Modi in Xi’an: Terracotta warriors, temple & Bollywood redefines diplomatic style

What has set Prime Minister Modi’s China’s visit apart is that he seeks to maintain a fine balance between economics, politics, ideology, sentiment and symbolism. Modi’s choice of Xi’an as the first venue of his China visit depicts a much broader agenda of managing relations with Asia’s largest economy. Prime Minister Modi’s arrival in Xian is significant and a departure from protocol by the Chinese government. The fact that President Xi Jinping personally received Mr Modi in his hometown underscores the importance China is attaching to his visit.

Returning the Compliment

In what can be seen as a return of the compliment and a reciprocal gesture by the Chinese leader, who was hosted by Mr Modi in Ahmedabad when he visited India in September last year, the Indian prime minister was welcomed in an unprecedented manner in Xian. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was warmly welcomed by a little girl on his arrival at Xi’an Xiangyang International Airport. PM Modi was also welcomed by a cultural performance in his honour where dancers performed on Bollywood numbers. In trying to strike the right chords of diplomacy, a Bollywood-filled cultural extravaganza enlivened the atmosphere. Besides, traditional cultural performances were also performed which Mr Modi lauded as ‘spectacular.’ Mr Modi seemed to have enjoyed his visit to Terracotta Warriors and Da Xingshan temple.

There could not be a more fitting and timely tribute to the need for bolstering Sino-India cooperation than PM Modi’s visit to the mausoleum of Qin, being the tomb of the first emperor who unified the country, in Xian. The message of unity and solidarity was well touched upon. Mr Modi’s trip to Xian rounds up the cycle of ‘hometown diolomacy’ started during Xi’s visit to India. Amidst an unprecedented welcome, the three-day visit of the Indian prime minister covers three cities; Xiang, Shanghai and Beijing.

The terracotta museum stands for the history of Chinese unification and solidarity; a history that China values. Mr Modi’s visit to the museum can be seen as a way for forging cultural connections.

Mr Modi’s visit to the Dang temple is an acknowledgement of Chinese values, their religious sentiment and a statement on religious similarities in India and China. The priest uttering hymns beside Mr Modi served as a perfect connect for many in India.

Gift Diplomacy

The prime minister presented President Xi Jinping replicas of a stone casket of Buddhist relics and a stone statue of Buddha that were excavated from a 3rd-4th century AD stupa at Dev-ni-Mori – a site 80 kms east of Vadnagar, Gujarat – in 1957. The prime minister also presented archaeological drawings of excavations at Vadnagar which was one of the places visited by the great Chinese traveller Xuanzang – also known as Hieun Tsang – around 641 AD. Prime Minister Modi gifted Bodhi sapling to the temple. In return, the Abbot of the monastery gifted a figurine of Xuan Zang to the prime minister.

The visit by the Indian prime minister to Xian is a milestone of sort. Prime Minister Modi and President Xi holding summit talks in restricted format in the ancient city of Xian, PM Modi’s interaction with people in the city, his use of Hindi in his address, the grand welcome accorded to him and the break of the protocol in hosting the Indian PM first in Xi’an – these features mark a different diplomatic style that bodes well for the future trajectory of the India-China relations.

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