Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on Thursday stepped out of the walled office of the Communist party of China and allowed an excited crowd of visiting Indians to surround him and thrust a Rajasthan pagadi (turban) on his head.
Wen is the populist face of the top Chinese leadership, but this was the first time he addressed young Indians in the last six years since an annual youth exchange was started between the rival neighbours.
The premier's rare gesture aimed to regain the political momentum he infused in the bilateral relationship after his visit to India last December to ease prolonged tensions over stapled Chinese visas and China's presence in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. His speech on Thursday, reminding the audience of the similar development challenge in both nations, came while Beijing has accused New Delhi of violating Chinese sovereignty by teaming with Vietnam for oil and gas exploration in the South China sea.
While Wen was praising bilateral ties, the foreign ministry spokesman and state media repeated that India's oil hunt was 'unlawful' without Chinese consent.
Wen stood alone in the centre of a red stage, reading from a script prepared to emphasise a shared past and future and improve perceptions of India among Chinese youth. There's an Indian saying that the Ganges is a river to heaven, he said. â€œAnd an ancient Chinese poem says the water of the Yellow river flows down from heaven..Chinese tai chi, calligraphy, tea, and indian yoga and dance all express nature's beauty and harmony.
Asia largest nations are at a 'critical juncture' of development, Wen stressed. We're both confronted by opportunities and challenges. We have both suffered trials and tribulations in history.
A 500-member Indian youth delegation, the largest-ever and including members from Kashmir who received regular visas, is on a 10-day tour of China to mark a year of India-China exchanges. A 500-member Chinese youth delegation is also slated to visit India.
India and China aim to improve public perceptions of their relationship by enhancing the level of people to people exchanges, which are presently limited to about one lakh Chinese visitors to India and five lakh Indians visiting China every year.
The future of China-India ties is in the hands of youth, Wen said, urging the audience of Indians and Chinese to walk hand-in-hand to benefit their countries and the world.
Ajay Maken, minister of state for youth affairs and sports, said Wen's presence at the event sent a positive message to India.