India’s decision not to endorse China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative in the SCO poses no threat to the bloc as its structure is democratic enough to allow a member country to opt-out of projects backed by others, its General-Secretary Vladimir Norov said.
Beijing-headquartered Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) is an eight-member economic and security bloc.
India and Pakistan were admitted into the grouping in 2017. Its founding members include China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
In a wide-ranging interview with PTI, Norov, who is also a former foreign minister of Uzbekistan, addressed issues related to India’s role in the bloc which is focused on the economic and security related issues including the joint cooperation to counter-terrorism.
India has strong reservations over Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
The USD 60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is officially declared as its flagship project. New Delhi has gone public with its concern on Beijing’s strategic initiative at various international fora over the past years.
The government is specifically concerned over the CPEC that passes through Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (PoK).
In June 2018 at the end of a two-day summit of the SCO in China’s Qingdao city, India was the only country which opposed the BRI with Prime Minister Narendra Modi asserting that any major connectivity project must respect sovereignty and territorial integrity of the countries.
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In his address at the summit, Modi, in a clear reference to the BRI, said any mega connectivity project must respect sovereignty and territorial integrity of the countries and assured that India will support projects which ensure inclusivity.
China had unveiled the BRI in 2013 with an aim to link Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the Gulf region, Africa and Europe with a network of land and sea routes.
President Xi has already announced that China would invest around USD 126 billion for the project. However, there has been suspicion among several countries that the main aim of the project is to expand China’s influence globally.
The initiative also led to allegations of smaller countries reeling under mounting Chinese debt after Sri Lanka gave its Hambantota port as a debt swap to China in 2017 on a 99-year lease.
Norov, when asked about the role he sees for himself to reconcile the difference between India’s principled position on the BRI and that of other members, said that while making decisions in the SCO, the member states are guided by the principle of consensus.
The same principle also applies to the approval of political documents. “At the same time, there are precedents in our practice when, in cases when a state is not interested in the implementation of certain cooperation projects that are of interest to other member states,” he said.
“The non-participation of the said member states does not prevent the said member states from implementing such cooperation projects and, at the same time, does not prevent the said member states from further joining the implementation of such projects.
“Such a situation is legally fixed in the SCO Charter, demonstrating democracy and flexibility in decision making on practical and procedural issues. Therefore, I do not see anything dramatic in the discrepancy between the views of India and the majority of Member States on BRI,” Norov said.
The main thing in the SCO is the ideology of cooperation, non-confrontation, aiming at peace, cooperation and security, he said.
“We need a rules-based, transparent, non-discriminatory, open and comprehensive multilateral trade system oriented towards the World Trade Organization (WTO). India is committed to creating an environment for the full expansion of the economic activity, which is a priority for the SCO member states,” Norov said.
On the counter-terrorism issues, he said: “I would like to note India fully shares the SCO’s approach to countering terrorism and extremism as a major threat to regional security and stability”.
“The SCO fully agrees with Prime Minister Modi’s position that ‘a united, peaceful, secure and prosperous Afghanistan is an important factor for stability and security in the SCO region,” he added.
Highlighting the SCO’s success in counter-terrorism issues, Norov said that in 2019, under the coordination of its executive committee, 5,500 bank accounts and 24 channels for terrorist financing were blocked.
“India’s active participation in the SCO security mechanisms, including within the SCO Regional Anti-Terrorism Structure through secretaries of security councils, ministers of defence, interior, justice, attorney generals, judicial authorities and others. “We attach great importance to the participation of Indian Army units and divisions in military anti-terrorist exercise,” he said.
All SCO states share common concerns about the threats of terrorism, extremism and drug trafficking, Norov said.
Countering the financing of terrorism is viewed by the SCO member states as one of the priority areas of multilateral counter-terrorism cooperation, he said.
“The SCO countries have consistently emphasised the need to consolidate international efforts to effectively address this issue. Our focus is on the growing symbiosis between international terrorism and other cross-border challenges and threats,” he added.