On Monday, Prime Minister Modi delivered a speech at this year’s World Economic Forum’s (WEF) virtual summit. The Indian leader began by talking highly about his country’s democracy and multicultural relations before getting down to business. Six points stand out and should be of the most interest to foreign observers. The first is that PM Modi declared that his country is the world’s third-largest pharma producer, which is relevant in the context of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The second point was that India’s IT industry continued working around the clock, which greatly contributed to stabilizing the global economy. Third, PM Modi emphasized his country’s East of Doing Business reforms, which achieved what he claimed is the world’s most competitive corporate tax rate. He also emphasized the comprehensive multi-sectoral reforms carried out under his leadership.
The fourth point of international importance is that India is holding free trade talks with many countries. These are aimed at bolstering its position within global supply chains. In connection with that, India also wants to attract more foreign investment, but ideally into its Make in India program to enhance its self-reliance. These related points align with global economic trends, especially those that became much more noticeable due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fifth, PM Modi promoted green growth. He urged everyone to move towards what he described as a circular economy. To that end, he unveiled his P-3 vision, which stands for “Pro Planet People”. It’s unclear how popular that slogan will become, but it represents yet another creative means for raising awareness of his policies. And finally, the Indian leader proposed that democratic countries take the lead in reforming multilateral institutions in response to new global challenges.
The first five points concern epidemiology, economics, and the environment, which are all current rage. They perfectly conform with the expectations that one would have of a foreign leader who’s addressing the WEF this year. However, the last point could be interpreted as a subtle jab against neighbouring rival China, whose leader President Xi Jinping had earlier addressed the summit. India’s self-declared democracy contrasts with that country’s portrayal of China’s governing system.
Be that as it may, India and China have also been attempting to responsibly regulate their rivalry since the summer 2020 Galwan River Valley clashes brought these Asian Great Powers to the brink of war for the first time in nearly half a century. While ties remain complicated, both sides seem to have become more conscious of the other’s sensitivities on certain issues. This observation would explain why PM Modi’s final remarks only indirectly referenced China by innuendo instead of doing so directly.
Generally speaking, India believes it has a unique opportunity to attract those companies that might consider “re-offshoring” from China. This policy has been in play for a few years since former US President Donald Trump launched his unprovoked trade war against the People’s Republic, but it hasn’t yet been as successful as the most optimistic observers expected. Nonetheless, PM Modi is committed to doubling down on it in a friendly, gentle, and non-hostile way to avoid provoking China.
That’s why he confidently spoke about what makes his country so attractive nowadays in the chaotic contemporary context of International Relations instead of comparing it with China, even if only indirectly. He’s conscious of his neighbour’s sensitivities as these two Great Powers seek to responsibly regulate their rivalry towards the eventual hoped-for end of comprehensively normalizing their ties with time.
Bearing all this in mind, observers can describe PM Modi’s speech to the WEF as a successful portrayal of what makes his country so economically attractive nowadays. He wisely did so without offending China, even though his final proposal about democratic countries taking the lead in reforming multilateral institutions can be considered a subtle jab against the People’s Republic. All told, though, his speech was balanced, largely apolitical, and focused on relevant issues of interest for the forum.