SEEMA MUSTAFA | 10 SEPTEMBER, 2014
Narendra Modi and Xi Jinping
NEW DELHI: Two highly ambitious leaders will be meeting here next week with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping depending on the intense preparations of advance teams to ensure that the meeting sends out signals of being a thundering success, despite the lingering boundary issues.
President Xi will set the tone by starting his visit from Gujarat on September 17 on PM Modi’s birthday, who will of course receive him. This is expected to establish the special relationship between the two countries and a clear message by China that unlike the US it does not hold the Prime Minister’s controversial past as an impediment of any kind in the burgeoning bilateral relations between the two countries. Economic and trade agreements are expected to be signed on this first lap of the visit.
PM Modi indeed is being credited by experts as speaking President Xi’s language when he speaks of economic reforms, smart cities, crack down on corruption. The latter in fact created waves by introducing reforms but simultaneously cracking down on free speech shortly after taking over. He astounded his old stodgy colleagues by bringing in a certain formal, smiling demeanour to the job but demonstrated that this did not indicate any shift in policy, instead a hardening approach, when he unilaterally declared control over a swathe of airspace over the controversial East China sea. Japan, South Korea and the US together protested and send in fighter aircraft with Beijing scrambling its aircraft in retaliation.
President Xi is credited with clamping down on dissent, curbing the media, and ensuring that all print, electronic and social media come under his authoritarian diktat. PM Modi has only taken the first step so far by keeping the media at a distance, and blocking them out of all government buildings. Access to the government has been denied with the PM also stopping the old practice of flying journalists with him across the world. At the same time Xi has put his Chinese Dream policy into operation, for a moderately prosperous China.
China that keeps a hawks eye watch on all statements and posturing, or otherwise, by governments has taken note of PM Modi’s remarks in Japan that did not name it, but were widely perceived to be a reference to Chinese expansionist plans in the region. He had deplored the expansionist plans of some countries, without naming China, saying
"We have to decide if we want to have 'vikas vaad' (development) or 'vistar vaad' (expansionism) which leads to disintegration. Those who follow the path of Buddha and have faith on 'vikas vaad', they develop. But we see, those having ideas of the 18th century, engage in encroachments and enter seas (of others),”
The Chinese Foreign Office allowed a question to be asked on this to say that it would not respond as it had no idea who the Indian PM was refering to. However, the Chinese foreign media referred to these remarks at some length but clearly in view of the presidential visit to India did not join issue, or even criticise these, warning Japan instead about taking China at any level.
PM Modi is of course calibrating the Indian position on China in characteristic fashion, moving from warm words in Brazil to the warning in Japan. Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj, clearly in consultation with the PMO, took a tough line when she told the media here at a press conference, “for India to agree to a one-China policy, China should reaffirm a one-India policy."When they raised with us the issue of Tibet and Taiwan, we shared their sensitivities. So, we want they should understand and appreciate our sensitivities regarding Arunachal Pradesh.”
At the same time she played down the PM’s remarks in Japan saying that he had not referred to any one country. "He never referred to any specific country. It was media's guess. He spoke about 18th century expansionism,” she said. A senior retired diplomat here told The Citizen that dual speech would work for a while but not for too long in the world today. “ You cannot say something in one place, and something else in another without this impacting adversely on bilateral relations with any country,”he warned.
Swaraj probably spelt out the government and the PM’ s approach when she said that the visit would be substantial and good, but that relations between the two countries were of competition and cooperation. This will be on show during the visit clearly.
Significantly President Xi has sought to shift foreign policy towards Asia saying at a major conference in Shanghai earlier this year, "Matters in Asia ultimately must be taken care of by Asians. Asia's problems ultimately must be resolved by Asians, and Asia's security ultimately must be protected by Asians.” His second marriage is to a well known singer in China and according to the western media he is a fan of Hollywood films like The Godfather trilogy. He is informal and relaxed in his approach, shunning the trappings of high office, although he is authoritarian in his instincts and action.
A shrewd politician for whom this first meeting with PM Modi will go a long way in calibrating his India policy, ‘one’ or otherwise.