SCO Foreign Minister’s meeting | Economic cooperation, national currency payments on agend...

SCO Foreign Minister’s meeting | Economic cooperation, national currency payments on agenda

Officials say India is seen as a “balancing force”, member of SCO, IBSA, BRICS, Quad and G-20 

Stepping up economic cooperation, including discussing national currency payments for mutual trade will be on the agenda for Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Foreign Ministers meeting in Benaulim on Friday.

The proposal, which comes in the wake of the Ukraine war and sanctions imposed on Russia, which is one of the founder members of the organisation, came from Central Asian members, said sources, indicating that “initial discussions” had begun between the 8-member group comprising Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

India is already in bilateral discussions with Russia on using national payments, third-country payments and other means over circumventing unilateral sanctions imposed by the United States and European Union, and is part of the BRICS (Brazil Russia India China South Africa) grouping that is also discussing a multilateral payment mechanism. 

“While traditionally security and terrorism used to dominate the SCO’s agenda, but during its presidency, India is bringing on the table issues of economic and cultural cooperation between the members as well,” official sources said, indicating that other issues including startups and innovations and digital infrastructure would also be brought on the agenda during India’s tenure as SCO President.

The issues were discussed on Thursday morning by External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and the SCO Secretary General Zhang Ming. They also reviewed 15 “Decision points” that would be discussed and approved by the Foreign Ministers after Friday morning’s SCO meeting, and MoUs will be signed. 

“The most important work before the SCO Foreign Ministers will be to assess the status of decisions that will be approved at the SCO Summit in New Delhi in July,” said Dammu Ravi, Secretary (Economic Relations) in the MEA, briefing journalists on Thursday. “The meeting will also give an opportunity to discuss the state of multilateral cooperation in SCO, regional and global issues of interest, [and] reform and modernization of the organisation,” he added.

A final decision on all the points including the national payments collaboration will be taken at the SCO Heads of State Summit in July this year, where the officials said Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping will be among those invited by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

When asked if confirmations had been received from any of the invitees, one official said that “all heads of State” have been present for all SCO summits thus far, since the organisation was founded in 2001, and hence they were expected to welcome them for the summit, expected to be held in Delhi on July 3-4. While all other countries are represented by their Presidents, India and Pakistan, which became full members in 2017 are represented by their Prime Ministers at the HoS meeting. 

The sources said that the SCO Foreign Ministers will discuss the induction of Iran and Belarus as full members at their meeting, and forward their applications to the summit. They will also consider applications for observer status for four countries : Kuwait, UAE, Myanmar, Maldives to join the grouping. 

Asked whether India, as a country that has no ties at a political level with co-member Pakistan, and strained ties with SCO founder China due to the 3-year-old military standoff at the Line of Actual Control, as well as a member of U.S.-led groupings like the Quad, which have been criticised by SCO co-founder Russia, was in an awkward position as SCO host, officials said India’s position is appreciated as a “balancing” force.

“I think that most [countries] appreciate the fact that India is able to play such a versatile role, as a member of different groupings like Quad (U.S.-India-Japan-Australia), in G-20, BRICS, in IBSA (India-Brazil-South Africa) and the SCO- this shows that India’s role is appreciated and India is seen as a balancing force,” said the official.

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