Seeking the Nixon spirit
THE three-day trip that India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, will make to China from May 14th to 16th is seen in some quarters as a chance to reset the relationship between Asia’s two giants. Those inclined to enthusiasm note that Mr Modi is easily the most interested in China of any recent Indian leader. He first crossed the border into China many years ago, to a holy site for Hindu pilgrims; he has since returned several times to study China’s rapid economic development. When he was chief minister of Gujarat state, Mr Modi was treated with lavish cordiality in China. At the time, politicians and diplomats from most Western powers, America included, shunned him. Mr Modi has not forgotten the hospitality.
He made a vow to visit China during his first year as prime minister and is fulfilling it, by a whisker. He reciprocates a visit by the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, who came to India in September. Unusually, Mr Xi stopped off in Gujarat before he made his way to Delhi. In turn, before he goes to Beijing Mr Modi will visit Shaanxi province, birthplace of Mr Xi’s father, a comrade of Mao Zedong’s.
Both leaders are the first in their respective countries to have been born after the second world war, with a willingness to try fresh approaches. Both like to project an image of manly strength, keen on bold strokes in policymaking and ready to do business. And at home both leaders dominate foreign affairs along with much else. And so some analysts are looking to see indications of a breakthrough between the two giants that warily eye each other across a 4,000-kilometre (2,500-mile) disputed border in the Himalayas, scene of a brief if nasty war in 1962.
In that context, the name of Richard Nixon is never far from the lips of Indian strategists. Like Nixon, Mr Modi is a right-winger, a nationalist with form—for instance, in promising to be tough on China (as well as on Pakistan, China’s ally in South Asia). He is, in other words, probably better placed than previous Indian leaders to find a compromise that would settle the border dispute and make it acceptable back home. In conversation Mr Modi repeatedly emphasises the scale of his election victory last year. In international affairs, he implies, it gives him unusual latitude.
On the Chinese side, some also discern a potential for better bilateral relations...
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