SCO meetings pave way for fruitful Qingdao Summit
By Rabi Sankar Bosu
The meetings of the foreign and defense ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) on Tuesday at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing were a prelude to the SCO Leaders' Summit to be held in June in the coastal city of Qingdao, in east China's Shandong Province.
The SCO is a Eurasian inter-governmental organization with vast influence thanks to the efforts of its members including China, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, India, and Pakistan. Over the past 17 years, the SCO has made remarkable strides in politics, economics, security, people-to-people exchanges, external exchanges, and mechanism building. For example, under the SCO framework, the 21 cooperation zones that China built with other SCO states have played a role in expanding local employment and raising tax revenues.
The Defense Ministers' Meeting of the Member States of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is held in Beijing on Tuesday, April 24, 2018. [Photo: Xinhua]
This year's meeting of foreign and defense ministers holds special significance since they were the first top ministerial-level meetings of the SCO since it expanded last June to include India and Pakistan. Since joining the SCO, the two countries have played an active role in the organization in line with the "Shanghai Spirit", which calls for mutual trust and benefits, equality, respect for cultural diversity, and the pursuit of common development.
During the one-day SCO Foreign Ministers meeting, the participants discussed the course of SCO cooperation over the past year, and also new areas of cooperation in trade and economy. This was a timely topic, given that the world is facing rising protectionism and a pushback against globalization. During her address at the meeting, India's External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj rallied support for globalization and free trade amid the threat of tariffs by the United States on imports from China and India. "We believe that economic globalization should be more open, inclusive, equitable, and balanced for mutual benefits. Protectionism in all its forms should be rejected and efforts should be made to address measures that constitute barriers to trade."
The foreign ministers reached a consensus on deepening solidarity and mutual trust, boosting security cooperation, dovetailing development strategies, increasing pragmatic cooperation, strengthening people-to-people exchanges, and expanding the international influence of the SCO. They also reaffirmed that peaceful political progress is the only way to solve the Syria issue and that Syria's sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity must be maintained.
The minsters approved 14 agreements that will be submitted to the upcoming SCO Qingdao summit for review. The drafts of the Action Plan for 2018-2022 on the implementation of the Treaty on Long-Term Neighborliness, Friendship, and Cooperation between the SCO Member States, and the 2019-2021 Program of Cooperation among the SCO Member States on Counter-Terrorist, Counter-Separatist, and Counter-Extremist Measures are two especially notable proposals.
India's name was conspicuously absent from the list of countries that endorsed China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in the joint statement issued by the foreign ministers. India's absence from the BRI is without doubt a bad diplomatic move on the part of India. President Xi Jinping has repeatedly said that the BRI may be China's idea but its opportunities and outcomes will benefit the world. Surely the BRI can be a vehicle for the two biggest developing countries to contribute to development and prosperity in the region. India should abandon its preconceived view of the BRI when Prime Minister Modi meets President Xi in Wuhan this week.
Despite the disagreements between the two countries regarding the BRI, the renewed optimism in Sino-Indian relations was demonstrated during the meeting of the SCO defense ministers. China's Defense Minister Wei Fenghe called on SCO member states to "stick to the principle of treating each other as equals, helping each other, and sharing weal and woe", so as to share in the benefits of defense and security cooperation. And during a bilateral meeting with her Chinese counterpart, India's Defense Minister Sitharaman said that differences should not lead to disputes in relations between India and China.
After the failure of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, the SCO has become an important forum for global and regional peace and security, and the promotion of mutually beneficial cooperation between member states, setting "an example of a new type of international relations". It is hoped that leaders of the SCO member countries will strengthen cooperation through dialogue and diplomacy in order to take multilateral relations to a new level under the guidance of the SCO charter. A clear note of hope for the upcoming SCO summit was echoed in the words of Wang Yi: "The Qingdao summit, with joint efforts from all sides, will be a significant meeting, setting future directions and goals for the SCO, and marking a milestone in its history."
(Rabi Sankar Bosu, Secretary, New Horizon Radio Listeners' Club, based in West Bengal, India)