India Projects Capabilities at SCO Summit
China's occupation of chunks of Indian territory
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had some reservations about attending the Samarkand summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) on account of the fact that a prospect of a bilateral with China's Xi Jinping did not exist.
China's brazen occupation of chunks of Indian territory, Beijing's blocking of UN's efforts to blacklist some notorious Pakistan-based terrorists and its policy of encircling India in South Asia, had clouded prospects of any meaningful dialogue. As it happened they did not even look at each other at the summit.
And yet, Modi attended the summit for two reasons: to showcase India's capacity and willingness to conduct some useful projects for the SCO; and to pave the way for the assumption of the Presidency of the SCO at the next summit. It will be held in India in 2023. He illustrated the all-round benefits of being a contributing and useful member of international organisations.
The SCO is made up of permanent members China, India, Pakistan, Russia and the Central Asian nations of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Though formed in Beijing, the SCO is Central Asia-centric with outreach to outside powers such as Russia, China and India.
It revives the ancient silk road, a trade route which was the basis of prosperity in Asia at that time and which could be so in the coming years.
The Samarkand Declaration adopted four Joint Statements on Climate Change, Food Security, Energy Security and a Statement on Maintaining Reliable International Supply Chains. The SCO Leaders also approved new initiatives including: a Comprehensive Action Plan for 2023-2027 on the implementation of the provisions of the Treaty on Long-Term Good-Neighbourliness, Friendship and Cooperation; concept for Cooperation of the SCO Member States in Developing Connectivity and Creating Efficient Economic and Transport Corridors; roadmap for Gradual Increase in the Share of National Currencies in Mutual Settlements of the SCO Member States.
Four intergovernmental agreements were also signed. These are: Cooperation on Development of Tourism; Cooperation in Sphere of Trade in Services; an MoU on Cooperation in Museum Matters; and Cooperation in Plant Quarantine.
India, Russia, China, Pakistan and the Central Asian Republics stated their concerns and goals in which the SCO could legitimately play a salutary role.
Indian Prime Minister Modi said that since the pandemic and the crisis in Ukraine had disrupted global supply chains, the SCO must make efforts to "develop reliable, resilient and diversified supply chains in our region, which will require better connectivity." He also demanded the full right to transit for all.
Modi then marketed India as a manufacturing hub with a "people-centric development model, which could be replicated by SCO countries." Saying that there are more than 70,000 Start-ups in India, of which more than 100 are unicorns, their "experience can be useful for many other SCO members."
Touching upon food security, another common concern, Modi said that India is promoting the cultivation and consumption of millets. The millet is a "superfood which is traditional, nutritious, and a low-cost way of meeting the food crisis," he said.
Since the year 2023 will be celebrated as the UN International Year of Millets, the SCO should consider a 'Millet Food Festival', suggested Modi. He then pushed India's bid to be an "affordable destination for medical and wellness tourism."
He recalled that the WHO Global Centre for Traditional Medicine was inaugurated in Gujarat in April 2022, which is WHO's first and only global centre for traditional medicine. "We must increase cooperation on traditional medicine among SCO countries. For this, India will take the initiative for a new SCO Working Group on Traditional Medicine."
Modi discussed the development of a trade route to Central Asia through Chabahar in Iran in his meeting with the Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev.
"They stressed the need to make concerted efforts to diversify the trade basket and enter into long-term arrangements to promote trade and investment. Connectivity was considered key to unlocking the potential in this regard, including the greater usage of the Chabahar port and the International North-South Transport Corridor," stated Indian media reports.
Modi's bilateral talks with Iran's Ebrahim Raisi and Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan, were also significant. Iran is necessary for India to link up with Central Asia. India can have a fruitful relationship with Turkey because both are industrialising countries which can trade "for the benefit of our people," as the Indian spokesman Arindam Bagchi put it.
By opening up a dialogue with Erdogan, Modi also weakened the Turkey-Pakistan nexus to an extent. With trade and economic cooperation growing with India, Turkey's friendship and tolerance of India will only increase.
Some other issues on which India played a lead role were climate change and terrorism. Indian Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra said that the SCO adopted a statement on climate change at India's initiative. The Pakistani PM Sharif had also raised the climate change issue in the context of the devastating floods in his country.
On terrorism, the SCO agreed to work towards developing a unified list of terrorist, separatist and extremist organisations whose activities are prohibited on the territories of the SCO member states. This was done though China had been blocking the UN's listing of several Pakistan-based terrorists listed by India and the US and Pakistan had been dragging its feet on taking action against the listed terrorists.
Thanks to India's efforts, each of the SCO Member States was very clear in recognizing the threat that this challenge poses to the region.
Modi did not shy away from the Ukraine issue when he had a bilateral talk with Vladimir Putin, as it had a deleterious effect on supply chains and energy distribution. He suggested that Russia opt for diplomacy.
"This is not the era of war," Modi said. Putin argued that it was Ukraine which rejected talks but added that "Russia understands India's concerns" and "wants this to end as soon as possible."
Nevertheless, while both China and India had reservations about Russia's Ukraine policy, they were not keen on shaming and isolating Russia.
The Chinese President Xi Jinping was preoccupied by the US bid to challenge the "One China" concept and to overthrow the communist government in Beijing, and also bring about regime change in various countries. Xi appealed to the SCO to "work together to prevent external forces from promoting colour revolutions" (popular, pro-democracy uprisings in their countries).
"Members should support efforts each country has made to safeguard its own security and development interests and work to prevent outsiders from instigating a colour revolution," Xi said.
The SCO members had no quarrel with that.
Central Asia is the core of the SCO and therefore it was recognized that its interest must be given priority. The countries here are on the international trade and transit route and hope to be industrial hubs too.
Central Asian scholars echoed their governments' desire to avoid letting the SCO become a proxy for China and Russia. The SCO must be "a just and equal platform" for all members, they said.
"Central Asia is at the heart of this organisation and if you want to work with the region, you must listen to Uzbekistan's ideas and proposals, not least its position on Afghanistan, '' an Uzbek scholar added.
Muzaffar Djalalov, head of Inha University in Tashkent told VOA: "What's clear is that the SCO is not a military bloc and should not be seen as a 'scale' balancing between the West, on the one hand, and Russia or China."
It is easily seen that India is completely in tune with the interests and aspirations of the Central Asian countries. India does not believe in blocs and military alliances and is wholly devoted to transparent and mutually beneficial development cooperation.
India also believes in "multi-alignment" as Foreign Minister S.Jaishankar put it. And it is not multi-alignment for its own sake, but the intention is to make practical contributions to the goals of multinational organisations like SCO.