On Monday India and China held a meeting at the prime ministerial level for the 14th time since Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh took office in May 2004. The meeting, which was held on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit in Phnom Penh, will likely be the last one Singh and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao hold in their current capacities as Wen is expected to step down in March of next year.
Earlier this year Singh called Wen his “close friend.” On Monday Wen described his many meetings with Singh over the years as “memorable.”
In December the two sides will hold the next round of the Indo-Sino boundary talks in Beijing, diplomatic sources said this week. The exact dates are likely to be agreed upon later this month when representatives from both nations meet in New Delhi for the India-China Strategic Economic Dialogue. National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon will represent India at the border talks, while China’s delegation will be led by State Councilor Dai Bingguo, Menon’s counterpart. The parties held the 15th round of talks on the border issue last January.
In briefing the media on the Singh-Wen meeting in Phnom Penh on Monday, Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai quoted the Chinese Premier as saying, “On the boundary question we have continued an active dialogue between the Special Representatives. And meanwhile, even though the dialogue has not resolved all our differences, we have set in place a joint mechanism to ensure peace and tranquility on the border.”
Beijing-based Xinhua News reported that Wen had followed up these comments by emphasis that Indian-Chinese cooperation, “not only benefited the people of the two countries, but also helped to promote world peace and prosperity.” Wen went on to call for stronger cooperation between the two countries, particularly on economic issues.
Two-way trade between Beijing and New Delhi reached $74 billion in 2011, a $12.2 billion increase from the year before. The two countries have pledged to increase this number to $100 billion by 2015. India has expressed some concern, however, about the imbalanced nature of this trade, which last year reached $27 billion in China’s favor.
Wen pledged to address this issue during his meeting with Singh on Monday, but didn’t offer much in the way of specifics.
Mathai told reporters that Wen said China is, "looking forward to gradual balancing of trade and they (China) were cognizant of India's particular interest in these areas."
While the Wen-Singh meeting ended without any concrete deliverables being agreed upon, the mere fact that Asia’s two top powers continue to engage each other actively and consistently at the highest levels of government is no small achievement in itself.