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PM Modi May Win Back Trust if China Hands Over Nirav Modi to India

If that happens, PM Modi can boast that no previous government has brought back a high-profile fugitive from abroad.

Updated
Opinion
4 min read
PM Modi May Win Back Trust if China Hands Over Nirav Modi to India

In an 8 April article for The Quint, titled What to Expect From PM Modi’s Upcoming Bilateral Visit to China, I had reported that India and China are all set to witness unprecedented bilateral engagement at the highest levels.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will undertake a bilateral visit to China within a month, ahead of his multilateral visit to China in June for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Summit (SCO).

The trip may result in China helping India by persuading authorities of the autonomous region of Hong Kong to hand over fugitive jeweler Nirav Modi to India.

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The Indian side has proposed the 14-16 May window for the visit, with 15 May being the operative date for all important meetings, including the delegation-level talks.

However, China finds these dates to be rather late as per their calendar and convenience, and want PM Modi to visit as early as 27 April.

While the exact dates are yet to be worked out, there is a strong likelihood that the Modi government will agree to the Chinese request to move the dates up. PM Modi may travel to China on a bilateral visit by this month-end – which will come close on the heels of China visits by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.

In view of the upcoming prime ministerial visit, the visits by Swaraj and Sitharaman will take on added significance and will inevitably boast rich bilateral content.

The visits by the two ministers of the Cabinet Committee on Security – the apex body on all security and strategic issues – would also be seen as preparatory visits for the PM's trip, even though they are for a multilateral event.

NSA’s China Visit Was Revealed Only After It Concluded

The seriousness that the Modi government attaches to the upcoming bilateral visit of the PM to China was demonstrated on 13 April, when the world found out that National Security Advisor Ajit Doval visited China.

The Ministry of External Affairs waited till the end of his two-day China visit (12-13 April) to make the news public.

Such was the budget-level secrecy attached to Doval's China visit that neither the Indian media stationed in China nor the Chinese media got a wind of this important event. Both sides adhered to the highest levels of secrecy over the matter.

In a brief press release about the visit, released at around 2 pm on 13 April, the MEA said:

National Security Advisor Shri Ajit Doval visited China from 12-13 April 2018 and held talks in Shanghai with HE Mr Yang Jiechi, Member of Politburo and Director of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the CPC Central Committee. The visit was part of regular high-level engagements between India and China. 

“The discussions covered a wide agenda spanning bilateral, regional and international issues of mutual interest. The two sides agreed to maintain the pace of high-level exchanges with a view to fully realise the potential of Closer Development Partnership between India and China”.

The last sentence gives it away: “The two sides agreed to maintain the pace of high-level exchanges”. Those following India-China relations closely know that this formulation alludes to PM Modi’s upcoming visit to China.

Modi’s special relationship with Doval is an open secret.

In many ways, Doval has been Modi's own James Bond for security and intelligence matters. However, when it comes to China and the upcoming visit, Doval is Modi's Henry Kissinger. Doval is understood to have discussed, with his Chinese interlocutors, the architecture of a rebooted India-China bilateral relationship – which may well turn out to be a defining moment in context of the two Asian giants if everything plays out as per the purported script.

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On the Cards

  • The Narendra Modi-Xi Jinping summit will take place far away from the Chinese capital. The reasons for this are still not known. However, this may be aimed at ensuring that the summit is kept away from the prying eyes of the international media. The likely venues of the summit may be as diverse and as distant as Wuhan and Kunming City.
  • The summit is likely to bring a major announcement on President Xi's dream project, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – earlier known as One Belt One Road (OBOR). The Indian side is likely to make a major concession with regard to the BRI, though the broad contours of what India will provide and receive are not known. However, it is likely that the Indian concessions – vis a vis BRI – would be Pakistan-centric as the Modi government cannot be seen as compromising on its nationalist agenda in this crucial election year.
  • There would be mega investments from the Chinese in sectors India desires. These would be time-bound, unlike the $20 billion Chinese investment offer by China in September 2014, of which little or nothing has arrived.
  • India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) is a matter of prime concern for New Delhi, but this has not been happening because of persistent Chinese stonewalling. This visit may well see a breakthrough in this regard in India's favour.
  • Last, and perhaps most important for the Modi government in political terms, there may be a trade-off regarding Nirav Mod – who faces charges of bank frauds worth over a billion dollars and is believed to be in Hong Kong. China may agree to hand him over to India. If that happens, PM Modi may at once change the public mood within India as he can then tell the electorate that no previous government has ever brought back a high-profile fugitive from abroad.

If the Nirav Modi masterstroke happens, it would be Modi’s biggest masterstroke yet. In that case, there is all the more reason for Modi to visit China on 27 April (and not 14-16 May) in view of Karnataka assembly polls. Karnataka goes to polls on 12 May and the results will be out on 15 May.

(Rajeev Sharma is an independent journalist and strategic affairs analyst who tweets@Kishkindha. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own.The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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