I cannot think of the last time a Chief Minister’s foreign trip making so much news. I’m speaking of-course about Gujarat Chief Minister Modi’s 5-day visit to China.
Its not that just one of India’s more than two dozen Chief Ministers can change the dynamics of Indo-China relations but the overall direction of diplomacy and international relations are guided not just by head of state visits but also equally by an aggregation of impressions received during low-level albeit notable visits, impressions and interactions.
What sort of impression would Modi leave in China? To begin with the Chinese have already been very impressed with Modi and Gujarat – which is what prompted two successive invitations to visit China in order to foster ‘co-operation’ with Gujarat. As is standard practice a delegation representing industrial and business interests of Gujarat has accompanied the Chief Minister and one would expect a good degree of success in showcasing Gujarat’s strengths. They’ve been selling the Gujarat story fairly successfully and this visit may not be very different.
But despite the importance of business relationships and investment opportunities for Gujarat this visit is as much about the overall Indo-China relations.
The invitation, the feting and extensive coverage of Modi’s visit is China’s way of engaging with what they see as a potential new establishment that may soon occupy the seats of power in New Delhi. If and when Modi succeeds the Chinese would be well prepared to engage the new establishment – their interpretation of Modi and his worldview carefully deduced and analysed during this five day visit.
The amount of coverage in Chinese media and the level of importance being given to the visit by the Chinese government are signs that they do seem to take Modi’s chances rather seriously.
Finally, the whole thing is also about leadership – and this is mostly a battle of perception. Modi would naturally try to sell his successful visit to China as amounting to the Chinese acknowledgement of his leadership skills and of his chances. This would neither be far from the truth nor undeserved.