Modi in Wuhan: The story be­hind personal diplo­macy

The se­cret be­hind Modi’s suc­cess in Wuhan has a long back story

Governance Now - - FRONT PAGE - Ajay Singh

Just as Prime Min­is­ter naren­dra Modi walked up to the mu­seum in Wuhan dur­ing his two-day China visit, a smil­ing pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping was wait­ing to re­ceive him. Xi then gave him a nugget of crit­i­cal in­for­ma­tion. no Chi­nese pres­i­dent has ever ac­corded re­cep­tion to a vis­it­ing head of the state out­side Bei­jing. “i did it twice for you,” Xi is learnt to have told Modi.

of course, even those who are not ac­quainted with the art of read­ing body lan­guage would tes­tify that both the lead­ers were per­fectly com­fort­able dur­ing their in­ter­ac­tions all along. And they are learnt to have dis­cussed the en­tire gamut of is­sues that con­cern in­dia and China. For in­stance, the talks ranged from China’s one road one Belt (obor) pro­ject and in­dia’s can­di­da­ture for the mem­ber­ship of the nu­clear sup­pli­ers group (nsg) to the re­vival of cul­tural and spir­i­tual con­nect be­tween the two great na­tions.

sources say that the talks were marked by a can­dour and open­ness that was un­prece­dented in diplo­macy. ir­re­spec­tive of the con­tent of the talks that may trig­ger spec­u­la­tion in the diplo­matic cir­cles, there is lit­tle doubt that Modi has car­ried with him a spe­cial brand of ‘personal diplo­macy’ that clearly shed the “hes­i­ta­tions of his­tory” on indo-china re­la­tions. And no doubt that it is not achieved overnight.

There is a unique his­tory be­hind it. Modi’s ac­quain­tance with China was not new. dur­ing his pracharak days in the rashtriya swayam­se­vak sangh (rss), he un­der­took a pil­grim­age to Kailash Mansarovar along with a del­e­ga­tion. Those who ac­com­pa­nied him ad­mit that he was most punc­til­ious among the del­e­gates, ad­her­ing to ev­ery rit­u­als and tour plans and ob­serv­ing closely the spir­i­tual and cul­tural as­pects of in­dia’s re­la­tions with China. That made an im­pres­sion of China on Modi’s mind.

But the most crit­i­cal phase came when he vis­ited China twice as chief min­is­ter of gu­jarat and in­vited Chi­nese in­dus­tries to in­vest in the state. He was quite im­pressed by China’s rapid growth and had heart-to-heart in­ter­ac­tions with top func­tionar­ies of the Chi­nese government. Though as a chief min­is­ter he did not have chance to meet the then Chi­nese pres­i­dent or premier, he was ac­corded spe­cial re­cep­tion for shed­ding hes­i­ta­tion in invit­ing Chi­nese in­dus­tries to gu­jarat.

But two events af­ter Modi’s as­cen­sion as the coun­try’s prime min­is­ter in 2014 de­vel­oped a warmth be­tween him and Xi. im­me­di­ately af­ter the vic­tory, China’s for­eign min­is­ter Wang Yi was the first one to visit him. This was fol­lowed by Pres­i­dent Xi call­ing him for con­grat­u­la­tions. sources say that the first con­ver­sa­tion be­tween the two lead­ers was par­tic­u­larly in­ter­est­ing as Xi talked about Modi’s home­town Vad­na­gar and the re­gion’s con­nect with his own home­town, Xia’n. When Modi in­vited him to in­dia, Xi was learnt to have ex­pressed his de­sire to visit Modi’s home­town. That was the back­ground against which Xi’s first visit to in­dia was planned. de­spite the bur­den of his­tor­i­cal hes­i­ta­tion over China, Modi played a per­fect host and dis­played his bon­homie with the Chi­nese pres­i­dent quite openly.

