“India strives to further bolster trust and cooperation among the members of the SCO as it believes in maintaining peace and security based on the provisions of the UN charter”
—Defence Minister Rajnath Singh
|The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army|
There was plenty of speculation before the SCO Defence Ministers meet scheduled in New Delhi on April 28, 2023, with the Chinese and Russian Defence Ministers confirming their attendance. The excitement was more because the China’s Defence Minister was visiting India for the first time after the Chinese invasion in Eastern Ladakh during April-May 2020, the Galwan Clash on June 15-16, 2020, and the continuing standoff along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) over the last three years.
The SCO comprises India, Russia, China, Kyrgyz Republic, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Pakistan. India had also invited the Defence Ministers of Iran and Belarus (both observer nations of SCO) for the SCO Defence Ministers Meeting. The SCO Defence Ministers Meeting on April 28, 2023, chaired by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, was attended by defence ministers of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Belarus and Iran in person. Pakistan was represented by Malik Ahmed Khan, special adviser to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on defence, through video conferencing. Pakistani Defence Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif skipped the meeting knowing that terrorism would be a major focus area in the meeting.
At the end of the deliberations, all the SCO member countries signed a protocol, expressing their collective will to make the region secure, peaceful and prosperous
Chairing the meeting, Rajnath Singh called upon the eight member states of the SCO to collectively work towards eliminating terrorism in all its forms, and fix accountability on those who aid or fund such activities. With an obvious reference to Pakistan, Rajnath said, “If nation shelters terrorists, it not only poses a threat to others, but for itself too. Any kind of terrorist act or support to it in any form is a major crime against humanity, and peace and prosperity cannot coexist with this menace. Radicalisation of youth is a cause of concern not only from the point of view of security, but it is also a major obstacle in the path of socio-economic progress of society. If we want to make the SCO a stronger and more credible international organisation, our top-most priority should be to effectively deal with terrorism.”
With Chinese Defence Minister Li Shangfu attending, Rajnath said that India envisions a robust framework of regional cooperation which mutually respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all member states by taking care of their legitimate interests. He asserted that India strives to further bolster trust and cooperation among the members of the SCO as it believes in maintaining peace and security based on the provisions of the UN charter. He also called for concerted efforts by the SCO members on collective prosperity so that the region shifts to the mindset of ‘great gain from win-win paradigm’ from ‘great game of zero sum, win-lose paradigm’.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh held a nearly 45-minute bilateral meeting with his Chinese counterpart and had “frank” discussions about the developments in the India-China border areas as well as bilateral relations
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh held a nearly 45-minute bilateral meeting with his Chinese counterpart on April 27, 2023 on the sidelines of the SCO Defence Ministers meeting in India. A statement issued by the Ministry of Defence said the two ministers had “frank” discussions about the developments in the India-China border areas as well as bilateral relations, adding, “The Defence Minister categorically conveyed that development of relations between India and China is premised on prevalence of peace and tranquility at the borders. All issues at the LAC need to be resolved in accordance with existing bilateral agreements and commitments”, and added that violation of existing agreements has "eroded" the entire basis of bilateral relations and disengagement at the border will logically be followed with de-escalation.
Russia’s Defence Minister Sergie K. Shoigu said that the US and its allies are actively opposing a multi-polar world in the Asia-Pacific with countermeasures through military and political alliances like QUAD and AUKUS which are “integrating” NATO. He said that the concept of free and open Indo-Pacific is being promoted as a front to contain China, stressing that the US and its “enablers” are pursuing a strategic agenda to provoke military confrontation with Russia and China, and that the conflict in Ukraine is a clear demonstration of this criminal policy; its real aim is to strategically defeat Russia, threaten China, and maintain its monopoly on the world. At the end of the deliberations, all the SCO member countries signed a protocol, expressing their collective will to make the region secure, peaceful and prosperous.
In the final analysis, such meetings are good but in no way change the anti-India stance of Pakistan and China
In the final analysis, such meetings are good but in no way change the anti-India stance of Pakistan and China. An Indian Army vehicle was ambushed in Poonch on April 20, 2023, by Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) sponsored terrorists killing five soldiers. This will continue unless India raises the costs of terror attacks by Pakistan to unbearable levels. With regard to China, Chinese President Xi Jinping eyes Indian Territory, waters and minerals. Therefore, China will only try to aggravate the situation along the LAC. As for Shoigu’s comments at the meeting, it naturally conveys Russian support to China. However, with reference to QUAD, Russia understands that India follows a policy of strategic autonomy.