The external affairs ministry announced on Tuesday that the 22nd summit of the SCO council of heads of state will be held in the “virtual format” and chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The ministry didn’t give any reasons for the decision.
The people cited above said the option of holding the meeting virtually had always been on the table and a final decision was made on Monday. The decision was not due to any reasons connected to the schedules of leaders of SCO member states, the people said.
“The leaders of China and Russia are anyway expected to visit India for the G20 Summit in New Delhi in September,” one of the people said.
An in-person summit would have set up Russian President vladimir Putin’s first visit to India since the start of the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. It would have also set the stage for possible meetings between the Indian premier and the leaders of China and Pakistan, both countries with which India’s relations are currently strained.
India and China are currently locked in a military standoff on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) that has entered its fourth year, taking relations to an all-time low. Ties between India and Pakistan were hit by a string of terror attacks blamed on Pakistan-based terror groups.
Foreign secretary Vinay Kwatra visited the Rashtrapati Bhavan Cultural Centre, a large hall within the complex of the presidential palace, and inspected the facilities there on April 20 as it was being looked at as a possible venue for the SCO Summit.
India has already invited the leaders of all SCO states – China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – to attend the summit. Iran, Belarus and Mongolia have been invited as observer states. In keeping with SCO tradition, Turkmenistan was invited as the guest of the chair.
Heads of two SCO bodies – the secretariat and SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) – will also attend the summit, along with the heads of six international and regional organisations, including the UN, Asean and Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA).
The theme of the summit is “Towards a SECURE SCO”. The SECURE acronym stands for security, economy and trade, connectivity, unity, respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, and environment.
India has set up new pillars of cooperation under its chairmanship, including startups and innovation, traditional medicine, digital inclusion, youth empowerment, and shared Buddhist heritage. It has also worked to foster people-to-people ties that celebrate the historical bonds between the member states.
“India’s chairmanship of SCO has been a period of intense activity and mutually beneficial cooperation between member states. India has hosted a total of 134 meetings and events, including 14 ministerial-level meetings,” the external affairs ministry said.