External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar addresses the 22nd session of the Council of Heads of Government of SCO, in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on Thursday. (Image: PTI)
Bishkek: Members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) should work together to promote stability and prosperity in the region by strictly adhering to the principles of international law, respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of each other and encouraging economic cooperation, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said on Thursday in an apparent dig at China. Jaishankar's remarks came as he addressed the 22nd session of the Council of Heads of Government of SCO at Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
"SCO should work together to promote stability and prosperity in the region by strictly adhering to the principles of international law, respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of each other and encouraging economic cooperation," he said in his address.
In this context, the centrality of the interests of Central Asian states plays a key role, he said.
Beijing is investing billions of dollars in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in Pakistan. India has protested against the projects in Pakistan as it is being laid through the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).
He said India shares deep civilisational ties with the people of the SCO region.
Currently, the SCO countries include India, Iran, Kazakhstan, China, Kyrgyz Republic, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
"The continuous movement of goods, ideas and people traversing the region has left indelible imprints on our customs, traditions, language and cuisine. These historical relationships should now create a template for greater economic cooperation," Jaishankar said.
"To improve trade within the region, we need robust connectivity and infrastructure. Such initiatives should respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries," he said.
"The Global South should not be saddled with unviable debt arising from opaque initiatives," Jaishankar said, in another jibe at China, which is accused of launching unviable infrastructure projects in countries like Sri Lanka and Pakistan, saddling those countries with debts.
At the same time, Jaishankar said that the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC) and the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) could become "prosperity enablers."
The India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor, which many see as an alternative to China's Belt and Road Initiative, was jointly announced by the leaders of the US, India, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, France, Germany, Italy and the European Union on the sidelines of the G20 summit in September.
The International North-South Transport Corridor is a 7,200-km long multi-mode network of ship, rail, and road routes for moving freight between India, Iran, Azerbaijan, Russia, Central Asia and Europe.
The Global South refers to countries often characterised as developing, less developed, or underdeveloped, primarily located in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
Beijing was the lender of choice for many nations over the past decade. Many borrowed heavily from China. There have been global concerns over debt traps and regional hegemony by China using its ambitious Belt and Road (BRI) infrastructure projects.
China is doling out huge sums of money for infrastructure projects in countries from Asia to Africa and Europe. The US' previous Donald Trump administration had been extremely critical of the BRI and was of the view that China's "predatory financing" is leaving smaller countries under huge debt endangering their sovereignty.
During its SCO presidency, Jaishankar said India focused on five new verticals of cooperation- Startups and Innovation, Traditional Medicine, Science and Technology, Youth Empowerment and Shared Buddhist Heritage. The response received highlighted the relevance of the chosen themes.
"We adopted a Statement on Cooperation in Digital Transformation and we have also institutionalized a Special Working Group on Startups and Innovation. India is also hosting SCO Startup Forum on a regular basis," he said.