Ahmedabad: Breaking from protocol, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday unrolled a grand welcome for Chinese President Xi Jinping on his home turf, setting the stage for their Summit tomorrow in Delhi that is expected to reboot political and economic ties.
On his first visit to India a year after he took over as President, the Chinese leader landed in Ahmedabad to be taken around by Modi on a whirlwind business-cum-leisure trip, topped by a lavish Gujarati vegetarian dinner on the picturesque Sabarmati river front .
Lending a personal touch, Modi, who had struck a good rapport with Chinese leadership when he was spurned by the West, played the perfect host accompanying Xi and his wife on their tour of the city's landmarks.
Straight from the airport, Xi arrived at Hyatt hotel where Modi warmly received him and immediately proceeded to have a brief one-on-one discussion with him.
There was bonhomie between the two leaders even as there were reports of incursions by Chinese army and civilians in Ladakh region, indicative of the tough task ahead of the two sides in resolving the vexed boundary issue.
Both oversaw the signing of MoUs making a Guangzhou and Ahmedabad as sister cities, setting up of industrial parks here and an agreement between Guangdong province and the Gujarat government for development of cultural and social ties between the two provinces.
The State rolled out the red carpet as Xi, the first Chinese leader to visit Gujarat, was given a warm welcome after an Air China special aircraft carrying him and his delegation landed at the airport. Giant billboards in Mandarin, Gujarati and English were put up at various places here to welcome him.
Xi's three-day visit is aimed at ramping up trade and investments, besides having discussions on substantive issues including the contentious border dispute. It also coincides with Modi's 64th birthday.
The Chinese leader and his wife Peng Liyuan, dressed in a pale pink knee-length dress, were welcomed by the Prime Minister at the entrance of the Hyatt Hotel. Modi gave floral bouquets to the couple.
The choice of Gujarat as Xi's first stop in India marks a departure from protocol and many see it as a sign of warm relations between the two leaders. When the couple landed at the Ahmedabad airport, apart from a guard of honour, there was a traditional Gujarati dance.
Besides Modi and Xi, Chief Minister Anandi Patel and her Cabinet colleagues, members of Chinese delegation and several top businessmen from the state were present at the event.
The Prime Minister later took the visiting couple on a tour of the tranquil Sabarmati Ashram and explained its historical significance to the Chinese leader.
Xi also ran the charkha, the spinning wheel Mahatma Gandhi to popularise Khadi. He was also presented with Khadi garlands by the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister on arrival at the Ashram.
Modi later escorted Xi and his wife on a walk down the Sabarmati riverfront which was a riot of colour and treated to a mix of Gujarati tradition and culture through dance forms including the famous garba dance.
There were a number of photo opportunities when the two leaders shared some relaxed moments on the river front. Both the leaders sat in the artfully-made swing in which the couple also spent some time.
Xi's visit comes in the middle of a new stand-off in Demchok area of Ladakh with Chinese nomads now reported to have erected tents there with the help of Chinese troops inside Indian territory to protest against an ongoing irrigation canal work.
The Chinese President later left for Delhi will hold extensive talks tomorrow with the Prime Minister following which the two sides are expected to sign a number of pacts which will provide for Chinese investments in a range of areas including railways and industrial parks.
Largely described as a visit to focus on economic and trade issues, Xi is expected to announce large scale Chinese investments in railways, manufacturing as well as infrastructure rivalling Japan's USD 35 billion commitment made during Modi's recent visit to Tokyo.
Chinese officials say that China would be committing anywhere between USD 100 billion to USD 300 billion in the modernisation of Indian railways, establishing of industrial parks as well as investment in mega infrastructure projects.
China's foreign exchange reserves, the largest in the world, reached a record USD 3.95 trillion in March and it plans to invest around USD 500 billion overseas in the next five years, a large share of which is expected to find India's way.
Xi is accompanied among others by State Councillor Yang Jiechi, who was earlier foreign minister, Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng besides a number of businessmen and other leaders.
Ahead of Xi's arrival, India said it expects that the visit will address the "interests and concerns" of the two countries and that "all substantive" issues having bearing on the ties including the boundary dispute will be discussed.
60-year-old Xi, who took over as the head of the ruling Communist Party in 2012 and President and military chief in March last year, had been sending clear signals of boosting bilateral relations with India.
Modi said the relationship between the two countries goes beyond "plain arithmetic" and he was confident that the neighbours can "script history" by enhancing cooperation.
Reflecting the importance India attaches to the visit, Modi said India and China have a "unique chemistry" that can make for a defining moment and create a bright future for the entire mankind.
He summarised the possibilities of the bilateral ties moving ahead as 'inch' meaning India and China towards 'Miles' -- Millennium of Exceptional Synergy -- and said every inch both cover can "rewrite history" of humanity and every mile crossed will go a long way in making the planet a better place.
Xi's visit will be the third by any Chinese president to India. President Hu Jintao had visited India in 2006 and Jiang Zemin had come here in 1996.