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'The prime minister's ballistic missile is his humility'

January 18, 2008
After the setbacks of the last year, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was uncharacteristically upbeat after his three-day visit to Beijing. "I am satisfied, very satisfied," he told one of Indian news television's superstars when she ran into him at the Great Hall of the People after his first day of official meetings.

Speaking to reporters on his flight back to India, Dr Singh was good humoured, with the twinkle that surfaces in his eye at the end of a job done well. This reporter, who also traveled with him to Washington, DC in July 2005 and Moscow last November, felt the prime minister was completely at ease after his maiden China visit. He didn't seem this way even after concluding the nuclear deal with the Americans.

"The Chinese leaders wanted to reach out to India and the prime minister," Commerce Minister Kamal Nath told us later. "China recognises that with India, it is a win-win situation for both."

The minister, who had extensive discussions with his Chinese counterpart, said the aggression that had marked previous encounters was missing. India has lodged the most number of anti-dumping cases against the Chinese, "but it wasn't even mentioned as it usually is!" Kamal Nath exclaimed.

Complete Coverage: Dr Singh in China

He said the Indian and Chinese sides spent more time discussing global, rather than bilateral, issues, including the threat to the world economy from financial crisis like the sub-prime drama, unfolding in the US.

When this reporter asked Kamal Nath for one image that defined the visit, the minister said, it was Chinese premier Wen Jiabao escorting Dr Singh 50 metres to his car and then waiting to bid farewell to the Indian leader in the bitter cold after hosting an unprecedented private dinner. "They had such warm discussions," Kamal Nath said, confirming an earlier account of the meal by another guest. "Wen fell all over the prime minister at the dinner," the minister said, "he (Wen) told Dr Singh that for the Chinese accessing the Internet, he (the Indian leader) was their hero."

"There is no trust deficit!" Kamal Nath exclaimed, incredulous that I should even pose such a question. "There is such trust it is amazing."

And why have the stoic Chinese leadership, not usually given to such effervescence, warmed so much to Dr Singh? "The prime minister's ballistic missile," Kamal Nath confided, "is his humility."

Image: Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao beams at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during the press conference at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on January 14. Photograph: Ng Han Guan-Pool/Getty Images

Also read: Why the world must watch out for India, China
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