In an oblique reference to China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Sunday the mega connectivity projects must respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the countries and assured India’s full support to initiatives which ensure inclusivity.
In an address at the annual summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in this port city, the Prime Minister also coined an acronym SECURE, which he explained: ‘S’ for security for citizens, ‘E’ for economic development, ‘C’ for connectivity in the region, ‘U’ for unity, ‘R’ for respect for sovereignty and integrity, and ‘E’ for environment protection.
Referring to the threat of terrorism, Modi talked about the “unfortunate example” of the effects of terrorism and extremism in Afghanistan and hoped that the bold steps taken by its President Ashraf Ghani would be respected by all the players in the region.
Talking about the importance of transport corridors, Modi, in the presence of Chinese President Xi Jinping, said India’s commitment to connectivity projects was reflected in its involvement in the International North-South Corridor project, development of the Chabahar port and Ashgabat Agreement.
“Connectivity with the neighbouring countries is India’s priority. We welcome the connectivity projects which are sustainable and efficient and which respect territorial integrity and sovereignty of the countries,” he said. India has been critical of the BRI, as the $50-billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor, which is part of the BRI, passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
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India says it can’t accept a project that ignores its core concern on sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Except India, all other member nations of the SCO, including Russia, Pakistan, and Iran have been supporting China’s BRI.
Modi also said that the history of the region carries a clear message that connectivity does not only mean physical connectivity and that the human aspect relating to it is also important.
He said priority for people-to-people contact and exchange of ideas should be given due priority. He added that India welcomes the concept of “open doors”.
The International North–South Transport Corridor (INSTC) is a 7,200-km-long multi-mode transport project for moving freight among India, Iran, Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia, Central Asia, and Europe.
The Ashgabat Agreement is a transport agreement among several Gulf and Central Asian countries, which is aimed at creating a transit corridor to spur trade and investment. India has been supporting the project.
“We have again reached a stage where physical and digital connectivity is changing the definition of geography. Therefore, connectivity with our neighbourhood and in the SCO region is our priority,” Modi said.
In his address, Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain whole-heartedly supported the BRI and said the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which is part of the BRI, has boosted Pakistan’s economy.
It is for the first time the Indian Prime Minister attended the SCO summit after India along with Pakistan became a full-fledged members of the grouping, jointly dominated by China and Russia.
The SCO currently has eight member countries which represent around 42 per cent of the world’s population and 20 per cent of the global gross domestic product.
Modi said India would like to extend all cooperation to the SCO and that the bloc gives India immense opportunities to enhance friendship with resource-rich Central Asian nations.
He also suggested that the SCO members should set some goals and form a small committee to prepare a road map to achieve them by the bloc’s 25th summit.
“We can achieve new heights of success through a time-bound framework,” he said.
Later, Modi tweeted that he elaborated on ways through which the SCO platform can enhance trade and connectivity among member nations.
“The SCO Summit in Qingdao was marked by extensive and fruitful deliberations. I had excellent meetings with various world leaders as well,” he tweeted.
The Prime Minister also announced that India will host an SCO food festival and a comprehensive exhibition on Buddhist heritage.
Talking about opportunities in the tourism sector, Modi said out of the total inflow of foreign tourists to India, only 6 per cent is from SCO countries and it can be doubled.
In his address, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced offering a 30 billion yuan ($4.7 billion) loan to SCO for joint projects.
The Prime Minister arrived here on Saturday on a two-day visit to attend the SCO summit. It is his second visit to China in little over five weeks after he travelled to Wuhan in April-end for an informal summit with President Xi.
The SCO was founded at a summit in Shanghai in 2001 by the presidents of Russia, China, Kyrgyz Republic, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. India and Pakistan became its members last year.