India on Monday didn’t join other members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in backing China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which New Delhi has consistently opposed as a key part of it passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).
BRI or the “One Belt, One Road” initiative, President Xi Jinping’s flagship program for trade and connectivity, was backed by Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan in a joint communiqué issued at the end of the SCO Council of heads of government meeting hosted by India.
The communiqué said the other countries, while “reaffirming their support for China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ (OBOR) Initiative (BRI), note the ongoing work on joint implementation of this project, including efforts to bridge construction [between] The Eurasian Economic Union and OBOR”.
The council of heads of government is SCO’s second-highest body and is responsible for handling the trade and economic agenda. This was the first time India hosted a meeting of the body since it was admitted into the eight-member grouping in 2017.
India has repeatedly said it will not join BRI because it does not offer a level playing ground to the country’s businesses. It has also opposed BRI because a key component – the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) – passes through PoK.
New Delhi’s trade concerns related to Beijing were a key factor behind India’s decision not to join the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the trade deal recently signed by the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Australia, China, Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand.
Former ambassador Vishnu Prakash noted that the SCO meeting was held at a time when India is decoupling from China and it was “no longer business as usual” between the two countries. There is also an “unholy alliance” between China and Pakistan that will thwart India’s initiatives, he said.
One of India’s main objectives for joining SCO was the desire to forge deeper ties with Central Asian states but the country now needs to assess whether these “efforts were commensurate with the results”, Prakash said.
During Monday’s meeting, the heads of delegations said SCO has established itself as an effective platform for cooperation for strengthening multilateralism, rule of international law and the UN Charter, and ensuring “equal, mutual, indivisible, comprehensive and reliable security [and] sustainable socio-economic development”.
The heads of delegations called for deepening of cooperation to support a transparent, open, inclusive, fair, non-discriminatory multilateral trading system based on principles and rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and to promote an “open world economy”, the communiqué said.
The SCO members also stressed the need to reform WTO, including by improving its key functions such as negotiations, monitoring, and dispute resolution. They also pointed to the importance of using international and multilateral organizations to form a “space of broad, open, mutually beneficial and equal interaction in Eurasia”.