Li Keqiang on charm offensive in India after meeting Manmohan Singh

Premier jokes with reporters and shares memories of his first visit to India after meeting host country's prime minister and foreign minister

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 May, 2013, 4:05am

Premier Li Keqiang exchanged banter with Indian reporters and officials as he embarked on a charm offensive in New Delhi yesterday during his maiden foreign trip.

Li attempted to engage in friendly chat with reporters during a welcoming ceremony hosted by the Indian government, and said he appreciated the Indian media's contribution to Sino-Indian ties. He said he had seen large headlines in Indian newspapers welcoming his visit when he was having breakfast.

I hope that the seeds we sowed in spring will be harvested in autumn
Premier Li Keqiang

"I can guarantee you that when Indian Prime Minister [Dr] Manmohan Singh comes to visit China later this year, there will be headlines in our newspapers welcoming him to China," he said.

When he shook hands with Singh, Li asked reporters in English: "Will it be a headline of your newspaper?" He laughed when one replied that it would.

Li kicked off the second day of his visit by attending the ceremony and paying his respects to Mahatma Gandhi, and was given a statue of the late independence leader. He observed a moment's silence and presented flowers before writing an inscription praising Gandhi for "upholding kindheartedness and humanity, and having a great soul".

In an article titled "Handshake across the Himalayas" in The Hindu newspaper, Li wrote that China and India had a "long and great history that goes back thousands of years", and recalled his first trip to India 27 years ago. "I was struck by her warm sunshine, brilliant colours, beautiful arts, hard-working and talented people, and amazing splendour and diversity," he wrote.

Showing his appreciation of Indian culture, he wrote: "In my student days, I already had a strong interest in India.

"I was impressed by the memorable poetic lines and the deep philosophical insights of Rabindranath Tagore, the famed 'sage poet', and moved by his profound friendship with the leading Chinese authors of his day."

Many ancient figures, including Buddhist monks Fa-hien and Hiuen Tsang of China and Bodhidharma of India, had made outstanding contributions to religious and cultural exchanges between the two nations, Li said.

The charm offensive continued during a joint press conference by the two leaders. Singh spoke for about 10 minutes, but Li for twice as long.

"I have my own good sentiment towards the people of India," he said. "During the trip, the seeds of friendship have been sown in my own heart.

"In our history, our two civilisations have had uninterrupted and in-depth exchanges. Today, facing the future, we see enormous potential for the common development of both countries," he added. "I hope that the seeds we sowed in spring will be harvested in autumn."

Li also met Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid and Congress Party leader Sonia Gandhi. Today, he will visit members of New Delhi's Chinese community and deliver a speech at a university before flying to Mumbai.