The just concluded (September 16) 22nd summit meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) has nominated the city of Varanasi as the first-ever SCO Tourism and Cultural Capital during the period 2022-23 to promote tourism, cultural and humanitarian exchanges between India and the SCO member Countries. It also underlines India’s ancient civilizational links with Member States of SCO, especially the Central Asian Republics. Under the framework of this major cultural outreach program, a number of events are likely to be hosted in Varanasi during 2022-23, to which guests from member states from SCO will be invited to participate in these events. The participants would include Indologists, scholars, authors, musicians and artists, photo journalists, travel bloggers and other invited guests. It provides a great opportunity for India to strengthen the traditional bond and historical ties with Central Asian Republics.
A study and comparison of the Joint communique with the past communique issued at the end of the summit showed some departures from the last summit:
1. The visible open differences between member countries on Ukraine conflict that included China, India, called for an end to the war and recourse to dialogue and diplomacy.
2. The deterioration in the bilateral relations between SCO member countries that was far more visible now than noticed in the past does not augur well for the SCO.
The Samarkand declaration of the SCO summit omitted reference to the “UN Charter” while underlining “mutual respect for sovereignty” and “territorial integrity of States”. This is a departure from India’s position in the last seven months since the Russian military action in Ukraine on February 24. Unlike last year’s SCO declaration in Dushanbe which had called for adhering to the “goals and objectives of the UN Charter”, there was no such mention this time. The Samarkand declaration advocated “commitment to peaceful settlement of differences and disputes between countries through dialogue and consultation” – a diplomatic language similar to the one used by India. Its omission of the 2021 emphasis on the “rejection of unilateral military superiority in adjoining areas” stood out given the Russian military actions in Ukraine.
3. Independently It further stated “The Member States advocate respect for the right of people to independently and democratically choose their political and socio-economic development, and stresses that the principles of mutual respect for sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity of States, equality, mutual benefit, non-interference in internal affairs, and non-use or threat of use of force are the basis for sustainable development of international relations. They reaffirm their commitment to peaceful settlement of differences and disputes between countries through dialogue and consultation,”
4. The SCO declaration in Dushanbe (2021 virtual summit) had stated: “The Member States firmly adhere to the goals and objectives of the UN Charter and SCO Charter, the principles of mutual respect for independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, equality and mutual benefit, peaceful settlement of possible disputes through dialogue and mutual consultation, non-interference in internal affairs, non-use of military force or threat of force, rejection of unilateral military superiority in adjoining areas. ”These omissions to UN Charter are also glaring in the wake of China’s aggressive posturing over Taiwan and in the South China Sea.
5. “The Republic of Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the Russian Federation, the Republic of Tajikistan and the Republic of Uzbekistan, while reaffirming support for China’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative, acknowledge the ongoing work to jointly implement the project, including efforts to link the construction of the Eurasian Economic Union and OBOR,” the declaration said. All SCO members, barring India, signed off on the paragraph.
6. In a bid to combat the security threat posed by militant groups, the SCO members plan to prepare a unified list of terrorist, separatist and extremist organizations whose activities are banned on their territories. The joint declaration takes note of the statements made by the leaders of the SCO member states, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who had expressed deep concern over the security threat posed by terrorism, separatism and extremism in all its forms and manifestations and strongly condemned terrorist acts around the world.
7. With Pakistan Prime Minister Shabazz listening, Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged Shanghai Organization member states to “give each other full right to transit”. Addressing the SCO summit that included China President Xi Jinping and Russia President Vladimir Putin in the Uzbekistan city of Samarkand, Mr. Modi framed the “right to transit” in the context of connectivity and how it could help establish reliable and resilient supply chains in the region.
As expected, the summit ended without any bilateral meeting between Mr Modi and Mr Xi on the sidelines. Asked about the meeting which did not take place, Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra said he did not “think there is anything more to read into that”. Mr Modi’s call for “Right to Transit” also did not find any mention in the communique. The assertion on coordinating exchanging and making of the list of terrorists all seems good on paper as the “double standards” of the member states, as remarked by Indian MoE Mr Jaishanker, became quite obvious on the next day itself when China again vetoed on listed terrorist in UNSC. With India as the new Chairman of SCO and member of UNSC until December, It will have to pursue it agenda with greater finesse, vigour and diplomacy to pursue its agenda of “Today’s era is not of war’s, war on terror as India seems to be the lone voice in the SCO. India is faced with a vital task ,it will have to consider threadbare its strategic stakes in the global counter terror stakes in the global counterterror edifice. India as the chairman of SCO can further pursue the criticality of peace by pointing to terrible costs of terror and conflict among nations. This peace advocacy has been part of India’s civilization ethos and helps India to emerge as an influential peace advocator. Mr Xi’s words on “Global Security Initiative “ to address international security challenges and the need to crack down hard on terrorism are obviously “double standards” — words and actions, as the Chinese say don’t match.