Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi commenced a significant 6-day business tour to China on Wednesday accompanied by a high-level delegation of 35 Gujarat-based industrialists and top bureaucrats.
Almost side-stepping the feverish, and often acrimonious, debate involving Congress President Sonia Gandhi and most Indian chief ministers over the pros and cons of having Special Economic Zones in the country, Modi has already put in place the infrastructure to build 11 SEZs spread all over Gujarat.
He has a prospective plan for a total of 23 SEZs in Gujarat. He has also invited the Japanese to develop the SEZs on commercial terms suitable for international investors.
Modi's agenda during the visit to China is two-fold. He wants to study the functioning of the SEZ in China and, possibly, invite them to help Gujarat build China-style SEZs.
Second, he will also seek Chinese investment in Gujarat in the power sector.
Modi is keen that Chinese experts are involved in building and operating the SEZ.
In a bid to project himself as the champion of privatisation and globalization, Modi has toured Israel, Hong Kong and Australia in this connection in the last two years.
During his foreign tours, Modi keeps himself well-equipped with PowerPoint presentations, slide shows and printed publicity material.
In Singapore, he called on Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong on October 30. He also attended Global Entrepolis Conference where he pleaded his case forcefully to attract fresh investments into Gujarat.
In China, apart from Beijing, Modi will visit several centers that showcase modern China's phenomenal progress in recent years, including Shanghai, Schenzen, Deren, Pudong and Jurong.
A Gujarat government spokesman said that Modi would focus on the working of Chinese SEZ in sectors like gems and jewellery, electronics, fashion apparel.
Modi is projecting himself as an effective salesman of Gujarat's factors of advantage and intends to highlight the investor-friendly climate of economic development.
In Singapore he said, "Gujarat has a unique combination of a strategic geographic location, state-of-the-art infrastructure, multi-lingual workforce and concentration of corporate and financial resources and a world-class pro-business environment."
He hopes to attract Chinese investment into sectors like chemicals and pharmaceuticals, gas and oil, tourism and medical tourism.
Singapore dailies quoted Modi as saying that he proposed to come out with an "integrated township policy" for Gujarat and that his government would shortly come out with an exclusive 'Petroleum SEZ' "for servicing oil rigs and (to offer) other exploration and development services."
Noting that Gujarat encouraged private participation in port development, he said, "Our concept is to have port-based SEZs with backward linkages with warehouses, cold storage and transportation network."
Senior functionaries of Singapore government assured Modi that they would be taking part in the global investment summit to be organised early next year in Gujarat.
The denial of visa by the US authorities has obviously not deterred Modi from taking seriously the imperatives of 'globalisation.' Like yet another 'native' Indian political leader, Sharad Pawar, Nationalist Congress Party boss from Maharashtra, Modi too has taken pains to improve his command over the English language. In Singapore, Modi made it a point to deliver his lecture in English before a packed 800-strong audience.
Modi has planned China trip with a clear strategy to increase Gujarat's trade ties with China. Gujarat is one of the largest producers of cotton in India. Out of 440 million bales of cotton produced last year, China imported almost 330 million of bales from Gujarat.
Modi wants to set up exclusive SEZ if possible with the help of Chinese investors for 'value addition' to turn cotton into fabric and fashionable garments for exports.
Modi government enjoys excellent equations with some of India's prominent houses.
Essar Group chairman Shashi Ruia, Torrent Pharma chairman Sudhir Mehta, Adani Group chairman Gautam Adani, and Nirma chairman Karsanbhai Patel are among the industrialists accompanying Modi.
Prior to his departure on the current tour, Modi told a select gathering in Ahmedabad that "Gujarat is not competing with other states like Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh. We may surpass them. I want Gujarat to compete with China, Germany and Japan."
Gujarat is among the fastest growing states in India. Against the national growth rate of around 7 per cent, Gujarat is galloping at over 12.5 per cent growth rate. Modi pointed out to his audience in Singapore that while India is struggling to achieve a 4 per cent farm sector growth rate, Gujarat's agriculture output was expanding by 11.2 per cent.
Curiously, the Sardar Sarovar Dam controversy will also echo in Modi's itinerary in China. He hopes to visit the Three Gorges Dam, the world's largest hydroelectric power dam, which has generated as much as controversy in China as the Sardar Sarovar Dam has in India.
Modi will be the second prominent figure of the Sangh Parivar to tour China in the run-up to the visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao to India in November. Ram Madhav, spokesman of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, had earlier paid a week-long visit to China in September.