India was the only country on Sunday not to endorse a high-profile Chinese project in Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (PoK) — the only discordant note in the 17-page joint document released at the end of the 18th Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in Qingdao.
All remaining seven members of the SCO bloc supported the project that is a part of President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
Earlier, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said India supports connectivity projects that are inclusive, transparent and respect territorial sovereignty. India has long maintained that the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) — a key part of the BRI initiative that passes through PoK — violates its territorial integrity.
Speaking at the plenary session of the summit, Modi aid India’s priority was connectivity with the neighbourhood and between SCO countries.
“We have again reached a stage where physical and digital connectivity is changing the definition of geography. Therefore, connectivity with our neighbourhood and in the SCO region is our priority,” he said, emphasising the need for inclusiveness and transparency in connectivity projects to be successful.
The prime minister also floated an overarching concept of security that the SCO could follow, calling it SECURE: S for security for citizens, E for economic development, C for connectivity in the region, U for unity, R for respect of sovereignty, E for environment protection.
Foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale said on Saturday that India’s position on the BRI “is spelt out”, that India “supports all connectivity initiatives but they should be keeping in mind territorial sovereignty, integrity” as well as viability and sustainability in all areas.
Reiterating the position on Sunday, Ruchi Ghanashyam, secretary (West), added: “I don’t think that India’s position (on BRI) is not known to others. So, I really don’t see India’s position coming as a surprise to anybody because it is not the first time that India has articulated it. The prime minister has articulated earlier. It is a well-known position.”
Since India not endorsing BRI was expected, it is likely that neither India nor China will allow this disagreement to impact bilateral ties and instead focus on projects in third countries such as in Afghanistan.
Modi did not have a bilateral meeting with Pakistan President Mamnoon Hussain during the summit but the two leaders did shake hands after a joint press conference of all the member states.
“They exchanged pleasantries,” an Indian official said.
Modi didn’t single out Pakistan as a source of terrorism in his speech, which, experts said, could be dictated by the fact that both countries were new members of the SCO and a direct reference would have made it diplomatically awkward for the other member nations.
It is the first time that an Indian prime minister is attending the SCO summit after India and Pakistan became full-fledged members of the grouping that is jointly dominated by China and Russia.
The Qingdao declaration said that all member states strongly condemn terrorism in all forms and manifestations. One of the documents released was “a joint appeal by the SCO heads of member states for the prevention of radicalisation of youth, programme of cooperation in combating terrorism, separatism and extremism for the years 2019-21”, Ghanashyam said.
The declaration said that member states “…strongly condemn terrorism in all forms and manifestations.”
Modi spoke about how terrorism had affected Afghanistan, an observer country in the SCO. “Afghanistan is an unfortunate example of effect of terrorism,” he said, adding that he hoped steps towards peace taken by its President Ashraf Ghani will be respected by all other countries in the region.
Promising full cooperation for the summit a year after India joined the bloc, Modi said, “We should together set a goal for the 25th SCO Summit. We should work together as a committee. India is committed to extend full cooperation to a successful outcome of the summit.”
The SCO was founded at a summit in Shanghai in 2001 by the presidents of Russia, China, Kyrgyz Republic, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. India and Pakistan became its members last year. The SCO member countries represent around 42% of the world’s population and 20% of the global GDP.