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Modi's Davos address took a subtle dig at China, expert says

  • Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi indirectly compared his country with China during his opening speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, according to Alyssa Ayres from the Council on Foreign Relations

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi highlighted his country's democratic strengths in what some analysts interpreted as a dig at China during an address to global government and business leaders.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L) shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) at a G20 summit on September 4, 2016 in Hangzhou, China.
Wang Zhou | Getty Images
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L) shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) at a G20 summit on September 4, 2016 in Hangzhou, China.

Modi — the first Indian prime minister to attend the annual World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland since 1997 — delivered Tuesday's opening plenary address, discussing Indian values, technology, climate change, terrorism and trade agreements.

Last year, Chinese President Xi Jinping delivered the summit's opening remarks and took the opportunity to present his country as a robust defender of globalization as opposed to President Donald Trump's "America First" policies.

"The Modi address appears modeled on that message and more," Alyssa Ayres, senior South Asia fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said in a note.

In describing India's democracy as a force for stability in an otherwise global state of uncertainty, Modi was indirectly comparing New Delhi with Beijing, Ayres said.

"This is a smart way to differentiate the great Indian democratic experiment with the increasingly controlling, panopticonic world of China — and indeed, to present the constant of India's democratic traditions, however messy, as its global selling point," Ayres said, referring to the concept of a "Panopticon" — a prison design that's come to generally signify an all-seeing system of control.

By emphasizing that argument, Modi's remarks marked a shift from his previous "Make in India" investment pitches, she continued.

The leader's choice of language is also significant.

The fact that Modi spoke in Hindi represents his wish for the Indian language to gain equal footing alongside global tongues such as English and French, according to Ayres.