“The world is coming to Samarkand” has been the theme for the preparations for the annual meeting to be hosted by Group’s chairman, Uzbek president Shavkat Mirziyoyev. But the biggest challenge to the summit lies to the west – in Russia’s action in Ukraine as some member states like Kazakhstan have publicly signaled their discomfort with Russia’s action in Ukraine. Millions within the bloc rightly want concrete results and benefits from this event. But most locals feel that the event might be a Chaykhana (called in central Asia Chaykhana -Tea House) for the leaders of the countries who don’t get along and have deep differences.
The Ministry of External Affairs in India has confirmed that at the invitation of Uzbekistan President Shavkat Mirziyoyev Prime Minister Narendra Modi will travel to Samarkand to attend the first in-person 22ndsummit of the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation) countries (Sept 15-16) in Samarkand. The summit will be attended by leaders of SCO member states, observer states, Secretary General of the SCO, Executive Director of the SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS), President of Turkmenistan and other invited guests. During the summit, the leaders are expected to review the organization’s activities over the past two decades and discuss the state and prospects of multilateral cooperation in the future. Topical issues of regional and global importance are also expected to be discussed at the meeting the statement stated.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and External Affairs Minister Jaishanker are also travelling to the Uzbek capital, Tashkent to attend a Defence ministers and External affairs Ministers conclave of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Chinese Defence Minister General Wei Fenghe and Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu along with their Externals affairs ministers are also expected to attend the SCO meet, besides their counterparts from other member countries of the grouping.
1. The SCO summit comes at a time of widening rift and tensions over the Russia-Ukraine war and India’s border disputes with China. The leaders are expected to review the grouping’s activities over the past two decades and discuss the prospects of multilateral cooperation in the areas of climatic change, energy and terrorism.
2. Prime Minister Modi is also likely to hold a “few bilateral meetings” on the sidelines of the summit with presidents of Russia, Iran and Uzbekistan to be held in the Uzbek city of Samarkand.
3. It will be the first time that PM Modi and president Xi will come face to face after their meeting at Brasília on the sidelines of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) in 2019. So far both the countries have not confirmed bilateral meetings between the two leaders.
4. The Beijing-headquartered SCO is made up of China, Russia, India, Pakistan, as well as four central Asian countries — Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. It is the world’s largest regional organization, covering approximately 60% of the area of Eurasia, 40% of the world population, and more than 30% of global GDP.
Observers believe that the first in-person SCO summit since 2019 is being watched closely for the possibility of bilateral meetings on the sidelines with Chinese President Xi, Russian President Putin, and possibly between Premier Modi and Chinese President Xi. Only Russia has confirmed that President Putin will hold bilateral with Mr Xi and Mr Modi .Both India and China have maintained strict silence over the issue. Ministry Of External Affairs has stated that Premier Modi “is likely to hold a few bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the summit”. It is expected that as India will host the next Summit, he may like to extend invitations to all the leaders. Though there is no plan as yet for structured meeting with Mr Xi, a sideline meeting cannot be ruled out to exchange pleasantries.
The recent softening of the Chinese stand reportedly requesting for a bilateral meeting between the Defence ministers of the two countries as well as completing the pullback at PP15 after 16 rounds of talks may result in a much awaited short sideline meeting between the top two leaders. Though an ex-Army chief has stated that there is no need to “make much of the PP-15 because it is a tiny step after the encroachment by PLA in April-May 2020”. However, It may be prudent that as President Xi is reportedly getting elected for another 5 year term a message down the line from the two leaders to promote the Peace and tranquility along the border by completing all the withdrawals to pre -April 2020 status quo might help to expedite the peace process and sustain peace and tranquility on the border. However some deep down irritants that impede the normalization process of bilateral relations and merit attention are:
- China’s consistent insensitivity to core interests of India like construction of highways In POK without consultation with India .while China wants India to pay attention to its sensitivities it is showing a complete disregard to India’s sovereignty and core interests.
- Continued supply of weapons via Pak Army to insurgents and terrorists operating from Pakistan
- China is feeling increasingly insecure and asking for reassurance as requested recently by Sun Weidong Chinese Ambassador in Delhi who openly made a call for “openly reiterate” “support for the one China policy as many other countries have already done it”.
- China cannot connive with Pakistan and then expect reiteration of the one china policy by India. China’s blocking of moves in UNSC on Jesh e-Mohamed militants listed as a terrorist group by UNSC, do not augur well for normal relations. On August 12, India’s foreign minister reiterated in Bangalore that the ongoing stand-off at the disputed border between India and China continued to weigh on bilateral relations –“our relationship is not normal as the border situation is not normal”.
Despite the differences among member states, China and Turkey may ask Mr. Putin to stop the war. Since Russia, China, Belarus and Iran are all under western sanctions, they may express their resentment towards Washington and Brussels , might attempt to project a bloc against the NATO. Some progress on collective fight against terrorism, cooperation in Energy management, Climate Change are also expected to be reached at the summit. Russia may also use the summit to seek more industrial and technology imports to fill the gap caused by the sanctions and absence of western goods.
India will host the next summit of SCO leaders in Delhi in 2023.
Prof. Ashok Tiku is a Senior China Analyst with 45 years of experience.