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Modi woos & warns

Modi woos & warns
Highlights

Save a diplomatic faux pas over an offer of e-visa to China that the latter did not reciprocate, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Act-Northeast” can be termed a fair success. With too many complexities in bilateral ties, neither New Delhi nor Beijing expected major breakthroughs.

He lets the Chinese know that India has other friends, too, in the northeast Asia

Save a diplomatic faux pas over an offer of e-visa to China that the latter did not reciprocate, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Act-Northeast” can be termed a fair success. With too many complexities in bilateral ties, neither New Delhi nor Beijing expected major breakthroughs.

President Xi Jinping returned Modi the hospitality he had enjoyed in Ahmedabad, and there were very many atmospherics, but more was laid for the future, like it had been done by Modi’s peers, Rajiv Gandhi (1988), Narasimha Rao (1993), Atal Bihari Vajpayee (2003) and Manmohan Singh (2008) – each guarding the national interests.

Modi also returned with a measure of personal goodwill and investment promises worth $22 billion. He spelt out the Indian concerns in clear terms without appearing to be complaining or weak. Arguably, he was able to display a mix of tough and sweet demeanour to the Chinese who are concerned over the Western nudges India is getting. While mistrust still rules their relationship, neither can ignore the other. Hence, both sides can relax at the game happily drawn.

Modi wisely combined the China visit with South Korea and Mongolia. He let the Chinese know that India has other friends, too, in the northeast Asia who are not at all problematic as Beijing is. In a modest way, he conveyed to China that it better guard its backyard. Given Mongolia’s strategic location, the decision to upgrade New Delhi-Ulan Bator ties to strategic partnership and deepen defence cooperation has been a good call.

Though belatedly, India has realised that it must inject economic inputs into ties with anyone – else it is diplomatic hogwash. India has offered a huge $1 billion credit to Mongolia, helping it to build its infrastructure and develop dairying. This helps consolidate ties that have had more of cultural significance in the past. The Indian assistance, assuming it is rendered effectively and on time, will speak for itself in the long run.

That Modi’s Mongolia visit was the first by an Indian PM reflects a new determination to actualise India’s Act East policy. New Delhi needs to increase its footprint in East Asia and win over new friends. The ties with South Korea have great potential for both. Both began on the same level of development half a century back, but Seoul has taken giant strides since. PV laid the foundation as part of his “Look East” Policy.

Many Korean consumer goods are household names today. It has already decided to provide $10 billion for the development of India’s railways, smart cities and power generation capacities. Significantly, India wants to widen its net for procurement or manufacture of defence goods and think of a Koran option in the future. Both sides looked at prospects of further boost in different fields such as heavy engineering and shipbuilding. Above all, Indians need to learn the Korean sense of timing and efficiency.

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