Modi sets a furious pace for international visits

Seven international visits in 6 months -- it's a blistering pace for travel that the PM has set himself for the remainder of 2014.

Explaining the ambitious list of countries on the agenda in 2014, the spokesperson said requests had poured in from many countries after the new government took over ,"Put simply, Mr. Modi's inbox for outbound travel is very crowded".

Confirming the report in The Hindu , the Ministry of External Affairs said PM Modi will make his first stop abroad to Thimphu later this month. As India's closest and friendliest ally, Bhutan has been chosen also so as not to ruffle any other feathers in the neighbourhood and beyond, over which country is Mr. Modi's first choice. His trip will see many crucial discussions on trade, aid, and Mr. Modi's particular interest in renewable energy, including calls on the Bhutanese Royal family and its young king.

In July, he will venture farther, and visit Japan for a bilateral visit. Mr. Modi has been an guest in Tokyo in the past when he was Chief Minister of Gujarat, and PM Shinzo Abe and he share a close relationship. Mr. Modi was among the first to call Mr. Abe when he returned as PM and Mr Abe returned the greetings in a long telephone call with Mr. Modi last month. Visiting Japan will have its repercussions, given China's sensitivities, and some feel the government is seeking to balance those with a visit from Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Sunday, where he will be accorded a warm welcome. His visit is expected to be followed by President Xi Jinping later this year.

Also in July, Mr. Modi will go to Brazil for the BRICS summit,and to enjoy some world cup soccer on the side. Of keen interest will be his interaction with Chinese President Xi , but also with Russian President Putin- who is at the centre of the Ukraine storm. Mr. Putin was disinvited from the G8 summit in Brussels, and the remainder 7 countries met and issued sharp criticism of Russia's role. It is significant that India will stand shoulder to shoulder with Russia at the BRICS summit after this. It is also significant that Mr. Modi is adhering to the previous governments commitment to this alternate economic group frowned upon by the West.

In September Mr. Modi will travel east for the ASEAN-India and East Asia summits, and then west for the UNGA. While he is bound to schedule many meetings at the UN in New York, he has also confirmed one in Washington with President Obama. In November, he has the G-20 summit in Brisbane, Australia and the SAARC summit in Kathmandu is also planned for that month. Conspicuous by its absence is any travel to Europe, especially given the move by EU countries to reverse the boycott on Mr. Modi as far back as 2008, long before the American reversal. When asked, the spokesperson said no visit to Europe had been scheduled yet.

By agreeing to a blitz of travel engagements Mr. Modi has certainly signalled his desire to hit the floor running on foreign policy, which he will drive himself. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj too is expected to have a full plate, and will make her debut visit "to a neighbouring country as well"- that's likely to be Bangladesh. After the Chinese FM, she will welcome the French Foreign Minister, who is eager to conclude negotiations for the MMRCA deal for planes.

The other signal the PM seems to want to send is of balance: balancing a vigorous engagement with China along with visits to the eastern alliance ranged against China - Japan, and Australia, which have sought to engage India in Trilateral military exercises. He will balance the east with visits to the west, and the global south with the developed world.

Those signals, and the frenetic pace will undoubtedly put pressure on India's foreign ministry, with an understaffed diplomatic corps. Many will also question if Mr. Modi's 'summit-style' of bilateral relations, addressing outstanding issues at the highest level will leave enough space for preperatory legwork, as well as follow ups to his meetings. The theory will be tested sooner rather than later, as Mr. Modi is expected to meet with Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif on the sidelines of the UNGA in September, to take forward the closed-door conversations they had in Delhi last month. In between the two men have shared much bonhomie and personal gifts: of a shawl for Mr. Sharif's mother in Lahore, and a Sari for Mr. Modi's mother in Gandhinagar. But the real nitty gritty of India Pakistan relations, including questions on the revival of dialogue, action on terror, and Kashmir will still need attention given that in November, the leaders will meet for a third time at the Kathmandu SAARC summit.

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Printable version | May 15, 2022 3:11:24 pm |