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The Man for the Job
Modi steps up efforts to create an "Indian century"
By Wang Haixia | NO. 2 JANUARY 14, 2016


Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif (left) shakes hands with visiting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Lahore, Pakistan, on December 25, 2015 (CFP)

Narendra Modi is beyond any doubt one of the most active prime ministers in India's history. A year and a half after taking office, Modi had paid visits to more than 20 countries, reaching important deals and upgrading bilateral ties. His great-power diplomacy and relations with neighboring countries are impressive, helping India promote both its regional and international influence at the same time.

As a whole, the ambitious prime minister is using his diplomatic efforts to promote India's domestic development, trying to create an "Indian century," which includes enhancing the country's sphere of influence in South Asia and the Indian Ocean region. Compared to his predecessors, Modi

attaches more importance to strengthening ties with these countries, regarding regional stability as the cornerstone of India's rise.

After winning the 2014 election, Modi invited state leaders of all South Asian countries including Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to attend his inauguration. Modi is committed to working with neighboring countries, strengthening economic ties, revitalizing the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation.

For instance, Modi made the Kingdom of Bhutan the destination of his first foreign visit after taking office and promised to provide the country with more financial assistance. He also managed to settle the decades-long border disputes between India and Bangladesh by signing a bilateral land boundary agreement. Modi also became the first Indian prime minister that has paid an official visit to Nepal in the past 17 years.

Modi is leading a concerted effort to foster a better relationship with Pakistan. Last December, after visiting Russia and Afghanistan, Modi made a surprise visit to Pakistan and had talks with Sharif. The Hindustan Times  commented that the "visit has raised hopes that the 'stop-and-start' negotiations between the nuclear-armed neighbors might finally make progress after three wars and more than 65 years of hostility."

In addition to strengthening ties with South Asian countries, Modi also paid more attention to India's "backyard," the area around the Indian Ocean. Last March, Modi traveled to island countries of the Seychelles, Sri Lanka and Mauritius in order to strengthen defense cooperation and create a safety net in the area.


Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi takes a selfie with Indian students during his visit to the French space agency in Toulouse on April 11, 2015 (XINHUA)

Balancing act

Russia remains India's diplomatic priority and the major energy and weaponry supplier. When Modi had talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin for the first time as the Indian head of government during the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) Summit in Brazil in 2014, Modi told Putin that, "If you ask anyone among the more than 1 billion people living in India who is our country's greatest friend, every person, every child knows that it is Russia."

However, to maximize India's interests, the Modi administration has tried to avoid putting all its eggs into one basket, and instead cooperated and interacted actively with different powers on a diverse range of issues. It has made efforts to advance relations with other powers such as the United States and Japan, and at the same time tried to avoid giving the outside the impression of helping the two to contain China's rise.

As the most powerful country and the world's largest economy, the United States can provide India with the capital, technology and weaponry New Delhi demands. Despite the fact that the United States had previously refused to issue a visa for Modi in protest of "ineffective protection of human rights," Modi insisted on deepening the Indian-U.S. partnership in hopes of strengthening cooperation with the United States in areas of trade, investment, science, energy and education.

In January 2015, after talks with U.S. President Barack Obama, Modi commented that the promise and potential of the Indian-U.S. relationship has never been in doubt and the two countries are natural partners. In a show of intimacy, Modi in his speech called the American president by his first name several times.

Modi also values much of Japan's capital and technology. Last December, the two countries agreed to have Japan build the first high-speed railway for India. The two countries are also planning to cooperate in the field of civil nuclear power. What should also be noted is that Modi has kept close personal relations with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Laser focus

Despite the goodwill he has created among his peers, the real aim of Modi's diplomacy is to promote domestic development. Against this backdrop, he takes advantage of every visit to reinforce economic ties with major countries, attract investment for India's infrastructure upgrading, as well as market Indian products.

China has committed to investing $20 billion in the coming five years for infrastructure construction there, and has agreed to establish two large industrial parks in Gujarat and Maharashtra. During Modi's visit to China last May, enterprises from the two countries signed cooperation deals worth $22 billion.

While Modi was in Japan, his host country promised to expand its investment in India to $35 billion in the next five years, focusing on infrastructure construction, transportation, clean energy, food processing and more. Russia also pledged to provide India with 10 million tons of crude oil over the next 10 years, and build 12 nuclear reactors within 20 years. Russian bank VTB will open a $1 billion credit line to India's Essar Group to fund infrastructure construction.

In the meantime, Modi also reached out to Indian people living overseas during his foreign visits, calling for their contribution to the development of their home country and making the "Indian century" a reality. On September 28, 2014, more than 18,000 Indians and Indian Americans gathered at the Madison Square Garden in New York City to welcome Modi to the United States. Also, during his trip to Shanghai last May, about 5,000 Indians gathered to welcome the prime minister.

While vigorously advancing ties with foreign countries, Modi has not forgotten to shape his image as the guardian of India's core interests. To a certain extent, Modi's foreign policy has a strong nationalistic hue. Though he advocates solving disputes in a peaceful way, he also holds a strong and resolute stance when it comes to India's national interests.

Immediately after his inauguration, Modi employed "the carrot and the stick" tactic with Pakistan, requiring Islamabad to prevent cross-border terrorist attacks. The Modi administration also cancelled high-level talks after a Pakistan diplomat stationed in India had met a Kashmir separatist leader. In July 2014, his administration boycotted the World Trade Organization's Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) in the name of protecting its own food security, which caused frustration among Western countries including the United States. Only in November of the same year did India and the United States strike a deal on some trade provisions pertaining to the TFA.

At present, India is actively seeking greater power status, hoping to play a larger role in regional and international affairs. The late Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru claimed in his book, The Discovery of India, that "[India] is a myth and an idea, a dream and a vision, and yet very real and present and pervasive." Now Modi's diplomacy hopes to foster the conditions for India's economic revival and political rise, with the ultimate goal of making India an impressive global player.

The author is an assistant researcher at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations

Copyedited by Mara Lee Durrell

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