On the busy day when he had meetings with two of the most powerful leaders of the world, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told President Barack Obama that US should start nuclear trade with India and also met Chinese premier Wen Jiabao reasserting India’s right to explore oil in the South China Sea. He held back-to-back meetings with Obama and Wen on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit.
Singh first met Obama and told him that there were no irritants in Indo-US ties. Behind closed doors, the PM explained India’s nuclear liability rules which would limit supplier liability in case of an accident.
US companies should begin nuclear trade with India, he urged Obama while ruling out any major changes in liability law in the future. The PM then met his Chinese counterpart for almost an hour, reasserting India’s right to explore oil in the South China Sea.
Contending that there were “no irritants whatsoever” in Indo-US ties, Singh told Obama that India had gone ‘some way’ to allay the concerns of US firms by notifying rules for nuclear business and any specific grievance would be addressed within the ‘four corners’ of Indian laws.
The issue came up during the over one-hour meeting between Singh and Obama in Bali against the backdrop of apprehensions among US firms that Indian liability laws were not supplier friendly.
“I explained to him (Obama) that we have a law in place. Rules have been formulated. These rules will lie before our Parliament for 30 days. Therefore, we have gone some way to respond to the concerns of American companies and within the four corners of the law of the land we are willing to address any specific grievances,” Singh told reporters after his meeting with Obama on the sidelines of the ASEAN and East Asia Summits in this island resort of Indonesia.
The rules, which were notified on Wednesday, make it clear among other things that there would be no unlimited or unending liability on part of the suppliers.
Singh said he had also told Obama that India was ready to ratify the Convention on Supplementary Compensation (CSC), another issue that the US wants to be done as part of implementation of the civil nuclear deal.
“That’s where the matter stands,” he said.
Sources said the issue came up during the course of review of implementation of decisions taken by the two sides. They claimed that Obama did not respond and merely ‘noted’ the Prime Minister’s statement.
Obama said, “This will be a outstanding opportunity for us to continue this and to explore how we can work together, not only on bilateral issues but also on multi- lateral forum.”
The US does see India as a key strategic partner in the region, so this was an important bilateral meeting. Now the strength of India’s economy is significant, so it makes sense to have India as an economic partner and obama over the past few days over his visit to this region has said that he sees the long term eco-future for the US in India.
And some of the topics that were discussed – economy, maritime security, and of course the N-liability law, in 2008 Obama signed a significant energy deal, but many energy firms which have tried to move into India say that the law is too stringent and it is difficult to be competitive so that is something that they would have wanted to talk about.
The PM told the Chinese premier that India wouldn’t take sides in China’s territorial disputes with its neighbours over South China Sea but India did have a right to exploit the sea’s oil and gas commercially.
“We are committed to developing the best of relations with China and strategic and formulated relationship. We are neighbours and also to large extent great economies of Asia. We should co-operate on the issues regional, bilateral and global,” the PM said.
A range of issues, including the situation along the Line of Actual Control and trade was discussed during the 55-minute meeting with Singh saying India was committed to developing the ‘best of relations’ with China while the latter underlined that the two countries should work ‘hand-in-hand’ to ensure that the 21st century belongs to Asia.
“This matter did come up in the context of East Asia Summit (taking place here on Saturday),” Secretary (East) in the External Affairs Ministry Sanjay Singh told reporters when asked whether the issue of Chinese objections to India’s exploration of oil in South China Sea figured in the talks between Singh and Wen.
The Prime Minister “observed that exploration of oil and gas in South China Sea by India is purely commercial activity”, the Secretary said about the issue that has caused irritation in the ties between the two countries in the recent past.
The issue appears to have been raised by Wen.
External Affairs Ministry spokesman Vishnu Prakash told reporters that the Chinese Premier said that “he valued the role India is playing in the EAS. In that context, there was a mention of South China Sea to which the Prime Minister said our interests are purely commercial.”
China, which lays claim over entire South China Sea, had openly attacked India in September over its move to explore oil in the maritime area on offer from Vietnam. It had evoked a sharp retort from India.