The Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s (SCO) Council of Heads of Government (CHG) held its 18th meeting last weekend at Tashkent, Uzbekistan. India joined the Eurasia-focused organization in 2017. It was India’s third participation in the Heads of Government meeting. The first meeting was held at Sochi, Russia, in Nov-Dec 2017, and the 2018 meeting was held at Dushanbe in Tajikistan.
SCO has eight members India, Kazakhstan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. It also has four observers and six dialogue partners. The forum’s highest decision-making body is the Heads of State Council; and the Heads of Government Council is the second most import forum of the organization. The Heads of Government meets annually. It approves the annual budget, discusses strategy on multilateral cooperation and priority areas of the organization. It also addresses important economic and cooperation matters.
As Special Envoy of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh represented India at the Heads of Government meeting at Tashkent. Terrorism and extremism is concern for all member countries and even for the world. Mr. Singh called upon SCO to strengthen and implement all existing international laws and mechanisms to combat terrorism and its enablers. He said: “Terrorism continues to disrupt our societies and undermine our developmental endeavours. It is important for SCO countries to come together to deal with this menace.” The world is also facing the challenges of climate change, poverty, under development and inequality.
The SCO has vast economic potential at it represents approximately 42 per cent of the world’s population, about 20 per cent of GDP and 22 per cent of land area. The Indian Defence Minister mentioned about the business friendly environment promoted in India. The country has significantly improved its ‘Ease of Doing Business’ ranking in recent years. He invited SCO countries to invest in India through joint ventures under the ‘Make in India’ programme.
India is the second largest economy in the SCO area after China. The Minister said that India can share its experience in capacity building and skill development, including resource mapping, agricultural education, launching of satellites, pharmaceuticals, telemedicine, medical tourism and hospitality and financial services.He underlined that globalisation has opened up immense opportunities for the growth of SCO members. However, it has also created multiple challenges. It is necessary for member countries to cooperate. There is growing tendency of isolationism and protectionism, particularly in developed economies. Mr. Rajnath Singh said that ‘unilateralism and protectionism has done good to none’ and added that a transparent, rules-based, open, inclusive and non-discriminatory multilateral trading system with the World Trade Organisation at its centre. He underlined that economic cooperation is the foundation cementing the future of the people and ensuring them a better life. “Economic growth must ensure welfare of our people. They have to be the centre of our policies,” he said.
SCO countries are prone to natural disasters and environmental impact. Prime Minister Modi had announced a global Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI), at the UN Climate Action Summit 2019 held in New York, USA, on 23 September 2019. The coalition aims to assist countries in upgrading their capacities for developing resilient infrastructure. The Indian Defence Minister invited SCO Member states to join the ‘Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure’. It will address the loss reduction targets under the Sendai Framework, besides contributing to climate change adaptation.
Prime Minister of Uzbekistan Mr. Abdulla Nigmatovich Aripov, Leaders and Heads of Delegation of SCO Member States, Secretary-General of SCO Vladimir Norov and Executive Director of Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) Mr. Jumakhon Giyosov also participated in the meeting.
The Defence Minister also paid homage to former Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri at his statue in Shastri Street in Tashkent. Prime Minister Shastri had died in Tashkent on 11 January 1966, a day after the Tashkent Agreement was signed between India and Pakistan following the 1965 war. Mr. Singh also visited the school built in Shastriji’s memory.
The next meeting of the SCO Council of Heads of Government will be held in 2020 in India.
Script: Dr. Athar Zafar, Strategic Analyst on Central Asia & CIS