EXTERNAL AFFAIRS Minister S Jaishankar on Wednesday took part in a video-call with his counterparts from China, Russia and Pakistan among others to discuss the COVID-19 crisis and coordination of efforts to deal with its consequences. This comes two days after India participated in a video call with the US, Australia and Japan among others to discuss “transparency and accountability in combatting the COVID-19 pandemic and in addressing its causes”.
This deft balancing act by India in a span of three days gives a sense of Delhi’s approach in dealing with the two blocs – US-led and China-led groupings – as both battle each other on the world stage over the pandemic.
Wednesday’s video call was between foreign ministers of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), which was organised by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and attended by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi among others.
A statement by the Ministry of External Affairs said the video conference was convened in the backdrop of the pandemic and discussions centred around the COVID-19 crisis and coordination of efforts to deal with its “trade, economic and social consequences”.
During the meeting, Jaishankar reaffirmed India’s “strong commitment” to the joint fight against the pandemic and its “readiness to share information, expertise and best practices” with the SCO member countries, the statement said.
On May 11, Jaishankar was on the call with members of the Quadrilateral grouping – US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne, Japan’s FM Motegi Toshimitsu – and Israel’s Foreign Minister Israel Katz, Brazil’s FM Ernesto Araujo and South Korean FM Kang Kyung-wha.
“Their conversation covered the pandemic response, global health management, medical cooperation, economic recovery and travel norms,” Jaishankar had said.
US State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus had said they discussed the “importance of international cooperation, transparency, and accountability in combatting the COVID-19 pandemic and in addressing its causes”. “They also discussed collaboration toward preventing future global health crises, reaffirming the importance of the rules-based international order,” she had said. The US statement was a clear reference to China opposing calls for international inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.
New Delhi, which has refused to take sides, took part in Wednesday’s meeting to signal its “multi-alignment” approach. Jaishankar told the SCO ministers that India attaches “great importance” to its relations with the SCO and has contributed positively to enhance the role of grouping in the global arena since its inclusion as full member of SCO in 2017.
“He also assured that India will continue to maintain extensive engagement towards strengthening SCO’s potential in ensuring mutually beneficial development,” the statement said. He highlighted the initiatives taken by India in the wake of the pandemic, including the $266 billion economic package announced Tuesday.
At the same time, he underlined that “security challenges we face today are not linked by physical or political boundaries. Terrorism continues to be the overwhelming threat to security and stability in the SCO region and would require collective action.” This was done in the call attended by Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.
Jaishankar also indicated that India is committed to work towards creation of a favourable environment for mutually beneficial trade-economic cooperation among SCO members.
The SCO foreign ministers also discussed preparations for the SCO Council of Heads of State Meeting (SCO Summit) in Saint Petersburg, the situation in Afghanistan and commemoration of the 75th anniversary of World War II.