India recently announced a significant decision regarding the upcoming Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit, originally slated to be held in the country. In a surprising move, the government declared that the summit, scheduled for July 4, would now take place in a virtual format. This decision has raised eyebrows and sparked speculation about the underlying reasons behind the change.
The government, while refraining from providing explicit justification, has indirectly alluded to the potential challenges that could have emerged had the summit been held physically. Notably, during the previous SCO Foreign Ministers’ meet in Goa, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari initiated discussions on sensitive bilateral issues, eliciting a swift response from India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar. The episode left an unpleasant atmosphere, prompting India to exercise caution and seek alternative arrangements for the upcoming summit.
One key aspect that likely influenced the decision is India’s ongoing engagement with Western nations. As the country seeks to enhance its technological capabilities through collaborations and partnerships with the West, the presence of Russian President Vladimir Putin at the SCO summit could have complicated matters. Given the existing dynamics and geopolitical sensitivities, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is slated to chair the summit, will be embarking on a state visit to the United States shortly after the SCO gathering. The timing of these two significant events necessitated a careful evaluation of the potential implications of hosting world leaders, particularly those who may have strained relationships with India.
Another critical factor contributing to the decision is the unresolved border dispute with China. The prolonged standoff between the two Asian giants has created an atmosphere of tension and mistrust. In such a scenario, the presence of Chinese President Xi Jinping at the SCO summit could have further exacerbated the already strained relations between the two countries. By opting for a virtual format, India aims to minimize any potential awkwardness or diplomatic challenges that could arise from physical interactions among the leaders.
The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), in its official statement, reiterated India’s commitment to playing a positive and constructive role within the SCO. The MEA acknowledged the significance of the summit as the culmination of India’s chairmanship, which began at the Samarkand Summit on September 16 the previous year. Despite the decision to hold the summit virtually, all member states of the SCO, including China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, have been invited to participate in the event.
India’s approach to the SCO summit reflects a strategic and pragmatic assessment of the prevailing circumstances. The virtual format serves as a means to navigate potential diplomatic challenges, maintain cordial relations, and avoid any distractions that might divert attention from India’s primary objectives within the organization. By ensuring a conducive and controlled environment, India aims to project stability and prioritize its engagements with Western partners while cautiously managing relations with neighboring countries.