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He came, he saw, he was bowled over

Thanks to the Xi-Modi summit, the priceless treasures of Mamallapuram received wide publicity. The Indian government and Tamil Nadu should promote Mamallapuram as a prized global heritage site.

It indeed was a masterstroke, selecting Mamallapuram as the venue for the second China-India Summit. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, PR expert par excellence, beautifully showcased the heights reached by the Pallava kings in art, architecture, and seafaring. He continued with his appreciation, admiration and focus on the richness of the Tamil literature from the Howdy Modi meeting at Houston. If Ahmedabad and Sabarmati riverside were revved up for the earlier visit of the Chinese President Xi Jinping, the seashore temple, the rich bas-relief sculpture of Arjuna’s penance, the Five Rathas and other priceless architecture formed a grand stage for the Xi-Modi meet.

Well-planned, well-executed…

The Palaniswami government of Tamil Nadu deserves praise for its magnificent work: the Chennai metro was spruced up. The entire route from the Chennai airport through Guindy, the East Coast Road and the town of Mamallapuram were cleared of encroachments, posters, graffiti, hawkers and beggars; the walls en route were painted and decorated; dozens of arches with traditional festoons and plantain trees with fruit bunches were erected. And what a feast of dance and songs! Most notably, the state, known for its agitations was, for a change, free from these! (Remember the virulent ‘go-back Modi’ protests on earlier occasions of the PM’s visits?)

The airport authority deserves special praise for ensuring the least dislocation of scheduled aircraft movements. Timing the arrival and departure of the Chinese teams in the lean afternoon hours and the neat arrangement of parking the jumbo aircraft of the Chinese deserve special mention.

Deploying security men in hundreds, the police ensured security and disciplined traffic movement. Chennai is bordered on the east by the sea and has a few, crowded arterial roads to the south. The task of regulating traffic movement was exemplary.

Anxious uncertainties

There were some uncertainties though. One related to the close rapport built by Prime Minister Modi with American President Trump: hardly a couple of weeks earlier these two leaders exhibited close camaraderie at Houston. With US-China trade relations on the boil, this camaraderie might have been an irritant to the Chinese.

The close relations between China and Pakistan with the former blocking India’s efforts to raise the issue of Pakistan harbouring terrorists in the United Nations and the equivocal stance of President Xi, especially after the visit of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan to Beijing a couple of days earlier, raised concerns over the smooth course of the summit.

President Xi seemed to have been impressed by the rousing reception, the rich hospitality and warmth extended by Prime Minister Modi. Thus, the leaders could focus on areas of common interest like trade.

And this made sense. I remember the big turnaround in US-India relations during the term of US President Bill Clinton. The then US Ambassador to India Frank Wisner, famously said: “differences need not define relationships.” It does make a lot of sense to focus on areas of common interest. China and India have been doing this in international forums on issues like climate, global trade…

Concerns of trade, investments…

Of great concern to India is the large trade deficit, of $ 57 billion, (around Rs 4 lakh crore), in trade with China. The two leaders agreed to set up a new mechanism for matters relating to trade and investment. A high-level mediation channel to take actionable steps on India’s legitimate trade concerns has been proposed by China. This will be headed by the Chinese Vice Premier and Indian Finance Minister.

In our earlier issue, I had suggested Prime Minister Modi endeavouring to use the close rapport he has built with global leaders to attract large investments on mega projects. He had done this with Japan for the construction of the Ahmedabad-Mumbai high-speed rail project involving an investment of Rs110,000 crore. China has a spectacular record of constructing over 38,000 km of high-speed rail lines, in very quick time. Modi could invite China to build such high-speed rail lines connecting Chennai to Delhi and Mumbai to Kolkata. Such tracks can reduce travel time to around 7 hours each.

s With the ability of the Chinese to implement projects in very quick time, such connectivity can be established in 5 years (provided India makes available the land in quick time). The cost can be met over 15-20 years on soft loans that can be repaid through exports of agricultural commodities like soybean, sugar, meat, marine products and other goods to China.

China has emerged the largest manufacturer and trader of a variety of goods. Like Japan in the last century, China is also experiencing increases in wage costs; her manufacturing costs are shooting up. With the expectation of its population stabilising at around 140 crore in the next couple of years and with its rapidly-expanding population of senior citizens, China can outsource several of the labour-intensive industries to India. There is welcome news that China’s Build Your Dreams [BYD] group is planning to invest around Rs 700 crore in a mobile component facility in Tamil Nadu. The prospects for expanding such investments could be explored.

With increasing prosperity, the Chinese have emerged avid tourists. They are ubiquitous across the globe. China also attracts tourists in thousands to visit the Great Wall of China, the terracotta warriors…Thanks to the Xi-Modi summit, the priceless treasures of Mamallapuram received wide publicity. The Indian government and Tamil Nadu should promote Mamallapuram as a prized global heritage site to attract tourists.

Historically, China and India faced similar challenges. Both suffered grievously on repeated invasions by the Mongols. China protected this by constructing the Great Wall for a length of around 21,196 km. This today proves a great tourist attraction. India, not unified under a single ruler, suffered repeated raids by Ghazni, Ghori and other invaders who razed to the ground the riches of Indian temples like Somnath’s.

India received the admiration of the Chinese traveller Xuanzang, who visited Mamallapuram and Kanchee puram in the 7th century. Until the advent of the industrial revolution, the two countries accounted for nearly half the global trade. The collaboration between these two nations will be of great mutual benefit.
The one sure route is through strengthening trade and investments. Man being an economic animal, he should be ready to understand the impact of this.

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