India has decided to host the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit on July 4 virtually, instead of inviting the leaders of all member-countries for an in-person meeting. The announcement came amid speculation whether Chinese President Xi Jinping and Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif would visit India for the summit, which will be chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
India holds the current presidency of the Eurasian group and had held an in-person meeting of the SCO foreign ministers earlier this month in Goa that saw participation by all member-states, including Pakistan. India had earlier invited leaders of all member-countries for the summit – the first under its presidency – that will be chaired by PM Narendra Modi.
An in-person summit would have seen Modi coming face-to-face with both Xi and Sharif at a time when ties with China have been wrecked by the boundary dispute and when the relationship with Pakistan is nearing rock bottom. India’s decision to host a virtual summit also means Xi and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin won’t have to make back to back visits to India, as the government prepares to also host the G20 summit in September.
With India continuing to maintain that ties with China aren’t normal, Modi and Xi have not had a bilateral meeting since the ongoing military standoff in eastern Ladakh that erupted in April-May 2020. In the case of Sharif, India will be relieved it won’t have to host him when Pakistan is also mired in domestic political strife. A Modi-Sharif bilateral would have been unlikely in any case.
The SCO summit will see India and Pakistan sharing a platform for multilateral cooperation despite their bilateral tensions. The two countries have been at loggerheads over issues like cross-border terrorism, Kashmir and ceasefire violations. India has also accused Pakistan of trying to politicise the SCO forum by raising bilateral issues.
The SCO is a regional grouping comprising China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, India and Pakistan. India became a full member of the organisation in 2017 along with Pakistan. The main objectives of the SCO are to strengthen mutual trust and good-neighbourly relations among member states and to promote effective cooperation in politics, trade, economy, culture and other fields.