Modi expected to meet Putin at SCO summit this week
The SCO summit of heads of state on September 15 and 16 in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, the first in-person meeting of the world’s largest regional organisation, is being closely watched by analysts for China and Russia’s response to the emerging world order, and for a clutch of significant bilaterals that will happen on the sidelines, although there is no word yet on one between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit of heads of state on September 15 and 16 in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, the first in-person meeting of the world’s largest regional organisation, is being closely watched by analysts for China and Russia’s response to the emerging world order, and for a clutch of significant bilaterals that will happen on the sidelines, although there is no word yet on one between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The Kremlin has confirmed that Russian president Vladimir Putin and PM Modi will meet and discuss “trade... sales of Russian fertilizers and ... food supplies”, Reuters reported
The recent decision by India and China to pull back troops from patrolling point-15 or PP-15 at Hot Springs has fuelled intense speculation about the possibility of the first face-to-face bilateral meeting between Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping in nearly three years, though both countries have not officially said anything on this issue.
Modi and Xi are set to be in the same room for at least two sessions at the summit. While the exchange of pleasantries between the two leaders isn’t being ruled out, people familiar with the matter said there was no word yet on a structured bilateral meeting.
The external affairs ministry has said the Prime Minister is likely to hold a “few bilateral meetings” on the margins of the summit but didn’t give details. The people cited above said Modi may have bilateral meetings with Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi.
Putin and Xi Jinping are also likely to meet on the sidelines of the SCO summit.
India and China have been locked in a military standoff in Ladakh sector of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) since May 2020 and New Delhi has linked the normalisation of the overall relationship to the restoration of peace and tranquillity in the border areas. The external affairs ministry said last week that following the resolution of the standoff at PP-15, both countries should take forward talks and resolve remaining issues on the LAC.
Former ambassador Vishnu Prakash said: “With the borders still alive, the prime minister is likely to meet Xi only if some agreement on restoring status quo ante is in hand or if the Chinese side seeks it. Else, it may serve little purpose other than giving bragging rights to the Chinese leader.”
He added, “At this stage, the meeting can only be about vacation of Chinese aggression.”
India has looked to the SCO, which also includes China, Russia, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, to drive cooperation in crucial areas such as connectivity and trade, especially with Central Asian states, and counter-terrorism, with the focus on Afghanistan.
During the summit, the leaders are expected to review SCO’s activities over the past two decades and discuss prospects of multilateral cooperation in future. Issues of regional and global importance, such as the Ukraine conflict and its fallout on the global economy, are expected to come up at the meeting. Iran is set to become a full member of the grouping during the summit.
The people cited above said there have been growing efforts by China to use multilateral bodies to present Beijing’s views on the world stage, and the possibility of the Chinese and Russian sides using the SCO Summit to present their response to the changing world order, especially after the Ukraine crisis, could not be ruled out.
“There are some members of SCO which will sign on to such views wholeheartedly while others, which have stakes in relations with the West, won’t be so keen,” one of the people said.
“Economic cooperation in the SCO is an important question, which, of course, will be discussed in the SCO meetings. When we are meeting with central Asian countries, we discuss connectivity which will promote trade, investment and other exchanges between Indian and central Asian countries,” Indian ambassador to Uzbekistan Manish Prabhat told ANI. “Chabahar port in Iran is a very important port. India is promoting the usage of the Chabahar port so that it becomes the hub of connectivity between India and Central Asia,” he added.
Prabhat also talked about how India is likely to raise issues of terrorism and radicalisation at the SCO, saying, “To stop terrorism, radicalisation and extremism is part of SCO summit which we will discuss and this is not a country-specific agenda it is very important for all the countries.”
When Putin visited China for the Winter Olympics in early February, he and Xi unveiled a “new era” for the world order and said friendship between China and Russia has “no limits”.
Sameer Patil, senior fellow at the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), said even though the SCO has been an important component of India’s outreach towards Central Asia, New Delhi “would like to keep a low profile rather than demonstrating an enthusiasm to meet with the apex Chinese leadership, given the circumstances in which the current summit is being held”.
He added, “India-Russia ties have been on a stable pedestal since the outbreak of hostilities in Ukraine, but here too, India would like to project a status quo in the relationship rather than achieving any new breakthrough in a bilateral.”
Xi will begin his first foreign visit since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic by travelling to Kazakhstan on September 14, before travelling to Uzbekistan for the SCO Summit. Xi and Putin are set to hold their first meeting since the start of the Ukraine conflict in Samarkand. Xi last held a bilateral meeting with Modi on the sidelines of the Brics Summit in Brasilia in November 2019.
(With agency inputs)