SCO Foreign Ministers Meeting Discusses Wide Range of Issues, Stepping Up Economic Cooperation, National Currency Payment for Mutual Trade Set as Key Agenda for July Summit

By Sri Krishna

Opinion

New Delhi: With India slated to host the Summit of leaders of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) on July 3 and 4, the two-day meeting of the foreign ministers of the 8-member grouping which met in Benaulim, Goa discussed a wide range of issues which are to be taken up at the Summit ranging from stepping up economic cooperation, including  national currency payments for mutual trade.

This assumes importance in the wake of the Ukraine war and sanctions imposed on Russia, which is one of the founder members of the organisation. The initiative came from Central Asian members,  indicating that “initial discussions” had begun between the 8-member group comprising Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

Apart from this, the meeting also discussed issues pertaining to terrorism and security in the region and that the grouping “pursues its policy based on the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity of nations, non-interference in internal affairs, equality of all member states and mutual understanding and respect for opinions of each of them.”

The meeting saw the presence of the Foreign Minister of Pakistan, Bilawal Zardari Bhutto which comes after a gap of about 12 years with the last visit being in 2011 by Hina Rabbani Khar.

There was no bilateral meeting between the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan with External Affairs Minister Dr S.Jaishankar firm on the issue of terrorism and it being encouraged by Pakistan and that Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) was part and parcel of India.

On the agenda for the SCO under India’s presidency will  be modernisation of the grouping with focus on advanced technology and digital infrastructure. The agenda also includes discussions with regional counterparts on various regional, security, and political issues.

India, since becoming a member in 2017, has persistently pushed for the strengthening of collaboration on issues pertaining to regional security, defence, and combating terrorism, among others.

“While traditionally security and terrorism used to dominate the SCO’s agenda, but during its presidency, India is bringing on the table issues of economic and cultural cooperation between the members as well,” official sources said, indicating that other issues including startups and innovations and digital infrastructure would also be brought on the agenda during India’s tenure as SCO President.

These were discussed by External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and the SCO Secretary General Zhang Ming. They also reviewed 15 “Decision points.”

“The most important work before the SCO Foreign Ministers will be to assess the status of decisions that will be approved at the SCO Summit in New Delhi in July,” said Dammu Ravi, Secretary (Economic Relations) in the MEA.

“The meeting will also give an opportunity to discuss the state of multilateral cooperation in SCO, regional and global issues of interest, [and] reform and modernization of the organisation,” he added.

A final decision on all the points including the national payments collaboration will be taken at the SCO Heads of State Summit in July this year, where the officials said Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping will be among those invited by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

When asked if confirmations had been received from any of the invitees, one official said that “all heads of State” have been present for all SCO summits thus far, since the organisation was founded in 2001, and hence they were expected to welcome them for the summit, expected to be held in Delhi on July 3-4. While all other countries are represented by their Presidents, India and Pakistan, which became full members in 2017 are represented by their Prime Ministers at the HoS meeting.

The SCO Foreign Ministers also discussed the induction of Iran and Belarus as full members  and forward their applications to the summit. They also considered applications for observer status for four countries : Kuwait, UAE, Myanmar, Maldives to join the grouping.

Asked whether India, as a country that has no ties at a political level with co-member Pakistan, and strained ties with SCO founder China due to the 3-year-old military standoff at the Line of Actual Control, as well as a member of US – led groupings like the Quad, which have been criticised by SCO co-founder Russia, was in an awkward position as SCO host, officials said India’s position is appreciated as a “balancing” force.

“I think that most [countries] appreciate the fact that India is able to play such a versatile role, as a member of different groupings like Quad (US-India-Japan-Australia), in G-20, BRICS, in IBSA (India-Brazil-South Africa) and the SCO- this shows that India’s role is appreciated and India is seen as a balancing force,” said officials.

Ahead of the Foreign Ministers meeting, the SCO Council of National Coordinators met from April 29 to May 3 in Panaji, chaired by India. They  exchanged views on the preparations for the meetings of the SCO Heads of State Council and the SCO Heads of Government Council, as well as on other aspects of the organisation’s activities. The meeting agenda focused on preparations for the meeting of the SCO Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs. The parties reviewed and agreed on the main draft documents to be submitted for signature at the Ministerial Council meeting.

The meeting was attended by Yojna Patel, National Coordinator of  India to the SCO; Murat Mukushev, National Coordinator of the Republic of Kazakhstan for SCO activities; Zhang Haizhou, Acting National Coordinator, Ambassador of the Europe and Central Asia Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China,  Kazybek Kochkonov, SCO National Coordinator of the Kyrgyz Republic; Marghoob Saleem Batt, National Coordinator of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan; Bakhtiyor Hakimov, Special Representative of the President of the Russian Federation for SCO Affairs; Ahmad Saidmurodzoda, Acting SCO National Coordinator in the Republic of Tajikistan; Rakhmatulla Nurimbetov, National Coordinator of the Republic of Uzbekistan for SCO Affairs; Nurlan Yermekbayev, SCO Deputy Secretary-General, and Kanat Orazkulov, Deputy Director of the SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure Executive Committee.

– The writer is a senior journalist and media consultant. The views expressed are of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda