Dr. S. Jaishankar

New Delhi: Connectivity projects in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) region should focus on the interests of Central Asian states and regard the sovereignty and territorial integrity of nations, external affairs minister S Jaishankar said on Tuesday in an obvious swipe at China.

Jaishankar made the comments while representing India in a virtual gathering of the SCO Council of Heads of Government that was held to shape the nine-member grouping’s exchange and economic agenda. Chinese Chief Li Keqiang hosted the meeting since the Council of Heads of Government is chaired by China.

In a bunch of tweets, Jaishankar said he underlined the need for “better connectivity in the SCO region based on the centrality of interests of Central Asian states”. “Connectivity projects should respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Member States and respect international law,” he added.

However, Jaishankar didn’t refer to any nation in his remarks, India has for long opposed China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) because a key part of it – the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) – goes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. India was among the couple of nations that didn’t sign up for BRI and Indian officials have said that Chinese connectivity initiatives do not offer a level playing field for non Chinese firms.

Jaishankar said better connectivity will unlock the financial capability of the SCO region, and in this, Iran’s Chabahar port and the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) could become enablers. “Our total trade with SCO Members is only $141 billion, which has the potential to increase manifold. Fair market access is to our mutual benefit and the only way to move forward,” he added.

India has fostered a terminal at Chabahar port and there are plans to coordinate the strategic port with INSTC. The port has also played a key role in the trans-shipment of goods from Russia to India following the beginning of the Ukraine war.

Jaishankar likewise talked about Mission LiFE (Lifestyle For Environment) sent off by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which “envisions replacing the prevalent use and dispose of the economy by a circular economy”. He highlighted that in 2023, the UN International Year of Millets, India intends to foster prominent collaboration with SCO member states on countering the food crisis.

He appreciated the condolences expressed by various nations at the loss of lives in the Morbi bridge tragedy in Gujarat. “Look forward to India’s ongoing chair ship of the SCO,” Jaishankar said, referring to India assuming the chairmanship of the grouping following the summit held in Uzbekistan last month.

This was the first meeting of the SCO after India took over the bloc’s turning administration. Jaishankar additionally represented the nation at the last meeting of the Council of Heads of Government in Kazakhstan in November last year. The meeting focuses on the trade and financial plan of the SCO and approves the gathering’s annual budget.

The meeting was attended by the nine SCO member states – India, China, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan – and observer states. The SCO secretary general, executive director of the SCO’s Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS), Turkmenistan, and other invited visitors also participated.

Next year in September India will host the SCO Summit in mid-2023, months ahead of hosting the G20 Summit in New Delhi.

By Archana

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