honour.

A brief, but impressive ceremony. Change in air?

In June 2003, I travelled with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to cover his visit to China. At that time, only the electronic media were allowed inside the Great Hall. This time the print media, too, were invited by the Chinese.

If you thought the winds of change were blowing full blast, you had to soon think again. There was a joint press conference, as the Chinese called it, by Singh and Wen, but there were no questions.

Maybe, the next time an Indian Prime Minister goes to Beijing there will be a full-blown press conference.

The vision document

Just before the welcome ceremony, the entire Indian team — National Security Adviser MK Narayanan, Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon, Ambassador Nirupama Rao and Principal Secretary TKA Nair — put in an appearance.

The officials were looking relaxed and chatted with the press corps, but gave away little about what was expected in the talks that eventually lasted for four hours.

And, as one official told me later in the evening, the shared vision document had been sewed up on Saturday itself. One man who put in a lot of the hard work missed the show — Vijay Gokhale, Joint Secretary (East Asia) — who was sick in Delhi.

Tension missing

The tension associated with prime ministerial visits to countries like China and Pakistan appeared missing. Clearly, the two sides had made extra efforts to ensure that everything went smoothly. Indian officials said Wen and Singh had established a good equation since the Chinese Premier visited India in 2005.