Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in his first meeting with new Chinese President Xi Jinping has sought a joint mechanism to assess the construction work on dams on Brahmaputra river in Tibet.
“I took the opportunity to raise the issue of trans-border river systems. I requested the Chinese government to provide a joint mechanism to enable us to assess the type of construction activity that is going on in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR),” he told reporters accompanying him on his return on Thursday from a four-day visit to Durban in South Africa.
He was asked about the discussion on the water issue he had with Xi in Durban on Wednesday night on the margins of the BRICS summit in the first-high level face-to-face contact between the two countries after the change of power in China.
President Xi assured him that China was quite conscious of their responsibilities and the interest of the lower riparian countries, the prime minister said.
On coalition compulsions
The prime minister ruled out any threat to his government or early elections while acknowledging the possibility of UPA ally, the Samajwadi Party, withdrawing its support. Vowing not to allow coalition compulsions to derail the reforms, he said the government was confident of pushing ahead with the reforms that mattered and yielded results in the next few months.
Singh also appeared not to rule himself out of the race for prime ministership after the next Lok Sabha elections.
As regards the specific mechanism that he had asked, the Chinese president told him that they would further look into it.
The prime minister taking up the issue of construction work in the Tibetan region assumes signficance in the context of the Chinese proposal to build three dams on Brahmaputra which has raised concerns in India.
Officials have earlier talked about a joint mechanism but this may probably the first time the prime minister has spoken about it and that too at the highest level.
“But as of now, our assessment is that whatever activity that is taking place on the Brahmaputra region in Tibet, it is essentially a run-of-the-river projects and therefore there is no cause of worry on our part,” Singh said.
On his meeting with Xi, the prime minister said it was the first meeting between them and both agreed that they would continue to maintain the strong tradition of frequent high-level exchanges between the two countries to strengthen the ties.
“We also agreed that high-level visits will be exchanged this year between India and China. I look forward to the opportunity of an early meeting with the Premier of China as well,” he said.
Asked about his assessment of the new Chinese leadership, Singh said even before the formal meeting on Wednesday he had had “productive exchange” of views with Xi on the sidelines of the BRICS Summit.
He said both of them agreed to continue the exchanges of the type of intimate exchanges that used to take place when President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao were holding their positions. “Both of us agreed that we should aim to maintain similar relationship under the new leadership of China.”
He said the two leaders on Wednesday night reviewed the entire gamut of the bilateral relations and discussed the opportunities for exchange of views in cooperation and coordination in regional and international fora.
Asked about the five proposals made by President Xi last week to strengthen bilateral ties with India, Singh said this was his first meeting and both of them were keen to get acquainted.
“While we reviewed a whole gamut of relationship, we didn’t get to specifics. I got a distinct impression that the new Chinese leadership is as serious as the former leadership to promote good neighbourly relations and to find practical and pragmatic solutions to outstanding issues between our two countries,” he said.
On his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Durban on Tuesday, the Prime Minister said both of them exchanged notes.
To a question on sorting out differences in the nuclear liability law with the countries with which agreements have been signed for projects, the prime minister said “we have been exchanging notes and papers. We have just received a note from the Russian side. I am confident that we will be able to find practical and pragmatic solutions to various issues that have arisen.”
He did not go into the details of the Russian note, however.