India has decided to host the summit of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) virtually in the first week of July, in a surprise move that has raised questions as to why New Delhi is avoiding hosting regional leaders in person.
India is the current President of SCO which comprises Russia, China, Pakistan and key central Asian states. The Indian External Affairs Ministry on Tuesday said in a statement that the summit would be held virtually on July 4.
“Under India’s first-ever Chairmanship, the 22nd Summit of the SCO Council of Heads of State will be held virtually on July 4, 2023, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the chair,” read the Indian external affairs ministry statement.
No reason was given for the decision but observers believe that there may be multiple factors. One reason could be China. It was not clear whether Chinese President Xi Jinping was to travel to New Delhi in July. Both the Chinese and Russian presidents are set to attend the G20 summit in India in September too.
The other factor could be that India doesn’t give the same importance to SCO given it is dominated by China and Russia. Nevertheless, its decision to host the summit virtually raised many eyebrows.
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India assumed the rotating chairmanship of the SCO at the Samarkand Summit on September 16, 2022.
The statement confirmed that all SCO member states, including China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, were invited to attend the summit.
There were in-house consultations going on in Islamabad whether Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif should attend the summit in New Delhi. Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari earlier had attended the SCO council of foreign ministers meeting in Goa. This was the first visit by any foreign minister of Pakistan to India since 2011. Though Bilawal’s visit ended in more controversies, there were hopes that the Pakistani premier would attend the summit in New Delhi.
The theme of the Summit is “Towards a SECURE SCO", with the SECURE acronym coined by the Indian prime minister at the 2018 SCO Summit, representing Security, Economy and Trade, Connectivity, Unity, Respect for Sovereignty and Territorial Integrity, and Environment. These themes have been emphasised during India’s chairmanship of the SCO.