Manmohan, Wen to hold ‘very important’ meeting in Thailand


New Delhi/Beijing: Amid verbal sparring between their countries over issues like border dispute, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao will meet on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit in Thailand later this week.

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“The meeting with the Chinese leader we are planning. All subjects of mutual interest will be discussed,” N. Ravi, secretary (East) in India’s external affairs ministry, told reporters in New Delhi Wednesday ahead of Manmohan Singh’s visit to Thailand to take part in the India-ASEAN and East Asia summits.

In Beijing, Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Hu Zhengyue told reporters that Wen and Manmohan Singh will meet in Thailand and discuss “bilateral relations, and regional and international issues”.

“This meeting between the two prime ministers is a very important one,” Hu said. “There has been good progress in our bilateral relationship and we hope this momentum can be sustained,” he said in a bid to downplay recent stress in bilateral ties.

Last week, Wen expressed his desire to meet Manmohan Singh on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit that begins Friday.

The meeting between Manmohan Singh and Wen assumes significance in view of the mutual recriminations between the two countries on a host of issues, including reported Chinese incursions and Beijing’s objections to the visit of the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, to Arunachal Pradesh, India’s northeastern state to which Beijing has made claims.

The meeting between the two leaders will be followed by bilateral talks between External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna and his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi in Bangalore Oct 27 on the sidelines of a trilateral meeting of the foreign ministers of India, China and Russia.

All issues, including the border dispute, trade and Arunachal Pradesh will be discussed, an official source said.

In a sign of widening trust deficit, Beijing raked up its claim over Arunachal Pradesh last week and objected to Manmohan Singh’s visit to India’s northeastern state Oct 3. India hit back, asking China to desist from carrying out infrastructure projects in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, saying it was a part of Jammu and Kashmir.

India has consistently maintained that Arunachal Pradesh is an integral part of India and has made it clear that the Tibetan leader Dalai Lama, who has been living in exile in the hill town of Dharamsala for nearly five decades, has right to go anywhere in the country.

Manmohan Singh will participate in the 7th summit of India and the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Saturday at the seaside resort of Hua Hin, some 200 km from Bangkok.

India’s political and economic relations with the ASEAN have been burgeoning since New Delhi launched its ‘Look East’ policy in 1992.

India and ASEAN signed a landmark free trade agreement (FTA) in August this year that has the potential to multiply manifold bilateral trade that is currently estimated to be $38 billion.

The two sides are currently negotiating an FTA in services and investment, Ravi said.

Manmohan Singh will discuss with leaders of ASEAN countries an array of issues, including the global financial crisis, a pan-regional strategy for disaster management, climate change and reforms of global bodies.

The formation of an extended ASEAN Community by 2015 may also figure in the discussions, an official source said.

India is a dialogue partner of ASEAN, which comprises Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar and Brunei.

Manmohan Singh will also attend the fourth East Asia summit, an informal grouping that comprises 10 ASEAN countries, China, Japan and South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.