The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit ended Friday without a bilateral meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping though they did stand next to each other as leaders of the grouping posed for photographs.
Delhi signed off on the Samarkand declaration of the SCO summit which omitted reference to the “UN Charter” while underlining “mutual respect for sovereignty” and “territorial integrity of States”.
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.
This is a departure from India’s position in the last seven months since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24.
Over the last seven months, India has always invoked the UN Charter, while advocating “respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of states” in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine.
In its first statement on February 25, a day after the start of the invasion, India said, “The contemporary global order has been built on the UN Charter, international law, and respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states.” And, in its latest statement on September 7, India said, “We continue to emphasize to all member states that the global order be anchored on international law, the UN Charter and respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of states.”
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.
“The Member States advocate respect for the right of peoples to independently and democratically choose their political and socio-economic development, and stress 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,” the Samarkand declaration stated.
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 are also glaring in the wake of China’s aggressive posturing over Taiwan and in the South China Sea.
On China’s ambitious One Belt One Road initiative, India stayed away — just like last year.
“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.
The summit ended without any bilateral meeting between Modi and 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”.
“All the meetings that were scheduled and for which the requests came to us were factored in and all the meetings took place as per the schedule,” Kwatra said.
Earlier, in his address, Xi conveyed China’s congratulations to India on assuming the SCO presidency. “We will, together with other member states, support India during its presidency,” he said.
In order to further promote the rich cultural and historical heritage of the people and tourism potential of SCO member states, it was decided to declare Varanasi as the SCO Tourism and Cultural Capital for 2022-2023, the Samarkand declaration said.
The declaration’s language on terrorism and Afghanistan was similar to last year’s declaration.
But it did speak of a plan to draw up a common list of terror groups. “The Member States, in accordance with their national legislation and on the basis of consensus, will seek to develop common principles and approaches to form a unified list of terrorist, separatist and extremist organizations whose activities are prohibited on the territories of the SCO member states.”
It said member states 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. It also said that member states, while reaffirming a strong commitment to fight terrorism, separatism and extremism, resolve to continue to take active measures to address the conditions conducive to the “spread of terrorism, cut off terrorist financing channels, suppress terrorist recruitment and cross-border movement, counter extremism, radicalization of youth, spread of terrorist ideology, and eliminate sleeper cells and places used as terrorist safe havens”.
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The member states, it said, note the inadmissibility of interference in the internal affairs of states under the pretext of countering terrorism and extremism, as well as the inadmissibility of the use of terrorist, extremist and radical groups for selfish ends.
On Afghanistan, the declaration said that SCO member states believe that one of the most important factors in preserving and strengthening security and stability in the SCO region is the speedy settlement of the situation in Afghanistan.
“They support the establishment of Afghanistan as an independent, neutral, united, democratic and peaceful state, free of terrorism, war and drugs,” it said.