From BRICS to SCO: India, China leaders to have face time at 5 summits in November
November is shaping up as one of the busiest months of 2020 for the external affairs ministry in terms of virtual summits of groupings such as the SCO, the BRICS and the ASEAN, with leaders of India and China expected to be on the same online platform at five meetings.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping are expected to join the virtual summits of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) on November 10, the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (BRICS) grouping on November 17, and the G20 during November 21-22.
The leaders of India and China are also expected to be part of the East Asia Summit on November 11 and the SCO council of heads of government meeting on November 30, which will be hosted by New Delhi.
The virtual SCO summit, to be hosted by Russia, will be the first time that PM Modi and Xi will join an online meeting since the border standoff in Ladakh emerged into the open in May. The two leaders had joined a virtual G20 summit in April this year to discuss the Covid-19 pandemic, which has disrupted most diplomatic engagements.
People familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity that the external affairs ministry is making hectic preparations for all these summits and meetings, especially to push India’s efforts to have a greater role in the manufacturing and delivery of vaccines for Covid-19 and in shaping the post-pandemic world order by reforming multilateral bodies and creating more resilient and diverse supply and value chains.
However, the people said the summits and meetings will not result in any substantive bilateral engagements as they are all being held virtually. “In such meetings, there is no scope for things such as pull asides or even bilateral conversations. Besides, some of these meetings will feature numerous leaders presenting their views within a limited time,” one person said.
Russia, which is hosting the SCO and the BRICS summits, had made a push for holding both meetings in-person but wasn’t able to make much headway as leaders of several countries were reluctant to travel amid the continuing spread of Covid-19, the people said.
Of all the upcoming meetings, the G20 Summit being hosted by Saudi Arabia is expected to play a key role in efforts to shape the post-pandemic world order and global economic recovery from the impact of Covid-19. The East Asia Summit is usually attended by prime ministers of India and China and will be followed by the ASEAN-India Summit.
The people said Pakistan will be invited to attend the SCO council of heads of government meeting being hosted by India, though there is no clarity on who will represent Islamabad at the meet.
Former ambassador Vishnu Prakash said all countries had responded to the abnormal circumstances created by the pandemic with innovative responses and that even such “truncated and limited” diplomatic engagements were welcome. “It is good the leaders will have some face time though they may not have substantial bilateral discussions,” he said.
“The meeting of Prime Minister Modi and President Xi on a virtual platform will have no impact on the situation in Ladakh and there will be continuum in terms of optics. Even a limited outcome is more desirable than none, though some of these meetings will be important in terms of the Covid-19 response and economic recovery,” he added.