This is an abridged version of the chapter ‘The Chinese Connection’ from Kingshuk Nag’s book, The NaMo Story. Nag served as The Times of India’s Ahmedabad and Hyderabad Resident Editor.
The book can be found at many bookstores and order online via Amazon.
With India and China at loggerheads at the LAC, not many know that Narendra Modi and China had quite the friendly dynamic while he worked his way towards the country’s highest office.
State governments are not vested with powers to engage with foreign countries in their own capacity. Though the seed for his own links with China were planted only in Gujarat during the Modi’s tenure as Chief Minister of the state.
Though this was seen more as using China as a bulwark against the superpowers of US and UK who rebuked him due to his poor human rights record. The 2013 Vibrant Gujarat Show in which he welcomed the Chinese with pomp and circumstance is an example of this.
Of course, with Modi’s electoral prospects as Prime Minister looking bright, both the US and UK began softening up to the idea of him.
On February 8, German Ambassador to India, Michael Steiner, announced that the EU lifted the informal ten-year ban on him. The Prime Ministerial hopeful then expressed some regret about the 2002 riots and stressed his pluralistic credentials.
Plus, with China’s record on human rights not exactly being spotless, the 2002 riots fiasco was not exactly a chink in the Gujarat CM’s armour. This smoothened the path for Modi-China links as per a Senior government official from Gujarat.
Aji Rangenaker, Dean of the Indian School of Business, deems Deng Xiaoping’s economic successes sweeping atrocious human rights standings is analogous to Gujarat’s development post-Godhra violence.
Plus, Indo-China trade also kept growing back in 2011. And who among Modi’s business coterie helped bridge Sino-Gujarati relations?
Reliance, Essar and Adani.
Essar always imported machinery worth billions of dollars from China for its steel, telecom, energy and power businesses. The Adani group employed about 3,000 technicians from China when commissioning a power plant in Mundhra, Kutch District. China also became a holiday destination for many Gujaratis.
The India China Economic and Cultural Council’s got a Gujarat chapter in Ahmedabad. It is through this body that Modi and Gujarati businessmen got invites to the People’s Republic of China. The ruling Communist Party of China felicitated him with special protocol, banquets, visits, security and high-level meetings. He was also received at the Great Hall of people in Beijing, where heads of states are national government are welcomed.
An excellent feat for someone who had not yet been elected as a head of state.
Of course, Gujarat was billed as a premier business hub by him. He also raised the issue of Gujarati traders languishing in Chinese jails for smuggle diamonds into the Mainland from Hong Kong. Some were freed while others received definite sentences.
The subject of Pakistan was breached but in hopes of gaining an ally against a neighbour but clearly, the all-weather friend took precedence of over India.
In a way Modi had arrived abroad before he truly arrived in India during the 2014 elections.
He and his Gujarat delegations were rock stars with road shows in Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Guangzhou and Hong Kong. Many deals came out of these excursions.
The Torrent Group was to market a Chinese company’s drugs in India. Another Chinese company decided to invest $452 million to establish a transformer-manufacturing facility in Vadodara. Many such endeavours were planned.
To further such ties between the state of Gujarat and China, two Gujarati universities planned to offer Mandarin courses whereas Beijing University planned to teach Gujarati. Though the Sangh deemed this matrimony unholy due China’s friendliness towards Pakistan, and their role in fomenting trouble in the North East.
Despite such reservations, it was Modi-Chini Bhai-Bhai. That too, all for China to invade Indian territory years after the blooming romance almost a a decade later.