Vice president M Venkaiah Naidu will chair the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s (SCO) council of heads of government summit on November 30, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Imran Khan expected not to join the virtual meeting.
The council of heads of government is the second highest body of SCO and is responsible for handling the grouping’s trade and economic agenda and approving its annual budget. This is the first time India is hosting a meeting of the body since it was admitted to the eight-member grouping in 2017.
Modi, Khan and Chinese President Xi Jinping had joined the virtual SCO Summit that was chaired by Russia earlier this month.
People familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity that India has usually been represented at meetings of the council of heads of government at the level of the external affairs minister, while defence minister Rajnath Singh had attended last year’s meeting in Uzbekistan.
“Since India is hosting the meeting this year, the vice president will chair it,” said one of the people cited above.
In January, the external affairs ministry had said that the council of heads of government meeting is “held annually at the prime ministerial level” and that India would invite all eight members of SCO and four observer states and other international dialogue partners to the meet in November.
According to media reports, Modi is set to visit his constituency of Varanasi on November 30 to launch the Varanasi-Prayagraj highway project and participate in Deepotsav celebrations at the Ganges ghats.
The people cited above also said Pakistan is expected to be represented by a minister as Khan would skip the meeting. Though Khan has joined virtual multilateral meetings hosted by other countries, he skipped the online meeting of leaders of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation hosted by India in March to discuss ways to counter the Covid-19 pandemic.
Pakistan’s representative at that meeting had created a flutter by raising the Kashmir issue.
One of the people cited above said India considers SCO an important regional organisation to promote cooperation in security, trade and economy based on universally recognised international norms, good governance, rule of law, transparency and equality.
“India is committed to widening our cooperation with SCO by playing a proactive, positive and constructive role in the organisation,” the person said.
The other seven members of SCO are China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan and the four observer states are Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran and Mongolia. Turkmenistan, the SCO secretary general and the executive director of SCO’s Regional Anti-terrorist Structure have also been invited for the November 30 meeting. The annual meeting ends with a joint communiqué with major proposals on trade and economic cooperation.