China's President Xi Jinping arrived in Ahmedabad, Gujarat on Wednesday afternoon for a visit that has generated high expectations for reasons of strategic importance as well as the out of box diplomacy of having the highest level engagement in a state outside Delhi. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had arrived in the city on Tuesday itself.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi greets Chinese President Xi Jinping upon his arrival at a hotel in Ahmadabad. (PTI Photo)
Xi was welcomed at the airport by Gujarat governor OP Kohli and chief minister Anandiben Patel. He received a guard of honor and briefly witnessed cultural performances at the airport itself. The president is accompanied by his wife, Peng Liyuan.
He then headed for the city's Hyatt hotel, where Modi was waiting for him at the porch and greeted with him with a long and warm handshake. The two leaders then stepped into the hotel, and had a bilateral exchange.
Three MoU's were signed in the presence of the two top leaders. The first one was between Gujarat and Guangdong province, to enhance cooperation in trade and economy, environment, public policy, education, health, science and related fields. The second was between the cities of Ahmedabad and Guangzhou for closer cooperation between the local authorities of the two cities. And the third was between the China Development Bank and Gujarat's Industrial Extension Bureau under which the bank will encourage Chinese investors to set up industrial parks in Gujarat by extending credit, and the state government will help Chinese investors in obtaining required clearances and creating infrastructure facilities in industrial parks.
The entire state cabinet and top Gujarat-based industrialists were present on the occasion, and the top leaders interacted with them.
Modi then went to the Sabarmati Ashram and waited alongside the chief minister to receive Xi, who came a short while later. If he was in a formal black suit at the hotel, the president had now changed into a semi formal, half sleeve white jacket. The PM personally guided the president through an exhibition on Gandhi's life. Xi paid respects to a Gandhi statue with a namaste. The two leaders sat on the floor next to a charkha, and through the tour, continued to engage in an informal conversation - sometimes with interpreters and sometimes on their own. Many analysts have pointed to the occasion being remarkably symbolic for the message of non-violence it sends out in navigating what is a difficult relationship at times. The president was also given gifts by the ashram.
Right after that, Modi welcomed Xi at the Sabarmati river front, a pet project when he was state chief minister. The two leaders took a stroll here, before a private dinner with about a dozen people on each side in a specially created tent. Cultural performances marked the event.
The day was marked by many novelties - of a Chinese head of state starting a bilateral visit from Gujarat, of an Indian PM not only receiving him outside Delhi but both the leaders witnessing official agreements between the two countries outside the capital, of a PM personally guiding a president of China, unhurriedly, through Gandhi's ashram, and a dinner with Gujarati vegetarian delicacies that Xi, Ahmedabad hopes, would remember for a long time. The optics are right as both leaders head to Delhi for the substantive leg of the trip.