PM Modi to travel to Uzbekistan for SCO Summit, no word on meeting Prez Xi

Published on Sep 13, 2022 08:17 PM IST

PM Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping are set to be in the same room for at least two sessions at the SCO Summit during September 15-16 but there is no word if they will have a structured bilateral meeting

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to hold a “few bilateral meetings” on the margins of the SCO summit, the external affairs ministry said, but didn’t give details. (Bloomberg File Photo)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to hold a “few bilateral meetings” on the margins of the SCO summit, the external affairs ministry said, but didn’t give details. (Bloomberg File Photo)

NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi will travel to Uzbekistan this week for a crucial summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) that experts believe could be used by China and Russia to unveil their response to a rapidly changing world order in the wake of the Ukraine crisis.

The recent decision by India and China to pull back troops from Patrolling Point-15 or PP-15 at Hot Springs 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 is expected to be in Uzbekistan during September 15-16 for the SCO Summit to be held in the historic city of Samarkand. 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 did not rule out bilateral meetings between Modi and Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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 the 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 whole-heartedly while others, which have stakes in relations with the West, won’t be so keen,” one of the people said.

When Putin visited China for the Winter Olympics in early February, he and Xi unveiled a “new ear” for the world order and said the 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 Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (Brics) Summit in Brasilia in November 2019.

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