Modi on tour with no breathing space

The Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi arriving for the official welcome at the G 20 summit, in Brisbane, Australia on November 15, 2014.

The Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi arriving for the official welcome at the G 20 summit, in Brisbane, Australia on November 15, 2014.
The Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi arriving for the official welcome at the G 20 summit, in Brisbane, Australia on November 15, 2014.

By Ranjana Narayan and Aroonim Bhuyan  

The Asean and East Asian summits drew leaders from as many as 18 countries to Myanmar’s capital Nay Pyi Taw, but the busiest leader seemed to be Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Infact, it is not over yet as he continues to be much sought after in Australia.

In just three days that he spent in the Myanmarese capital, he held as many as eight bilateral meetings with leaders of countries who had come to attend the two summits. Soon after landing in Nay Pyi Taw Nov 11, Modi met Myanmar President U Thein Sein in what was his first bilateral meeting in the course of his three-nation tour.

During their talks, Modi and Thein Sein reviewed progress of major connectivity projects, including the India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway, and Kaladan transport project. The possibility of India investing in special economic zones in Myanmar was also discussed.

The next day, on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit, held meetings with the leaders of Thailand, Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore.

In his meetings with Thailand Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, Sultan of Brunei Hassanal Bolkiah and Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Modi spoke about the ‘Make in India’ campaign launched to attract business to India and discussed possibilities of economic cooperation with them.

On Nov 13, on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit, the Indian prime minister met leaders of Russia, China and Indonesia.

He started off with a meeting with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. Modi recalled his visit to Russia in 2001 and told the Russian leader that he was sure India-Russia ties would be further strengthened.

In the evening, he had his first meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang who invited him to visit China.

Modi has earlier met Chinese President Xi Jinping, including during the latter’s visit to India in September. But the two prime ministers had never met. Modi and Li discussed issues of bilateral interest, and also discussed Xi’s visit.

Following this, the Indian leader met Indonesian President Joko Widodo and congratulated him on assuming office. Modi also talked about the ‘Make in India’ initiative and invited Indonesian companies to come to India.

After concluding his Myanmar visit, he left for Australia to attend the G20 Summit scheduled for Nov 15-16.

Soon after landing in Brisbane Friday, he lost no time and, apart from other engagements, held three high-powered bilaterals.

Modi first talked with a European Union (EU) delegation headed by Herman Van Rompuy who conveyed that the bloc was keen to “re-engage” with India in all areas, especially trade. Modi told him that the “EU should take advantage of the new economic environment in India”.

Modi’s proposal of having an International Yoga Day, which he had proposed at the UN, got further impetus with Rompuy telling him that the 28-member bloc supported his initiative for a Yoga Day.

His meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron was another highlight of his engagements Friday at Brisbane. Cameron, who met the Indian prime minister for the first time, told him that relations with India were at the “top of the priorities of UK’s foreign policy”.

Modi ended the day with a dinner hosted by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe with whom he shares a great rapport.

During the course of the G20 Summit, Modi will have bilateral meetings with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and also Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on the sidelines.

He will also meet French President Francois Hollande, who is likely to push for negotiations to clinch the multi-billion dollar deal for the Rafale, which was selected two years ago for the 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) project.

After the G20 summit, the Indian prime minister will hold a bilateral meeting with his Australian counterpart and host Tony Abbott. On Nov 19, Modi will go on a one-day trip to Fiji where leaders of some 30 small island nations will be meeting him in recognition of his growing status as a global leader.

Former prime minister Manmohan Singh had a reputation of keeping extremely tight schedules while attending multilateral summits and holding series of bilateral meetings on the sidelines of such events.

But now, Narendra Modi, a newbie to global diplomacy, seems to be warming up to the game – and fast.