The formation of a “more representative” and multipolar world order is in the global interest, leaders of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation said at a virtual Summit chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on July 4.
The grouping’s decision to induct Iran as its ninth and latest member was one of a number of agreements signed at the summit. However, India, who hosted the summit for the first time, refused to join other members on paragraphs relating to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in the joint statement, and stayed out of a joint statement on SCO Economic Development Strategy 2030, indicating a lack of consensus in the grouping. Mr. Modi also took sharp aim at Pakistan for cross-border terrorism, and at China for connectivity projects that do not respect sovereign boundaries.
The SCO grouping now comprises China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
The agreements signed include the New Delhi Declaration, outlining areas of cooperation between SCO countries; a joint statement on countering radicalisation; and one on digital transformation, where India offered to share expertise on digital payment interfaces such as UPI. in a reference to sanctions on Russia and Iran by the U.S. and European countries, SCO members jointly criticised non-UN sanctions as “incompatible with the principles of international law”, which have a “negative impact” on other countries. SCO members also agreed to explore the use of “national currencies” for payments within the grouping, which would circumvent international dollar-based payments.
However, the declaration noted that only “interested member states” signed the economic strategy statement, while leaving India out of the paragraphs supporting China’s BRI. India opposes the BRI over its inclusion of projects in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
Respect sovereignty: Modi
“Better connectivity not only enhances mutual trade but also fosters mutual trust. However, in these efforts, it is essential to uphold the basic principles of the SCO charter, particularly respecting the sovereignty and regional integrity of the Member States,” Mr. Modi said in his statement.
“Some countries use cross-border terrorism as an instrument of their policies, provide shelter to terrorists. SCO should not hesitate to criticise such nations. There should be no place for double standards on such serious matters,” he added, referring to Pakistan for its support of terror groups as well as to China for blocking India’s attempts to designate terrorists at the UN Security Council, including the latest hold placed over the terrorist designation of Sajid Mir, the 26/11 Mumbai attacks handler.
Sharif on minority rights
In his statement, Pakistan PM Shehbaz Sharif said that terrorism should not be “used as a cudgel for diplomatic point scoring”.
“Instead of cherry picking for narrow political gains, terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, including State terrorism, must be condemned in clear and unambiguous terms… Similarly, religious minorities should never be demonised in the pursuit of domestic political agendas,” he added, in a veiled reference to Pakistan’s allegations against the Indian government on minority rights.
China against ‘new Cold War’
Meanwhile, Chinese President Xi Jinping marked the ten-year anniversary of the BRI and mentioned his new Global Security Initiative (GSI), calling for “encouraging political settlement of international and regional hotspots, so as to forge a solid security shield in our region”. He called on SCO members “to make foreign policies independently” and to be “highly vigilant against external attempts to foment a new Cold War or camp-based confrontation in our region.” Chinese officials have previously blamed the U.S. for “interference” and a “Cold War mentality”.
Quoting Rabindranath Tagore in his speech, Mr. Xi said, “The sea of danger, doubt and denial around man’s little island of certainty challenges him to dare the unknown.”
While the joint statement made no direct reference to the war in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin, who made his first appearance at a multilateral setting since the failed rebellion by the Wagner group last month, blamed “external forces” for turning Ukraine “anti-Russian”, and supplying weapons to it.
“Russia is confidently resisting and will continue to resist external pressure, sanctions and provocations,” Mr. Putin said, adding that Russian resolve was “clearly demonstrated by the Russian political circles and the whole of society in uniting against the attempted armed rebellion.”
Lasting just under three hours, the virtual summit was completed in a single session, with leaders reading out their national statements, followed by the signing of agreements by all the leaders, including Mr. Modi, Mr. Putin, Mr. Xi, Mr. Sharif, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and the leaders of four Central Asian states.
Briefing journalists after the meeting, Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra said that the SCO summit — which was earlier meant to be held in person in Delhi — had been truncated to a virtual summit, emphaisisng that this in “no way” signified any “dilution in the objectives that we are trying to seek of the SCO Summit”. Alexander Lukashenko, president of Belarus, which expects to be inducted as an SCO member next year, hoped that the next summit due to be held in Kazakhstan would be an “in-person summit”.
New world order
The Delhi Declaration listed a number of global challenges, including new and emerging conflicts, turbulence in the markets, supply chain instability, climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“[SCO] member States confirm their commitment to formation of a more representative, democratic, just and multipolar world order based on the universally recognized principles of international law, multilateralism, equal, joint, indivisible, comprehensive and sustainable security, cultural and civilizational diversity, mutually beneficial and equal cooperation of states with a central coordinating role of the UN,” it said.
(with inputs from Ananth Krishnan)