Source: the Hindu
India stayed out of the joint communique reference to China’s Belt Road Initiative, which all other countries affirmed support for
Connectivity projects must respect sovereignty issues, External Affairs Minister (EAM) S. Jaishankar said, in a reference to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), at a virtual meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Heads of Government hosted by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on Tuesday. Dr. Jaishankar also pitched for more trade through Iran’s Chabahar port and the International North South Transport Corridors (INSTC) that India is a part of, aiming to improve bilateral trade with Central Asian countries. A joint communique issued after the meeting named all countries, other than India, and said they “reaffirmed their support for the ‘Belt and Road’ initiative”, “including the work to promote the alignment of the ‘Belt and Road’ construction with the construction of the Eurasian Economic Union”.
“Our total trade with SCO Members is only $141 billion, which has potential to increase manifold. Fair market access is to our mutual benefit and only way to move forward,” Dr. Jaishankar said at the meet which included Pakistan Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, and the Prime Ministers of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The bulk of India’s trade with SCO countries is with China, which crossed $100 billion this year, while trade with Russia is less than $20 billion. Trade with Central Asian countries is less than $2 billion, and with Pakistan it is about $500 million.
In a series of tweets outlining his speech, Dr. Jaishankar took aim at China’s BRI, which passes through parts of Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) claimed by India, saying that, “Connectivity projects should respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Member States and respect international law”. India has refused to join the BRI, comprising a series of infrastructure projects that pass through Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia, and has been developing and promoting the Shahid Beheshti terminal at Chabahar and the link through the INSTC as an alternative to both the BRI and to transit trade through Pakistan. At the SCO summit in Samarkand last month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had also criticised Pakistan for not giving India “full transit rights” to Central Asia.
“[I] underlined that we need better connectivity in the SCO region built on centrality of interests of Central Asian states. [This] will unlock the economic potential of this region in which Chabahar port and the International North South Transport Corridor could become enablers,” Dr. Jaishankar said in his tweets.
Without referring directly to the Ukraine war, and Russia’s decision to halt the grain initiative after a drone attack in the Black Sea this week, Dr. Jaishankar said that India will “foster greater cooperation with SCO Member States on countering the food crisis”, particularly with millet grains. According to the SCO joint communique, all countries also criticised the “imposition of unilateral economic sanctions not endorsed by the UN Security Council”, and said the sanctions “adversely affect” the global economy, without naming U.S. and European Union sanctions on Russia.
“External Affairs Minister drew attention to India’s commitment in fighting the challenge of climate change and also our achievements made in this direction. He also emphasized India’s strong recovery on the economic front after the pandemic,” the Ministry of External Affairs added in its statement.
The SCO Heads of Government meet is held annually to focus on the trade and economic agenda of the organisation and approves the SCO’s annual budget. India has taken over as Chairperson the SCO, and will host leaders of all SCO countries, including China and Pakistan, at a summit in Delhi expected in mid-2023.
“The heads of delegations of the SCO member states exchanged views on key issues of global and regional development, discussed priority steps to increase trade, economic, cultural, and humanitarian cooperation within the SCO,” said a statement issued by the SCO Secretariat in Beijing.