But this bon­homie seemed to be con­sid­er­ably over­shad­owed by Chi­nese in­cur­sion in Chu­mar vil­lage along the line of Ac­tual Con­trol (LAC) that, sig­nif­i­cantly, co­in­cided with Xi’s tour. dur­ing Xi’s so­journ in Ahmed­abad in 2014, Modi raised it quite di­rectly but sub­tly by ask­ing “if is a dis­so­nance be­tween China’s po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship and

the army”. He was forth­right in point­ing out that high-pro­file bi­lat­eral vis­its to China or in­dia were of­ten marred by such in­dis­cre­tions by the Peo­ple’s lib­er­a­tion Army (PLA). Xi promised to look into the mat­ter and on his re­turn, he ad­dressed it quite deftly to the sat­is­fac­tion of Modi. That’s how Xi and Modi built trust four each other.

Though the re­la­tions came un­der sig­nif­i­cant strain on the is­sues re­lated to China’s re­luc­tance to des­ig­nate Pak­istan’s Jaish-e-mo­ham­mad (JEM) as ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tion in the un or bar­ring in­dia’s en­try to nsg, Modi’s de­ci­sion to chal­lenge the PLA at doka la con­veyed an un­am­bigu­ous mes­sage that in­dia can­not be pushed around. Ap­par­ently, in­dia held its ground at the stand­off but avoided rhetoric re­sorted to by the Chi­nese for­eign min­istry and the state spon­sored press. A day af­ter the Doka La stand­off was re­solved, Modi’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in the Brics meet­ing at Xi­a­men in septem­ber last year was an­nounced. And af­ter his in­ter­ac­tion with Xi there, he re­turned home with the im­pres­sion that in­dia-china re­la­tions would ac­quire a new equi­lib­rium af­ter the Com­mu­nist Party of China (CPC) Congress which would re-elect him not only as pres­i­dent but also es­tab­lish him ar­guably as the most pow­er­ful Chi­nese leader af­ter Mao Tse Tung. The CPC saw removal of two mil­i­tary generals – one of them close to Xi’s pre­de­ces­sor Hu Jin Tao – and en­sured Xi’s to­tal con­trol over the mil­i­tary.

it was cer­tainly not a mere co­in­ci­dence that the government not only toned down its rhetoric on China but also mol­li­fied them on the ques­tion of the ex­iled Tibetan leader dalai lama. Ap­par­ently the government took a prag­matic view of not show­ing red rag to China by provoca­tively us­ing dalai lama’s name. At the same time, backchan­nel diplo­macy was used to set the stage for a suc­cess­ful two-day in­for­mal sum­mit which marked a new be­gin­ning in the two coun­tries’ re­la­tions. Just be­fore the PM’S visit, external af­fairs min­is­ter sushma swaraj and her team did the ground­work.

of course, Modi’s pro­cliv­ity for “personal diplo­macy” is not in­con­sis­tent with the prac­tices of in­ter­na­tional diplo­macy. dur­ing the World War ii, Win­ston Churchill was be­lieved to be a strong votary of this prac­tice and car­ried on his “personal diplo­macy com­bined with in­de­fati­ga­ble self-be­lief ” to bor­row the phrase of schol­ars Alan P dob­son and steve Marsh in their re­search pa­per on “Churchill and An­glo Amer­i­can spe­cial re­la­tion­ship”. in Churchill’s case, his personal diplo­macy was pri­mar­ily fo­cused on to win over us Pres­i­dent Franklin d roo­sevelt on whom he fa­mously di­vulged, “no lover ever stud­ied ev­ery whim of his mis­tress as i did those of Pres­i­dent roo­sevelt”. How­ever, Modi’s task is be­com­ing more dif­fi­cult as the world is getting in­creas­ingly mul­ti­po­lar with pow­er­ful lead­ers emerg­ing in their own right in dif­fer­ent parts of the globe.

Modi’s ac­quain­tance with China was not new. Dur­ing his pracharak days, he un­der­took a pil­grim­age to Kailash Mansarovar along with a del­e­ga­tion.

ajay@gov­er­nan­ This com­ment has ap­peared on First­

Modi with Xi dur­ing their in­for­mal meet­ing in Wuhan

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