A major embarrassment for the government was averted on Tuesday, after the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) agreed to pull down its English version of the Qingdao Declaration signed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on June 10, which appeared to show that all “member states” including India had supported and endorsed China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
The wording of the paragraph on the statement in English, which differed from the official versions in Russian and Chinese put up on the SCO website, would have marked a big departure from the Modi government’s stand on the Chinese connectivity project which India is staunchly opposed to .
According to the mistaken version available online on Tuesday, the statement said that, “Reaffirming their support for the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)” of China, Kazhakstan, Kryrgyz Republic, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, “the Member States express appreciation for the joint efforts taken towards its implementation”.
India is the only member state of the SCO which is not a part of the BRI, and has publicly criticised it.
After the meeting of Foreign Ministers of the SCO in April 2018 too, India had not been included in the paragraph on BRI. During his intervention at the eight nation SCO summit on June 10 , Prime Minister Narendra had said India supports only those connectivity projects that are “inclusive, sustainable and transparent, and respect countries' sovereignty and territorial integrity”, indicating New Delhi’s problem with the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that traverses through parts of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan claimed by India.
Senior former diplomats that The Hindu spoke to called the SCO declaration in English a case of “sloppy drafting” and “an oversight” and called for the Ministry of External Affairs to take note of the SCO statement lest it became a reflection of the Indian position for the future.
“It is obvious that there is no change in the government’s position on BRI, and I think it is necessary to set the record straight, even if it is in a translation,” said former Ambassador Vishnu Prakash, who had served as MEA spokesperson, explaining that traditionally the SCO only presents official documents in Russian and Chinese, but that the Indian delegation would have had to clear the English translation on the basis of which Mr. Modi would have signed the declaration.
“It is for the MEA to decide if they should insist on an amendment,” said former Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran, adding that the MEA should opt for a “statement in clarification”.
The Hindu also contacted the MEA spokesperson’s office which then contacted the SCO and had the faulty version of the document deleted from the website. “It was an unofficial translation that should not have been there in the first place,” said a source, adding that the SCO secretariat agreed to delete it when the error was “pointed out to them”.
However, the SCO secretariat did not clarify when it might upload the corrected version of the formal declaration. Until Tuesday evening, the MEA website, which records all bilateral and multilateral documents signed by the government, had not uploaded any version of the SCO Qingdao declaration, released on Sunday.