Wednesday, November 7, 2012

India, Canada attempt to remove mistrust

NEW DELHI, November 7, 2012

India and Canada attempted to remove overhangs of mistrust that have affected their relationship, at a meeting here on Tuesday between Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Stephen Harper.

Both sides succeeded in finalising the mechanism that could lead to Canadian uranium being shipped to India for the first time after New Delhi carried out a nuclear explosion in 1974 using plutonium allegedly diverted from a Canadian test reactor.

However, India's concerns about the revival of Sikh separatist activity in some Canadian provinces did not find adequate resonance with the visiting delegation, which felt it was a fringe movement on which a vigilant eye was adequate.

The two sides also signed a social security agreement which had been in the works for some time.

Mr. Harper's first public engagement on Wednesday, an address to the business community, will be eagerly watched to assess how he assuages fears of doing business in Canada after setbacks to takeover attempts in the petroleum sector by Malaysian and Chinese state owned enterprises (SOEs).

In the interactions in the run-up to Mr. Harper's visit, Ontario had welcomed investments by Indian companies in its petroleum sector. But with the red flag to the two SOEs after his administration had earlier allowed $30 billions of Chinese investments, New Delhi will want to know the environment under which its SOEs will not face hurdles.

India fielded Minister of State in the Foreign Office Preneet Kaur, who is from Punjab, to flag its concerns over increasing public demonstrations of support by the Canadian Sikh community for Khalistan, in areas such as British Columbia.

Touching on the "revival of anti-India rhetoric in Canada," Ms. Kaur told Mr. Harper that her home State had got back "a good situation of peace and progress" after a long time and added that "we would like that to continue."

India believes Canada-based Sikh extremists had bombed an Air India plane killing 331, besides supporting the bloody movement for Khalistan that was waged in Punjab till the early nineties. But Mr. Harper said the view widely shared in Canada was that such people were marginal and referred to the presence of a large number of Indian-Canadians in his team who shared his goal of more vigorous ties with India. In Canada, some parties want India to prosecute the killers of about 3,000 Sikhs in 1984 and feel organisations based there are well within their rights to peacefully articulate the need for a separate homeland.

While the nuclear cooperation agreement was signed two years ago, both sides have since quibbled over the extent of Canadian oversight over the use of uranium shipped to Indian nuclear power plants. It was unclear whether this agreement would immediately lead to firming up of business plans but Mr. Harper's statement indicated that business interests had won over non-proliferation concerns. "It is expected to generate millions of dollars in new business contacts between our countries and to create high-quality new jobs here at home," Mr. Harper said.
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