New Delhi,Iftikhar Gilani: Prime Minister Narendra Modi will continue with his robust diplomacy, paying a three-nation official visit to China, Mongolia and South Korea from May 14–19, just a week before celebrating one year in power. His three-day visit to China from May 14-16, starting from the Chinese President Xi Jingping’s home city of Xi’an will be the most watched leg of his tour. Xi’an is the provincial capital of Shaanxi province, also the home province of 7th century traveller and Budhist monk, Huen Tsang, who studied in India.
While Chinese will push to seek contracts in big-ticket projects like bullet-trains push to seek their pie in investing in high-speed trains, smart city projects and other infrastructure assignments, India will look forward a concrete movement on political side, mainly a commitment to settle land boundaries, which often create unsavoury situations for both the countries. I
ncidentally, South Korea is also competing to join these projects, high on Prime Minister’s priority. Experts here believe the visit will also be a challenge to Modi’s diplomatic acumen, as South Korea along with Vietnam has locked horns with China on the control of South China Sea.
In his indomitable style, Modi on Monday logged on China’s most popular micro-blogging site, Sina Weibo. China has banned Twitter, Facebook and other foreign-owned social media platforms after the 2009 riots in Urumqi, Xinjiang.
From Xi’an, Modi will fly to Beijing and then Shanghai before leaving for Ulan Bator, Mongolia. Apart from Modi, other world leaders British Prime Minister David Cameron and former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd have opened Sina Weibo accounts to try to connect with Chinese in absence of Twitter and Facebook.
The PM will also attend an event organised by the Indian community in Shanghai, recreating Madison Square in the United States and the Sydney Olympic Park in Australia and Ricoh Coliseum in Toronto, Canada.
In Western nations, while it makes a political sense to interact with Indian diaspora to use them as lobbyists, many experts here wonder the extent of influence of Indian diaspora on the Chinese polity. Reports said about 45,000 Indians – professionals, businessmen mostly Hong Kong-based diamond merchants of Surat and students – will converge to hear Modi.
Officials say Xi may accompany Modi to the Wild Goose Pagoda, a spiritual structure build to highlight famous Chinese Buddhist monk Xuan Zang’s journey to India in 645 AD through the ancient Silk Road and his return after a 17-year long sojourn with precious Buddhist scriptures.
China is India’s biggest trading partner with two-way commerce totalling close to $70 billion. But India’s trade deficit with China has soared from just $1 billion in 2001-02 to more than $40 billion, Indian figures show. Experts say Modi must bridge the deficit by seeking greater access to the Chinese market, with the two sides targeting annual bilateral trade of $100 billion this year.
Politically experts believe that China has thrown a big net around India, which is also bleeding the USA in Asia. Its strategies in the East and South China Seas, have imposed high costs on Washington. And on its Western front, Beijing has integrated regions, with is border provinces.
Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan are too dependent on China. It is on way to enter Pakistan in a big way, taking control of Gwadar port and routes leading to Central Asia. It has already made strong forays in Nepal, Myanmar, Malaysia and Mongolia. They maintain that Modi’s diplomacy will be on test, as Chinese leaders are preparing to regale and accord him a royal treatment.
But they will hardly concede on any issue. “Chinese leaders are known for talking sweetly and yielding on none. They buy time or influence and soften the other side through business deals. A hard test for Modi indeed,” said the expert, an old China hand, who didn’t want to be identified.