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Outcomes at Samarkand The Statesman 20 Sep 2022
PM Modi attended the SCO summit in Samarkand last week. Till his arrival there was no announcement of his schedule of meetings. It was known that he would interact with the Uzbekistan President, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, as is customary, as also President Putin of Russia, apart from addressing the summit, alongside Xi of China and Shehbaz Sharif of Pakistan. A bilateral with Shehbaz Sharif was ruled out. What remained unknown was his interaction with Xi Jinping. Since disengagement at Gogra-Hot springs has been completed, it was expected that the two could take up further resolution of the LAC.
What came as a surprise was his meeting with President Erdoğan of Turkey, a strong supporter of Pakistan. A statement mentioned that this was sought by the Turkish government. There was no press release, implying no significant outcome. With Raisi of Iran, discussions centred around Chabahar and the North-South Transit Corridor.
The current SCO summit, the first in-person event, post the pandemic, was globally watched for its one-on-one meetings and official statements. While bilateral issues are not raised on the SCO platform, however presence of hostile neighbours (India-Pakistan and India-China) impacts the effectiveness of the organization. The members of the group, comprising 40% of the global population, generate a quarter of the world’s GDP; hence possess a collective voice. Development is hampered due to lack of connectivity with Central Asian nations, an aspect PM Modi raised strongly.
With China and Russia being anti-US, US bashing was expected in the addresses of Putin and Xi and they did not disappoint. Xi stated, ‘we should guard against attempts by external forces to instigate colour revolution and jointly oppose interference in other countries’ internal affairs.’ Putin stated, ‘Attempts to create a unipolar world have recently taken an absolutely ugly shape. They are unacceptable for the vast majority of countries on the globe.’
The SCO, established in 1996, is a China dominated organization, aimed at combating terrorism and extremism while enhancing security and economic cooperation. It was founded to boost Chinese influence in Central Asia and alongside Russia keep the US at bay from a region, they consider their backyard. Hence, the Samarkand declaration specified, ‘member states consider Central Asia to be the core of SCO.’ As Russia became a second fiddle to a rising China, it drew in India to counter Chinese domination, while China brought in Pakistan to counter India.
Currently China is undergoing an economic slowdown, global pressures on its debt trap BRI, challenges in the Taiwan strait, while Russia is under sanctions for its Ukrainian invasion, where it faces setbacks. India, on the other hand, has grown in stature, its economy rebounded and its balanced approach in foreign policy, globally acknowledged. Further, India has supported nations through the COVID pandemic. India, unlike China, has never sought to drag nations into debt traps. Hence, countries seek closer ties with India.
India has assumed the mantle of SCO presidency and would be conducting the next summit in Varanasi in Sept next year. Bilawal Bhutto stated that Pakistan is yet to take a decision to attend it. Varanasi has been dubbed as the ‘cultural and tourism capital of SCO.’ At the same time, India would also be the rotating president of the G 20 and holding its annual summit in New Delhi on 09-10 Sept 2023. Thus India would be heading two vastly different organizations simultaneously, summits for both are scheduled in Sept 2023.
The most observed interaction in Samarkand was between Xi and Putin. Putin was seeking Chinese support at a time when its offensive in Ukraine falters, sanctions begin biting and global isolation appears a reality. The common adversary for both is the US, which is simultaneously challenging China in the Taiwan straits. Xi’s comment, ‘China is willing to work with Russia to strongly support issues concerning each other’s core interests,’ implied that China is no longer adhering to ‘the no limit relationship,’ announced in Feb this year. Xi avoided mentioning Ukraine, hinting Chinese ‘concerns’ over the invasion.
The other important tete-a-tete was between Putin and Modi. Modi was expected to stick to his neutral stance on Ukraine however his comments were a surprise. PM Modi stated, ‘today’s era is not of war, and we have spoken many times on the phone that democracy, diplomacy and dialogue are things that touch the world.’ The Indian Foreign Secretary, Vinay Kwatra, added that India’s stand was that ‘hostilities should cease and the path to resolution is through diplomacy and dialogue.’
Putin, though surprised, respond by stating, ‘We want all of this to end as soon as possible. We will keep you abreast of what is happening there,’ while blaming Ukraine for refusing dialogue. Putin faced lack of support from both, China and India, which was unexpected. Modi’s statement also sent a message to China and Pak that though India can handle their challenges it prefers dialogue to resolve issues.
The comment was manna to US ears, which has regularly mentioned that India has adopted a Pro-Russia approach. Its spokesperson mentioned, ‘(comments by) China and India are indicative of the fact that Mr. Putin doesn’t have a whole lot of sympathetic ears out there to what he’s been doing in Ukraine.’
There was also hypocrisy at display. The SCO, in its declaration stated that it will, ‘form a unified list of terrorist, separatist and extremist organizations whose activities are prohibited on the territories of SCO member states.’ The same day, China, for the third time, blocked an Indo-US proposal in the UNSC to nominate Pakistan’s Sajid Mir as a global terrorist. Whether SCO will be effective in creating a list of terrorists is questionable.
India and China had no interaction, though both Modi and Xi stood alongside for the photograph. There were no handshakes or even an acknowledgement. Xi did attempt to mend fences when he stated, ‘we will support India for its presidency next year,’ to which there was no response. Samarkand displayed a confident India, aware of its global responsibilities, growing economy and capable of handling its challenges. To China, the message clearly was that the situation at the LAC will determine bilateral ties.