Jaishankar to hold talks with Chinese FM Qin, Lavrov, host Pakistan FM in Goa 

Jaishankar to hold talks with Chinese FM Qin, Lavrov, host Pakistan FM in Goa 

Bilateral meetings on Thursday ahead of SCO FM meet could see some awkward moments; one-on-one meet between Jaishankar and Bhutto unlikely

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar will hold talks with Foreign Ministers of China and Russia, and Uzbekistan and Secretary General of the eight-nation Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Zhang Ming on May 4.

He will also come face to face with Pakistan Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari for the first time since they had a verbal spat at the U.N. Security Council in December.

The Ministers, including the FMs of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan will all hold bilateral meetings during the day and attend a cultural performance and dinner hosted by Mr. Jaishankar at the Taj Exotica resort in South Goa in the evening, events that could see some awkward moments given strains between many of the member countries. 

A meeting of SCO FMs will be held on Friday. 

This is the first time Mr. Jaishankar will meet Mr. Bhutto in India, and also the first such meeting since the Poonch terror attack, which the Army has held Pakistan responsible for. India-Pakistan relations hit their lowest point in 2019, when High Commissioners were recalled and trade ties snapped, and Mr. Bhutto’s visit marks the first by a Pakistani FM to India in 12 years.

Russian FM Sergey Lavrov will arrive just a day after Russian forces shot down two UAVs in what it called an alleged assassination attempt on President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin, and is expected to seek strong condemnation of the attack from amongst SCO countries. South Block will be keen to see if Mr. Lavrov echoes Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu’s speech at the SCO Defence Ministers’ gathering last week, where he criticised the ‘Quad’ grouping of US-India-Australia-Japan, a meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to attend next month in Sydney. 

Sources confirmed that Mr. Jaishankar will meet Chinese FM Qin Gang for a bilateral meeting, which will also be watched closely for any handshakes – at the meeting last week in Delhi, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh was seen pointedly greeting his Chinese counterpart with a  Namaste, rather than the handshakes he shared with all other counterparts. It was seen as a mark of India’s displeasure over the lack of movement in India-China border talks.

Meanwhile, Mr. Qin will also be meeting Central Asian counterparts, days after the Chinese Ambassador to France sparked an uproar when he questioned the “sovereign status” of nations that were formerly part of the Soviet Union. While the Chinese Foreign Ministry walked back from the statement a day later, it will be left to Mr. Qin to smooth over the controversy during his time in Goa with them.

Among the first of the guests to arrive will be Mr. Lavrov, who is set to meet Mr. Jaishankar, Mr. Qin and Mr. Bhutto during the day. Mr. Qin and Mr. Bhutto will fly from Goa to Islamabad later on Friday where Mr. Qin is expected to hold a number of talks on strategic issues, and also hold a trilateral on Afghanistan attended by Taliban FM Amir Khan Mottaqi.

To that end, SCO discussions on Afghanistan at the Goa meet will be significant, especially on the subject of recognition for the Taliban regime, which Pakistan PM Shehbaz Sharif had tried to pitch unsuccessfully at the last SCO summit in Samarkand.

As host, Mr. Jaishankar is expected to meet each of his guests, although neither Indian nor Pakistani officials held out much hope of a bilateral meeting between him and Mr. Bhutto.

Over the weekend, the rhetoric between Delhi and Islamabad was also raised, after Pakistan Army Chief vowed to continue support to the “fight for Kashmiri self-determination”, and Mr. Jaishankar slammed Pakistan for supporting cross-border terrorism and attacks in India.

As a result, any contact, engagement or conversation between the two Foreign Ministers would be seen as a significant step forward for the two countries, especially ahead of the SCO summit in July in Delhi. Pakistan PM Sharif, along with Russian President Putin and Chinese President Xi are being invited by PM Modi to attend the summit.

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