The tone of greetings for Modi conveys state of India-China ties

Neither Chinese President Xi Jinping, nor his Prime Minister, Li Qiang, initially sent any message of congratulations to Prime Minister Modi on his nomination for a historic third time.

Harsha Kakar

Harsha Kakar

The Statesman


Representational image of the flags of India and China. PHOTO: THE STATESMAN

June 19, 2024

NEW DELHI – Neither Chinese President Xi Jinping, nor his Prime Minister, Li Qiang, initially sent any message of congratulations to Prime Minister Modi on his nomination for a historic third time. Qiang finally conveyed his greetings a day after the swearing in, fulfilling diplomatic norms. The Chinese foreign ministry issued a statement on their behalf, mentioning, ‘Congratulations to Prime Minister @narendramodi, on the election victory. We look forward to a healthy and stable China-India relationship.’ India’s Ministry of External Affairs responded by saying, ‘Will continue to pursue efforts towards normalisation of India-China ties based on mutual respect, mutual interest and mutual sensitivity.’

Both nations reiterated their own approach on bilateral ties. In 2019, President Xi had congratulated PM Modi on his re-election. In March this year, both Xi and Qiang greeted Shehbaz Sharief when he was selected as Pakistan’s PM. The message clearly is that Indo-China ties remain strained and whatever emerged was the bare diplomatic minimum. Simultaneously, there was a row between New Delhi and Beijing when Taiwanese president Lai Ching-te sent a message of congratulations to PM Modi. Lai’s greetings mentioned expanding ties which was responded to with similar thoughts by Modi. China objected, which was expected, to which the Indian MEA responded in similar measure. Even the US jumped into the fray mentioning that such ‘such congratulatory messages are the normal course of diplomatic business.’ Shehbaz Sharief maintained diplomatic courtesy by conveying his congratulations, post the swearing in.

PM Modi had done the same with Shehbaz on his ‘selection’ as PM. The message from Shehbaz was curt, mentioning, ‘Felicitations to Narendra Modi on taking oath,’ and responded to with similar abruptness, ‘Thank you @cmshehbaz for your good wishes.’ Earlier, the Pakistan foreign office had mentioned that it was ‘premature’ to send congratulations prior to the swearing in. The tone of messages on both sides implied that neither would seek to improve ties, at least for now. Nawaz Sharief, who is heading his ruling political party, PML(N), and had attended PM Modi’s 2014 swearing-in, sent his own message mentioning, ‘Let us replace hate with hope and seize the opportunity to shape the destiny of the two billion people of South Asia.’ In response PM Modi mentioned, ‘The people of India have always stood for peace, security and progressive ideas. Advancing the wellbeing and security of our people shall always remain our priority.’ Both nations have their own preconditions for resuming dialogue. For India it is sans supporting terrorism while for Pakistan it is reversing article 370, neither of which can happen. The terrorist attack on a bus in Reasi on the day of the swearing in, resulting in the death of ten pilgrims, will only push relations further downhill.

Was the attack symbolic, being simultaneous to the swearing in, or was it an opportunity encashed by terrorists is unknown. How India will respond is to be seen. PM Modi’s oath-taking ceremony was attended by all members of SAARC (South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation), except Pakistan, and additionally Seychelles. Afghanistan was missing as India does not formally recognize it. The message to Islamabad was clear, India will not re-activate SAARC, it is dead. Indian has established its own bilateral and multilateral institutions, bypassing SAARC. The EAM met all leaders who attended the swearing in individually. The Maldivian president, Dr Mohamed Muizzu, who had been seeking a visit to India for the past few months, but was not obliged, made it a point to be present. He had earlier sent a message of congratulations to Mr Modi. While he sat alongside PM Modi at the banquet, there was no formal meeting. His presence in Delhi could signal a thaw in bilateral ties, especially after his ‘India out campaign’ and adverse comments by his ministers, resulting in Indian tourists boycotting Maldives. Muizzu could only meet the President and convey his desire for improved ties between the two nations. Symbolically, while Muizzu was in New Delhi, the Maldivian parliament instituted an inquiry into three agreements signed between the country and India by the previous regime. Meanwhile, India has displayed positivity in assisting Maldives by rescheduling their loans. Forward movement of ties will now depend on how Maldives acts.

Globally, congratulations flowed. In the cases of those with whom India has close ties, including the US, UK, Australia, France, EU and Russia, there were telephonic calls of congratulations. The Ukrainian President, Vladimir Zelensky, also spoke, reiterating his request for India to join the peace summit in Switzerland. India is being represented by a senior diplomat. Every single message or personal call found a mention on the PM’s social media handle. Wording and response to those who greeted the PM on social media conveyed the nature of ties between the states. Almost all were positive, barring the odd nation, Canada. The Canadian PM, Justin Trudeau, mentioned in his greeting, ‘Canada stands ready to work with his (Modi’s) government to advance the relationship between our nations’ peoples—anchored to human rights, diversity, and the rule of law.’ The response read, ‘India looks forward to working with Canada based on mutual understanding and respect for each other’s concerns.’

The underlying message was that the Indo-Canada relationship remains contaminated by doubt and mistrust, none of which are likely to be overcome soon. Canada had recently mentioned India as the ‘second biggest foreign threat to its democracy,’ while itself attempting to influence Indian elections through its Khalistani supporters. Greetings from multilateral and multinational organizations as also prominent global entities including Elon Musk and Bill Gates, highlighted India’s global outreach, power and acceptability. Many former leaders including those from Afghanistan, Maldives and Nepal conveyed their wishes. Within 24 hours of the announcement of results, Mr Modi had received 90 messages of congratulations from over 70 countries. Wishes continued for the next few days.

The deluge of greetings indicates that India’s foreign policy has wide acceptance. Attendance by all its neighbours re-confirmed that India’s ‘neighbourhood first’ policy has proved to be a success. India’s tensions with China and Pakistan will remain for now, while ties with Canada are unlikely to witness any improvement. Finally, nations which had earlier negatively commented on Indian democracy will be compelled to swallow their words as the world rarely witnesses such free and fair polls.

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