SCO Summit To Be Held In Virtual Format
DECCAN CHRONICLE | Sridhar Kumaraswami
NEW DELHI: In a surprise announcement, New Delhi on Tuesday evening said that the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit to be hosted by India on July 4 and to be Chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi would take place in the Virtual format. The move is intriguing, given that the G20 Summit to take place just two months after that, in September this year in New Delhi, is expected to be held in the in-person or physical format. No reasons were given officially by New Delhi in its statement but the announcement has triggered huge speculation, particularly since several other SCO meetings including the SCO Foreign Ministers’ meeting recently in Goa was held in the physical format in which the Foreign Ministers of all eight nations including Pakistan and China had attended. The SCO has eight nations--India, China, Russia, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan as its current members.
For one, both Russia and China are members of both the SCO and the G20 groupings. Had both Summits been held in physical formats, it would have meant that both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping would have been expected to visit India twice in two months. It is also being speculated that with Sino-Indian relations still "abnormal" due to the situation in the Ladakh sector, the physical presence of the Chinese President in India could have been uncertain. The SCO is a much smaller grouping than the G20. Also, with the recent war of words in media remarks between Pakistan Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and External Affairs Minister (EAM) S. Jaishankar at the SCO Foreign Ministers’ meeting a few weeks ago in Goa, the possibility of physical presence of Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in India seemed remote. Added to this was the continuing Russia-Ukraine conflict that also had the potential of making Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit overseas uncertain although President Putin is expected to physically attend the BRICS Summit in South Africa in August this year.
It may be noted that China and Russia, perceived as the driving force behind the SCO, have also seen their respective ties with the West sour sharply, in particular the United States while India has maintained good relations with both Russia on one hand and the West led by the United States on the other. New Delhi has played a constructive role both within the SCO and G20 groupings and has positioned itself in a non-aligned way as the leader of the Global South comprising of developing nations. PM Modi, incidentally, is also scheduled to visit the United States on an Official State Visit next month ahead of the SCO Summit.
Meanwhile, in a statement on Tuesday, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said, "India assumed the rotating Chairmanship of SCO at the Samarkand Summit on 16 September 2022. Under India’s first-ever Chairmanship, the 22nd Summit of the SCO Council of Heads of State will be held in the virtual format on 4 July 2023, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. All the SCO Member States, viz. China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, have been invited to attend the Summit. In addition, Iran, Belarus and Mongolia have been invited as Observer States. As per SCO tradition, Turkmenistan has also been invited as the guest of the Chair. Heads of the two SCO Bodies – the Secretariat and the SCO RATS - will also be present. Further, Heads of six international and regional organisations have also been invited, viz. UN, ASEAN, CIS, CSTO, EAEU and CICA."
The MEA added, "The theme of the Summit is ‘Towards a SECURE SCO’. The SECURE acronym was coined by the Prime Minister at the 2018 SCO Summit and stands for Security; Economy and Trade; Connectivity; Unity; Respect for Sovereignty and Territorial Integrity; and Environment. These themes have been highlighted during our Chairmanship of SCO. India has set up new pillars of cooperation under its Chairmanship - Startups and Innovation; Traditional Medicine; Digital Inclusion; Youth Empowerment; and Shared Buddhist Heritage. In addition, India has worked towards fostering greater people to people ties that celebrate the historical and civilizational bonds between our nations. These include the various socio-cultural events hosted by Varanasi under the framework of the first-ever SCO Cultural and Tourist Capital for 2022-23."
It further stated, "India’s Chairmanship of SCO has been a period of intense activity and mutually beneficial cooperation between Member States. India has hosted a total of 134 meetings and events, including 14 Ministerial-level meetings. India remains committed to play a positive and constructive role in the organization, and looks forward to a successful SCO Summit as the culmination of its Chairmanship".