PM Modi arrives for SCO summit, no word on bilateral with Xi
Indian officials confirmed a meeting between Modi and Uzbekistan President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, but declined to provide details of other bilateral meetings on the margins of the summit.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday said he will discuss regional and global issues and enhance cooperation within the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) at the SCO Summit in Samarkand that is being attended by leaders of China, Iran, Pakistan and Russia.
Indian officials confirmed a meeting between Modi and Uzbekistan President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, but declined to provide details of other bilateral meetings on the margins of the summit. Despite intense speculation, there was no word from India or China about a possible meeting between Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping, currently on his first foreign trip since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Modi left for Uzbekistan late on Thursday evening and landed at 9pm IST; his visit is set to last just 24 hours. The prime minister’s late arrival in Samarkand meant he would skip a formal dinner for SCO leaders and other ceremonial events on Thursday such as a boat ride – a move seen in some quarters as an effort to avoid casual encounters with the leaders of Pakistan and China, and to focus on the more substantial elements of the summit.
He will attend two sessions of the SCO Summit on Friday – a restricted gathering of heads of the SCO member states, and an extended session with the participation of countries that have observer status with SCO and special invitees of Uzbekistan, the host of the summit. This will be followed by lunch and a limited number of bilateral meetings.
“At the SCO Summit, I look forward to exchanging views on topical, regional and international issues, the expansion of SCO and on further deepening of multifaceted and mutually beneficial cooperation within the Organisation,” Modi said in a departure statement.
“Under the Uzbek chairship, a number of decisions for mutual cooperation are likely to be adopted in areas of trade, economy, culture and tourism,” he added.
Modi recalled the Uzbek President’s visit to India in 2018, and said he looked forward to meeting Mirziyoyev in Samarkand. “He also graced the Vibrant Gujarat Summit as its guest of honour in 2019. In addition, I will hold bilateral meetings with some of the other leaders attending the summit,” he said.
Russian and Iranian officials have said the presidents of the two countries – Vladimir Putin and Ebrahim Raisi – will hold bilateral meetings with Modi. Iran is set to become a full member of SCO during the summit. Besides India, other members of SCO are China, Russia, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
The grouping, set up in June 2001 as a security agreement between Russia, China and ex-Soviet states in Central Asia, is the world’s largest regional organisation, comprising 40% of the world’s population and more than half the Eurasian land mass. India and Pakistan became full members in 2017.
Foreign secretary Vinay Kwatra told a news briefing that discussions at the summit will cover regional and international issues, reform and expansion of SCO, strengthening connectivity and boosting trade and tourism. A Samarkand Declaration and other documents are expected to be finalised during the summit.
“Prime Minister’s participation in this summit is a reflection of the importance that India attaches to SCO and its goals. This is also tied to our approach and engagement with (Central Asia) as a whole,” Kwatra said. “We remain focused on strengthening our linkages with Central Asia and the extended neighbourhood, and this visit will take this vision forward.”
Kwatra emphasised the importance of SCO and its Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) in countering terrorism in the region. India became the chair of RATS’s executive council for a year in October 2021 and has been focusing on promoting practical cooperation in combating terrorism in the region, he said.
Asked how such practical cooperation would be possible when Pakistan harbours anti-India terror groups and China blocks the listing of terrorists, Kwatra said the handling of counter-terrorism within SCO has evolved over the years.
“Irrespective of what a particular country does on...terrorism, there is a deeply held...understanding and a deep appreciation within the SCO countries of what the nature of this terrorism is, where this problem comes from and most importantly, the need for the SCO countries (and) SCO structures...to come together and form ways...for practical cooperation,” he said.
In this context, he said, RATS has decided to create a unified register of terrorist and extremist organisations whose activities are banned by SCO countries. “There is the question of databases, which this particular problem involves, and RATS...is definitely working to develop a sharper focus on this issue,” he added.