A very happening six months of foreign policy has been one of the highlights of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, with interactions with most of the world, including even the distant islands in the South Pacific.
For a man who was seen as a newbie to the high-flying, tough-negotiating world of global diplomacy, the Modi government began its innings with the major diplomatic initiative of inviting South Asian leaders, including Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, to his May 26 swearing-in, a move that took everyone, including the invitees, by surprise.
Since that day, the prime minister or his foreign minister Sushma Swaraj have been busy interacting with most of the world and setting a scorching pace for the country’s diplomats.
Modi has met all the Permanent Five members of the UN – the US, Russia, China, Britain and France – meeting some twice. He met US President Barack Obama during the successful White House bilateral in September and during the G20 in Brisbane, Australia.
He has met Chinese President Xi Jinping thrice – the first time during the BRICS summit in Fortaleza, Brazil, July 17, then at the bilateral when Xi came to India in September and again on the sidelines of the G20.
Modi has met Russian President Vladimir Putin twice – in Brazil and Brisbane, and is slated to meet him during the India-Russia annual summit in New Delhi in December.
Modi met British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande during the G20 in Brisbane.
Modi, now in Nepal for the 18th Saarc Summit, returned from a hectic 10-day three-nation tour last week. He had left Nov 10 for Myanmar, Australia and Fiji during which he attended four major multilateral meets, interacted with some 40 world leaders and held nearly 20 bilaterals.
He attended the ASEAN-India and East Asia Summit in Myanmar, the G20 in Australia and the first summit meeting with the 14 South Pacific Island nations, which is to become an annual event.
Modi spoke at length at each fora, reassuring the world and regional leaders about the ease of doing business in India and the change in policies under his government.
During the G20, Modi’s intervention on the need for transparency and automatic sharing of information in money transactions led the final G20 communique to adopt the point, which is expected to help India in getting back black money stashed abroad.
In Myanmar, Modi stressed his government’s policy of “not just Looking East, but Acting East”.
His meeting with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott was the second – having met him when the latter came to India in September. The two leaders appear to have struck a warmth in their relationship, with both exchanging warm hugs and handshakes frequently and referring to each other by their first names.
Modi’s visit to Australia was the first by an Indian prime minister in 28 years. He also became the first Indian leader to address the Australian parliament Nov 18. Modi’s visit to Fiji was the first by an Indian prime minister in 33 years. And he became the first Indian leader to address the Fijian parliament Nov 19.
Modi, during his foreign visits, has been actively connecting with the diaspora. He addressed the Indian diaspora in Sydney, in a replay of the Madison Square Garden event in New York.
He went to Japan in August during which both countries inked several major agreements.
As part of the neighbourhood interaction, the Modi government has covered most neighbours. While Modi and Sharif met briefly during the former’s swearing-in, prospects of bringing normalcy in bilateral ties took a nosedive due to the frequent incidents of firing on the border and also when the Pakistani envoy in India met Kashmiri separatists ahead of the foreign secretary level talks, which were called off by India.
Modi has also interacted with many of the Latin American countries, and is actively enhancing its outreach with the Middle East. Its contact with Africa was affected when the India-African Union summit planned for December had to be postponed due to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
A noticeable factor during Modi’s interactions during his three-nation tour was the easy manner in which the prime minister was shaking hands, laughing and talking with many of the world leaders – indicative perhaps of the comfort level he has reached in conducting international diplomacy despite being a newcomer on this front. He also switched to addressing gatherings in English in Australia. Modi mostly speaks at diplomatic events in Hindi, which is translated into English.
“I would say that Prime Minister Modi has arrived on the regional and international political arena. In a way he been able to establish his credibility and along with that there is renewed confidence about India,” strategic expert C. Uday Bhaskar, director of think tank Society for Policy Studies (SPS), told IANS, on Modi’s recent foreign tour.
Modi also pulled off a kind of diplomatic coup in getting President Barack Obama to accept his invitation to be the chief guest at the Republic Day parade here Jan 26, the first time a US president has been accorded this signal honour. This will also be the first time that an American president will visit India twice during his presidency.
Taking note of ChinaÂ’s increasing interaction with the 14 South Pacific Islands, which lie at the centre of a key maritime route and are rich in resources, Modi during his Fiji visit proposed that the India-Pacific Islands Cooperation (FIPIC) summit meeting be held on a regular basis. The next meeting would be held in 2015 at a coastal location in India.