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SCO meeting agenda not aimed at “targeting” any country: China

Beijing: The SCO summit in Bishkek this week would discuss economy-related issues and security cooperation with a focus on counter terrorism, but it is not aimed at “targeting” any country, China said on Monday as Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Imran Khan are attending the meeting amidst frosty Indo-Pak relations.

The 19th summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) will be held in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek on June 13-14. Prime Minister Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping would also attend the summit. Pakistan Prime Minister Khan will also take part in the meeting.

The SCO is a China-led eight-member economic and security bloc.  Its founding members include China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. India and Pakistan were admitted to the Beijing-based regional security grouping in 2017.

This week’s SCO summit will be the first major international event being attended by Modi after his re-election. He would meet President Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the summit.

India has said that no bilateral meeting has been planned between Prime Minister  Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Khan on the sidelines of the SCO Summit.

Tensions between India and Pakistan worsened after the Pulwama terror attack and both the countries were almost on the brink of a war after India’s military planes struck a terrorist training camp in Pakistan’s Balakot on February 26 and Pakistan carried out a counter-offensive the next day.

India has not been engaging with Pakistan following the attack on the Air Force base at Pathankot in January of 2016, maintaining that talks and terror cannot go together.

Briefing journalists here on the SCO summit, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Hanhui said the meeting would review the past year’s work of the grouping and draw up a plan for cooperation this year.

“The institutional building of the SCO would be discussed involving economic and security cooperation, particularly on counter terrorism. Security and development are two major issues focus of the SCO,” he said.

“The establishment of the SCO is not to target any country but summit of this level would certainly pay attention to major international and regional issues,” he said in response to a question whether the thrust of the summit would be to oppose the US’ trade frictions with China and other countries. 

China routinely asserts that the SCO in which it plays a dominant part is not aimed at forming a military alliance.

Since the admission of India and Pakistan into the SCO, Chinese officials have been expressing hope that both the countries would make use of the organisation to improve relations and not to make it a platform to highlight their differences.

Zhang also said this year’s summit could also discuss issues like multilateralism and protectionism in the context of US trade tensions China besides several other countries including India.

“As for the ongoing unilateral protectionism and bullying practices in the world, they are close to the hearts of all countries,” he said.

“We have not set an agenda beforehand but some participating countries will be interested in these topics. Some leaders will express their views on these matters. It is only natural to see that is happening,” he said.

 He also said the China-US trade war and the “spectre” of emerging trade frictions between the US and India could become important part of the discussions between the two leaders.

“Whether they will talk about trade fictions between China and the US and the spectre of trade frictions between the US and India, such things are not surprising. I believe this could become an important topic in his bilateral meetings with the related leaders,” he said.

China and the US have been in an escalating conflict over trade for the past year. The scope of the battle has expanded in recent months as Washington has tightened trade restrictions on Chinese telecom giant Huawei.

Chinese officials hope that India, which is also facing trade frictions with the US specially over termination of its designation as a ‘beneficiary developing country’ under the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP), would join the fight against Trump’s protectionist policies.

“Trade protectionism and unilateralism are very much on the rise. How to respond to the bullying practices of the US, its practice of trade protectionism this is an important question not only to China, but also has direct bearing on the recovery of global economy,” Zhang said.

Zhang also said Xi would also meet Pakistan Prime Minister Khan where the two leaders would focus their talks on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and counter terrorism related issues.

“Our bilateral relations are growing very well. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) framework (in which the CPEC is a part) and in terms of counter terrorism framework we have carried out cooperation with very fruitful outcomes,” Zhang said.

 “Such outcomes are good for two economies and have played positive role in promoting our respective security and regional stability. I am sure meeting between the two leaders will focus on the pressing issues in bilateral relations, regional and international issues,” he said.

In recent years the SCO has made counter terrorism cooperation one of its main focus areas. The organisation in recent years built up Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) which focusses on periodic counter terrorism exercises involving the member countries.

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