Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Uzbekistan to participate in the 22nd meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation holds significance on many counts.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Uzbekistan to participate in the 22nd meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), the first in-person gathering after a gap of two years, holds significance on many counts. The prospect of his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the summit remains the most-awaited event as it is the first time that the two leaders would be meeting after the 2020 Galwan Valley clash and the subsequent tensions in the bilateral relationship. The recent disengagement of troops from Gogra-Hot Springs in eastern Ladakh ahead of the SCO summit was an indicator that there could be room for the two leaders to meet. China and India have been embroiled in a bitter battle not just at the border but also on the economic front. While India’s focus will be on complete disengagement and de-escalation from remaining friction points and returning to the April 2020 status quo, the Chinese have been raising the issue of its companies, especially telecom and app industries, feeling the heat of India’s restrictions. Any forward movement in relations would depend on how the two sides engage each other to return to pre-April 2020 status. India’s stance on Ukraine has generated a positive mood in China that in turn may help resolve the ongoing diplomatic impasse between the two Asian neighbours. The scheduled structured bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin also holds significance in view of India’s nuanced and independent stand on the Ukraine war, notwithstanding pressures from the western world including the United States.
Modi’s presence at the SCO sends out a key message that India is unafraid of following an independent foreign policy and dynamically engaging with the world on its own terms, and in accordance with its interests. India’s level of engagement at the SCO will be watched closely by the Western world, which has pegged this bloc as anti-West, given the overarching influence of Russia, China and Iran at the summit. Launched in Shanghai in June 2001, the SCO has eight full members, including its six founding members: China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. India and Pakistan joined as full members in 2017. The Modi-Putin meet comes against the backdrop of Moscow’s surprise reverses on the battlefield in eastern Ukraine and increasing global pressure to isolate Russia. Despite calls from the West, India has not only protected the status quo in its ties with Russia, but has stepped up energy imports. The other important engagement will be with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, coming at a time when both countries are close to striking an agreement for operations at the Chabahar port. If the bilateral meeting materialises, Raisi is expected to bring up the question of the resumption of Iranian crude imports that were stopped under the threat of sanctions three years ago.