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Wen wins hearts at youth

It was Wen’s idea to make young people understand the significance of Indo-China relations. Reshma Patil reports.

world Updated: Sep 23, 2011 23:24 IST
Reshma Patil
Reshma Patil
Hindustan Times

The call from the foreign ministry came 24 hours ahead.

We had applied to cover a 'high-security' meeting of the largest-ever Indian youth delegation to China. The high-security host was finally mentioned by name on the phone, but the Indian establishment was still reluctant to confirm whether Premier Wen Jiabao would address the group for the first time in six years of the annual exchange.

Wen is the Politburo's pro-reform voice and crisis campaign manager. He shows up at the scene of natural disasters and accidents as the human face of the inaccessible Communist Party.

Last December, Wen went to New Delhi to rescue Beijing's foreign policy from near disasters with India on stapled visas and trade deficits. On Thursday, it was Wen's idea to make a personal appeal to young Indians and Chinese to 'understand the strategic significance' of relations between Asia's largest nations.

His speech linking the Ganges and Yellow River civilisations came days after New Delhi and Beijing hit an impasse on the South China Sea.

India is 'provoking' us, complained two China strategists who suggested to this reporter that the standoff will end only if India abandons plans to explore oil and gas in two Vietnamese blocks China claims as its own.

"But why does India want to look for oil far away in Vietnam?" asked a Chinese expert on Pakistan, requesting anonymity. "Go to Myanmar and Bangladesh. The South China Sea is a sensitive issue."

On the Chinese presence in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, the strategist argued that China is building infrastructure in PoK on a 'non-profit' basis.

In this sullen backdrop, Beijing was in a mood to impress India. The 500 Indians played kabbaddi, beat drums and stomped bhangra in the elite hall.

An official who initially said only one of the two Indian journalists present may shadow Wen, obligingly procured two purple armbands of the 'official press' and made us rehearse where to stand, walk, promise not to speak and 'only follow'.

The orderly plan was perfect in its disregard of Indian expertise in mass movements. Wen waved like a politician and urged Indian and Chinese youth to walk hand-in-hand. Then he stepped off stage to shake a hand or two.

Five hundred Indians and the Chinese they probably inspired to run riot, pushed, shoved and hurled themselves at the frail leader. Beijing's burly security men gaped. Wen was besieged, but he won this round.

First Published: Sep 23, 2011 23:15 IST