K. Venugopal ASIAN GIANTS: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Chinese President Hu Jintao arrive for the G5 meeting on the sidelines of the G8 summit in Sapporo, Japan, on Tuesday. Sapporo: On a day when the Left parties announced the withdrawal of support to the government over the nuclear deal, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh heard Chinese President Hu Jintao express his country's willingness to cooperate with India in developing civil nuclear energy.

India and Egypt are on course to rebuild their ties by adding solid economic content to their relationship. The visiting Minister of state for commerce and power Jairam Ramesh held talks with Prime Minister of Egypt Ahmed Mahmoud Mohamed Nazif. He also met the Ministers of investment, communications and information technology, finance, transport as well as trade and industry. These meetings took place on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum (Middle East) where Mr. Ramesh is representing India as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's special envoy.

Russia, India, China and Brazil on Friday vowed to turn their four-way group into a powerful instrument for changing the world. At their first stand-alone meeting here, the Foreign Ministers institutionalised BRIC, agreeing to hold regular meetings at the level of Foreign Ministers. External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee hailed BRIC as a "unique combination of mutually complementary economies' and platform to promote energy and food security, fight terrorism and reform global political and financial bodies.

Underlining India's close economic and strategic relations with Bhutan, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday pledged to extend the Indian rail network into its northern neighbour. Dr. Singh made this commitment to his Bhutanese counterpart, Jigmi Y. Thinley, on the first day of a two-day visit to the country the first by an Indian Prime Minister in 15 years.

The Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh indicated during last July's G-8 Summit in St Petersburg that he wanted to force the pace of Indo-Russian cooperation. The PM remarked that, "The economic pillar of our strategic relationship needs attention, as at present it is not as strong as it should be.' He, and others, have also noted that both economies have been logging up good rates of growth, something that could lay the foundation for more substantive economic cooperation between the two.

External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee has begun a new round of engagement with Saudi Arabia, aimed at bolstering energy, security as well as trade and investment ties. During his two-day visit, he will hold talks with his Saudi counterpart Saud Al Faisal. Maritime security

The Asian Development Outlook 2008, published by the Asian Development Bank, provides the silver lining to an otherwise bleak global economic scenario.

Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's recent visit to India with a 100-strong industry team should be seen against the need to contextualise south-south cooperation amidst the fait accompl

In initialling an agreement on cooperation in setting up additional nuclear power plants, India and Russia got around a glitch that had affected the long-standing relationship. The two countries can now start drafting commercial contracts, and perhaps even undertake some preparatory work, for constructing two additional reactors at Koodankulam. However, India may not be able to take further steps to operationalise the deal before it concludes negotiations with the Internat ional Atomic Energy Agency and the Nuclear Suppliers Group. These negotiations being held under the terms of the 123 agreement with the United States could break down. New Delhi has of course been bending over backwards in its efforts to stay on the right side of Washington. It was for this reason that India refrained from signing the bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement even when it was pressed to do so by Russia's President Vladimir Putin during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Moscow in November 2007. With the initialling of the bilateral agreement during Russian Prime Minister Victor Zubkov's return visit earlier this week, Moscow has been provided some assurance that it will have the inside track when the scope for India-oriented nuclear commerce is widened. India and Russia were able to sort out differences over the utilisation of the rupee debt fund, placed at Rs.8,000 crore, during Dr. Singh's November visit. In New Delhi, Mr. Zubkov announced that the newly launched titanium project in Orissa had been identified as a target for this fund. Given the depth of the strategic relationship between the two countries, the lack of a substantial increase in bilateral trade is disappointing. Future prospects do not look bright either, since the two countries think they can at best increase commerce between them from $3 billion to $10 billion by 2010. Whether expectations will be exceeded after a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement is finalised is an open question. Mr. Zubkov has responded positively to the proposals put forward by Petroleum Minister Murli Deora for cross-investments in the energy sector. India is particularly interested in acquiring a stake in the Sakhalin III and other major petroleum projects in far-east Russia. India's commercial and industrial enterprises perhaps need to be reminded that there can be destinations other than the West. The cultural shows to be organised during the current "Year of Russia in India' will, hopefully, serve this purpose.

In an attempt to expand ties in the oil and gas sector and achieve the goal of energy security, India will seek stake in future Russian oil and gas projects, including the prestigious Sakhalin III and IV oil fields off the Russian East Coast, during the visit of Russian Prime Minister Victor A. Zubkov to New Delhi beginning Tuesday.