Indicating continued faith in multilateral engagement and its growing cooperation with Eurasia, India hosted the 19th Meeting of Council of Heads of Government of the Member States of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) this week. SCO has been emerging as a strong voice from the crucial Eurasian region. India became a full member of SCO in 2017 and this was the first SCO Heads of Government meeting hosted by New Delhi. After the Council of Heads of State, the Council of Heads of Government is the second most important mechanism of SCO. Despite the ongoing pandemic in the region; the meeting was held, in the virtual format. India was the Chair of the Heads of Government Council of SCO. The meeting was conducted by Mr. M Venkaiah Naidu, Vice President of India. It was attended by delegations from SCO member states of Kazakhstan, China, Kyrgyz Republic, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Turkmenistan participated as a Special Guest, and SCO Secretary General, Executive Director of SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS), representatives from Observer States such as Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran, Mongolia, and Heads of the SCO Business Council and of the SCO Interbank Alliance also attended the meeting.
The main focus of the virtual meet was on tackling the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic and its socio-economic impact. Cooperation, particularly in the field of economy was highlighted by all participants. All SCO members and participants referred to the pandemic and its impact on the region. Vice President Naidu said India has ‘bravely fought’ the COVID-19 pandemic. It has also provided medical and other supplies to over 150 countries, including SCO members, despite logistical constraints. He said India will be playing an important role in the production and supply of quality medicines and vaccines at low cost. A call was made to reform the global institutions, including the World Health Organization.
Terming peace as the ‘essential prerequisite’ for progress, the Indian Vice President said that the most important challenge in the region is terrorism, particularly cross-border terrorism. Collective combat is needed to combat this scourge. He said states leveraging terrorism as an instrument is totally counter to the spirit and ideals of SCO charter.
India considers SCO an important platform to increase engagement with Eurasia in multiple fields. In spite of being geographically close, trade relations with Central Asia has been below potential due to lack of direct land access to the region. SCO may be helpful in increasing economic cooperation. A number of proposals have been made by India, such as the creation of a Special Working Group on Startups and Innovation. It has also offered to annually host the Special Working Group on Start-ups and Innovation as well as holding the SCO Start-up Forum. Another proposal is to create an Expert Group on Traditional Medicine under the annual SCO Health Ministers meeting. There is continued focus on the development of the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) sector. India is ready to share its best practices in this sector and proposes to establish a digital SCO MSME Center and to organize an annual SCO MSME Bazaar.
India also organized the first ever Consortium of SCO Economic Think Tanks. The consortium has developed the ‘Delhi Action Plan’, which provides road-map for implementing the Programme of Multilateral Trade and Economic Cooperation. The delegation members supported adoption of the Action Plan.
Focusing on youth potential, India organized the first-ever SCO Young Scientists Conclave and proposed to host this forum bi-annually. An Exhibition on Shared Buddhist Heritage of SCO Member States in virtual format was inaugurated on 30 November. The exhibition has been organized by India’s National Museum. Besides, 10 Books of regional Indian literature were translated into Russian and Chinese. An SCO food festival would be hosted in 2021 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of SCO.
In the virtual meeting it was highlighted that India is committed to constructive participation in the SCO growth story. The delegation members praised India’s chairmanship of Council of Heads of Government. Kazakhstan became the new Chair of this Council.
Script: Dr. Athar Zafar, Strategic Analyst on Central Asia