I often hear political visits without an explicit context given, eg: the recent visit of Scholz to Modi. I don't understand it's significance, because if the point was to simply have a talk, they could have done through internet or phone. If it is to exchange information on some matter, couldn't they release also the purpose of visit?

I am having a tough time understanding why.

  • 4
    In addition to the optics, never underestimate the value of talking to someone face-to-face. Commented Feb 25, 2023 at 14:35
  • 1
    "..without an explicit context given..." Please note that this doesn't imply that there wasn't an explicit context. Just that it wasn't given. Commented Feb 25, 2023 at 16:54
  • This is not a duplicate. "Non-contextual vs contextual" and "face-to-face vs online" are different differences.
    – whoisit
    Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 6:41
  • @whoisit: I couldn't figure out the "[non-]contextual". It's not a term I've ever seen used in relation to these meetings.
    – MSalters
    Commented Feb 27, 2023 at 23:03
  • @MSalters I think it is explained in the question, non-contextual meeting is a "meeting without releasing the purpose of it".
    – whoisit
    Commented Feb 28, 2023 at 7:47

3 Answers 3

  • Establishing a personal relationship.
    Imagine some sort of international crisis, and the Indian Prime Minister is on the phone/video call with the German Chancellor. Seeing someone on a screen is always a little more distant. It works better if the leaders have met before.
  • Demonstrating a political relationship.
    A phone call is usually not headline news. A visit is. Olaf Scholz was elected as Chancellor on December 8th. On December 10th he visited France, on December 12th he visited Poland, and on December 20th he visited Italy. Prior to that, Chancellor Merkel went to Paris and London first, to Poland a few weeks later. Call it a diplomatic acknowledgement of Brexit ...

There is something to be said for being face-to-face and looking into the other guy's eyes. In-person is very different to over-the-phone or over-the-net. Even with HD video, being right there is different.

This is especially true when the meeting is over several hours. Especially when there is some such thing as a meal going on. The idea is that the "façade" cannot be maintained with reliability for that long.

Politicians, especially at the national leader level, often have significant skills at reading people based on their body language, their subtle wording choices, where their eye-lines go, and so on. Somebody with dry mouth who is looking at the floor all the time, that's somebody worried.

Politicians tune these skills over years of such things as running election campaigns, facing the news media, negotiating deals on laws, dealing with lobbyists, and so on. The ones with good skills often move up the ladder. The ones without will often wind up with no support network and be unable to hook into whatever the political system is. It is rare that somebody becomes a national leader without an extensive personal network developed over many years.

So the typical national leader wants to go sit with politicians of other countries. He wants to look into their eyes and watch their face and their breathing. He wants to see if they have dry mouth (swallowing, licking their lips, reaching for water). He wants to see what happens when he mentions some subject, when he offers some compromise, when he suggests they give up some thing.

And if there is some nasty point in the relationship between the countries, he wants to go find out how bad it is, what would fix it, what would make it worse, what leverage there could be in the issue, etc.

Occasionally, they want to impart a message. They want to lean in, when nobody else can hear what's going on, and say "If you invade, I'll bomb your capital city." Or they want to take the other guy behind a pillar and tell him "We will support you if you invade, but never openly."

And, sometimes, they want to be able to claim they imparted such a message. In a face-to-face meeting without records, who is to say they didn't? Except the other guy, who is unlikely to get into such a thing on either side. Though that can be pretty interesting on the rare occasions it happens.


I'm not sure exactly if this question is about this specific visit or the general issue (mostly covered in the linked/other Q). But arm sales are never too far off the agenda between Europeans and India. Like German subs in this case, it seems. Macron also met with Modi possibly in relation to the Rafale deal and looks like will meet again in view of some nuclear energy projects. Etc.

But hidden in the body of some other DW article, this was clearly a [German] business promotion trip, more broadly

Scholz will be accompanied by a business delegation that includes CEOs of 12 major companies counting Siemens and SAP, as well as heads of Germany's small and medium-sized business associations.

I know less about the German practices in these regards, but such accompaniment is rather common for the French diplomatic visits.

Also (from the 1st source), Scholz appears interested in pushing along the India-EU trade agreement. Some of the headlines were mostly on this angle.

If it is to exchange information on some matter, couldn't they release also the purpose of visit?

They did, or at least the Indian side did, but this is couched in diplomatic platitudes

"Chancellor Scholz's visit will enable both sides to take stock and progress on the key outcomes of the 6th IGC, strengthen security and defense cooperation, work towards closer economic ties, enhance the opportunity for mobility of talent and give strategic guidance to ongoing collaboration in science and technology," a statement from India's Ministry of External Affairs said.

One thing that is correctly reflected in that blurb however is that such visits rarely have a single purpose/objective.

If you need more, strategically speaking the visit makes sense in trying to find alternative [meaning other than China] large business partners for Germany in Asia, and also hopefully chip away at Russia's influence in India:

Germany has been pushing to diversify its economic relations as it and other European countries try to avoid being dependent on China, a German official said on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to talk to reporters.

The trip is Scholz’s first official visit to India, though it is his fourth meeting with Modi since taking office in 2021, underlining Germany’s interest in reaching out to Delhi.

“There is huge potential for intensified cooperation in sectors such as renewables, hydrogen, mobility, pharma and digital economy” with India, Scholz said in an interview published by The Times of India newspaper on Saturday. [...]

Modi said the business delegation accompanying Scholz was firming up agreements with India in digital technology, the telecommunication sector and diversification of supply chains.

Scholz’s delegation included several German business leaders, including the head of ThyssenKrupp, which is trying to sell further submarines to India.

Asked whether such a deal with India, which has been a major buyer of arms from Russia, could be struck, Scholz said he had “the impression that the quality of German technology enjoys great recognition and appreciate here.”

The German side also made their view of context of the visit more clear, but in some remarks by lower level diplomats:

“The Chancellor will talk geopolitics with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. We will see Russia and Ukraine very high on the agenda. We have seen US President Joe Biden in Ukraine and we have listened to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s speech yesterday. So, this will be a very important item on the agenda,” Ackermann said in a press briefing. “But I think it shouldn’t be restricted to that. Your northern neighbour China certainly be on the agenda. Everything which is linked Indo-Pacific will be on the agenda and I think that there is an ample opportunity to discuss a very difficult international environment where we see India as a very influential and extremely valuable partner in discussing these questions”, added the German envoy.

OTOH some of that is a bit misleading as the same envoy made it clear that Germany wasn't trying to push India on their Russian oil purchases.

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