New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in Samarkand, Uzbekistan late on Thursday evening (IST) to attend the first in-person Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit after a gap of two years. The summit of the eight-nation influential grouping is taking place amid the growing geo-political turmoil largely triggered by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and China's aggressive military posturing in the Taiwan Strait.
"Landed in Samarkand to take part in the SCO summit," Mr Modi tweeted.
At the airport, Mr Modi was welcomed by Uzbek counterpart Abdulla Aripov, ministers, the governor of the Samarkand region and senior officials.
Ahead of the SCO summit that will take place in the historic Uzbek city of Samarkand on Friday, Mr Modi on Thursday afternoon, just before leaving for Samarkand, said he would hold a bilateral meeting with (the host) Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev and also with "some of the other leaders attending the summit".
In a pre-departure statement, Mr Modi said he “looked 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 (and that) under Uzbek chairmanship, a number of decisions for mutual cooperation are likely to be adopted in areas of trade, economy, culture and tourism”.
According to sources there will be no scheduled and structured meeting between Mr Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday at Samarkand and added that the PM is set to have scheduled bilateral meetings only with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Uzbek President and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in that order in a series of bilateral meetings that will begin on Friday late afternoon till evening.
The PM’s scheduled bilateral meetings will start after the conclusion of the Restricted and Extended sessions of the SCO Summit that will begin on Friday morning. Consequently, any bilateral meeting between the PM and the Chinese President, if at all, on the sidelines, will only be informal and brief.
Mr Modi and Mr Xi will come face-to-face at the multilateral summit for the first time since their Mahabalipuram summit near Chennai in October 2019, which was followed by a deadly clash between troops of both sides in the Galwan valley of the Ladakh sector eight months later, in June 2020.
In response to media queries on whether the SCO has become a China-dominated forum, foreign secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra said at a special briefing here on Thursday that the entire region (SCO member-nations) was the “centre” of focus, not any single member nation. The SCO has eight member nations so far -- namely Russia, China, four Central Asian nations of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and the Kyrgyz Republic, besides India and Pakistan, with Iran too approved for full membership last year.
The SCO summit will have two sessions -- a restricted session only for the SCO member states, and an extended session that will also include participation by observers (Iran, Mongolia, Belarus), special guests of the chair (Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan) and regional organizations (CIS, CSTO, CICA, EaEU, UN and Asean).
The heads of the two permanent bodies of SCO -- secretary-general of the SCO secretariat and director of SCO RATS -- will be present in both sessions. Afghanistan, though an observer, has apparently not been invited perhaps because the Taliban regime there is yet to be officially recognised. A “Samarkand Declaration” and numerous other documents are expected to be finalised during the summit (and) are currently under consideration of the member-states.
Mr Modi said: “I will be visiting Samarkand at the invitation of President of Uzbekistan H.E. Shavkat Mirziyoyev to attend the meeting of the council of heads of state of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation… I also look forward to meeting President Mirziyoyev in Samarkand. I fondly recall his visit to India in 2018. 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.”
Foreign secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra said: “The Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) of SCO is another important mechanism of the organisation. India assumed the chairmanship of the executive council of RATS in October 2021 for a year, and has been focusing on promoting practical cooperation in combating terrorism.” In response to media queries on how there can be cooperation against terrorism within the SCO when Pakistan actively practices cross-border terrorism against India, the foreign secretary said: “You mentioned Pakistan and its link with the challenge of terrorism in the region. … Irrespective of what a particular country does on this problem of terrorism, there is this deeply-held understanding, deep appreciation within SCO countries of what the nature of this terrorism is, where this problem comes from …”.
He further said: “The PM’s participation in this summit is a reflection of the importance that India attaches to the SCO and its goals. This is also tied to our approach and engagement with that region as a whole. As you aware, we hosted the first India-Central Asia summit earlier this year, preceded by a foreign minister-level meeting. We remain focused on strengthening our linkages with Central Asia and the extended neighbourhood, and this visit will take this vision forward.”...