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Transcript of Special Media Briefing by Secretary (West) following the 19th SCO Council of Heads of Government Meeting on 30 November 2020

December 01, 2020

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Namaskar and good evening. Welcome to this special briefing. We have just concluded the 19th meeting of the SCO Council of Heads of Government, which was chaired by Honorable Vice President. I have with me, Mr. Vikas Swarup, Secretary (West), in the Ministry to brief us on this meeting. He is joined by Ms Yojna Patel, Joint Secretary (SCO) in the Ministry. Over to you Sir for your opening remarks following which we will take questions.

Shri Vikas Swarup, Secretary (West): Thank you Anurag. Dear colleagues,

I am happy to inform you that we have today successfully concluded the 19th Meeting of the SCO Council of Heads of Governments that was Chaired by Hon’ble Vice President Shri Venkaiah Naidu from 2:30 pm onwards in the virtual format. The meeting ended with the adoption of the Joint Communique.

This Summit is held annually at the level of Prime Ministers of SCO and deals primarily with the trade and economic agenda of the organization. This is the first time that a Summit-level Meeting was held under India’s Chairmanship, since it gained full-membership of the organization in 2017. India assumed the Chairmanship of the SCO Council of Heads of Government on 2 November 2019 as per rotation from the previous Chair – Uzbekistan and completed its year-long tenure on 30 November 2020 with the Summit-level meeting held today.

The SCO is a regional grouping of eight Member States- India, Russia, China, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The SCO also has four Observer States – Iran, Afghanistan, Belarus and Mongolia.

The SCO Member States of Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan attended today’s meeting at the level of Prime Ministers. Pakistan was represented by their Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs.

Apart from the SCO Member States, the four Observer States of SCO also participated at a high-level - including the President of Afghanistan, the First Vice President of Iran, the Prime Minister of Belarus and the Deputy Prime Minister of Mongolia. Turkmenistan was invited as a Special Guest of the Host as per past practice and was represented by the Deputy Chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers.

The two bodies of SCO were represented by the SCO Secretary General and the Executive Director of the SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS). The Chairman of the SCO Business Council and the Chairman of the SCO Interbank Association were also present.

During the course of our Chairmanship of the SCO Council of Heads of Government in 2020, India has particularly focused on creating three new pillars of cooperation: Startups and Innovation, Science and Technology and Traditional Medicine and also proposed many other concrete initiatives. India has offered to create and Chair a new Special Working Group on Startups and Innovation and to set up a new Expert Working Group on Cooperation in Traditional Medicine. India has also organized in the virtual format, the first-ever SCO Young Scientists Conclave (24-28 Nov) in which more than 200 young scientists participated, the first-ever Consortium of SCO Economic Think Tanks (20-21 Aug) and the first-ever SCO Startup Forum (27 Oct). In the B2B format, FICCI has convened the first SCO Business Conclave (23 Nov) with special emphasis on Cooperation in MSMEs through the national chapters of the SCO Business Council. All Member States have commended India’s initiatives and participated in the activities and are therefore, reflected in the Joint Communique that has been issued today.

On the cultural-humanitarian side, India has implemented Hon’ble PM’s announcements made at the Bishkek Summit at the SCO Heads of State in 2019 that were aimed to bring into sharper focus our millennia-old shared civilizational heritage. They include: hosting the first-ever SCO Digital Exhibition on Shared Buddhist Heritage by the National Museum, that has been inaugurated today and the translation of 10 classics of Indian regional literature into Russian and Chinese languages. India has also proposed to host the SCO Food Festival in 2021. The underlying thought in these proposals was to move towards creating a shared cultural identity of the SCO region and has found full support from SCO Member States.

​India considers the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) as an important regional organization to promote cooperation in the areas of peace, security, trade, economy and culture. We are committed to deepening our cooperation with SCO by playing a proactive, positive and constructive role in the organization. ​

With the successful conclusion of its Chairmanship of the SCO Council of Heads of Government, India hopes to further strengthen greater trade, economic and cultural cooperation within SCO by putting human beings at the center of SCO activities and to foster greater peace and prosperity in the region. We hope that India’s initiatives will not only be helpful for SCO Member States in overcoming the economic challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, but will also signal our continued commitment to strengthening the organization.

We also congratulate and express our full support to Kazakhstan as the next incoming chair of the SCO Council of Heads of Government in 2021.

With this I conclude my remarks. Thank you for your attention and now I will be more than happy to take any questions that you may have.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Thank you Sir for those opening remarks. Moving on to the questions. The first question is from Manish Jha of Business World - "India is chairing the SCO this year, what are the economic outcomes? What is the startup initiative and how will it unfold within the group? Will Pakistan be an exception to such initiatives or it involves all the members and observers?"

Shri Vikas Swarup, Secretary (West): Thank you Manish. I think it's a very important question because we also believe that SCO has a lot to contribute on the economic side by bringing the eight countries together, you know in a shared endeavor to solidify bilateral and multilateral trade and economic contacts and initiatives in a whole host of areas. As you all know and as already mentioned in my opening statement, we have strengthened three pillars of the SCO, startups and innovation, science and technology and traditional medicine. During our chairmanship of the SCO Council of Heads of Government this year, we have proposed to create a special working group on startups and innovation. As you are aware, we have the second largest startup ecosystem in the world, and we have created a robust and dynamic environment for startups and innovators to thrive. The creation of the special working group on startups and innovation will lay the foundation for multilateral cooperation and engagement among SCO member states to develop and hone their own startup ecosystems through knowledge-sharing workshops, training young entrepreneurs, enabling access to investors, and exchanging best practices. This will now be developed as per SCO's established practice. We would also like to congratulate all the SCO member states for successfully participating in the first ever Startup Forum hosted by India on the 27th of October in virtual format which witnessed participation by more than 2500 delegates and there were 49 speakers and 102 startups from SCO countries. India has now offered to annually host the special working group on startups and innovation and also the SCO Startup Forum. Our second proposal is to create an expert group on traditional medicine under the SCO Health Ministers meeting. We have witnessed the limitations of modern medical system which is under tremendous pressure due to the unprecedented global spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. In such a scenario, traditional medicine systems have played an important supporting role in providing effective and low cost alternative to save the lives of millions in the region. The creation of an expert working group in traditional medicine will effectively help to synergize our efforts in creating a holistic approach to health care in the Eurasian region. India's Ministry of AYUSH is ready to annually host the expert working group on traditional medicine in India under the mechanism of SCO Health Ministers meeting, which is held on an annual basis. We look forward to cooperation with all SCO member states in this field. I also like to congratulate SCO member states for participating in the first-ever consortium of a SCO economic think-tanks hosted by India in August this year, the Delhi Action Plan developed by the consortium provides an excellent road map for future economic cooperation. We believe that we should nurture and encourage our young scientists to come up with imaginative solutions to the problems of livelihood and sustainable growth and therefore it was wonderful to see the first-ever SCO Young Scientist Conclave, which was hosted by India from the 24th to the 28th of November, witnessing such an enthusiastic participation, with the participation by more than 200 young scientists. In order to continue our collaboration in this field the Indian side would like to host this forum on a biannual basis. We have also formally joined the SCO Youth Council with the National Service Scheme as its national chapter. So if you see, we have always laid a lot of emphasis on our partnership with SCO in the economic field, as you know, the SCO has adopted a Multilateral Trade and Economic Strategy called MTEC in 2019, and we have now developed the action plan to implement that. And if you look at that, you will see initiatives in a whole host of areas such as agriculture and agro-processing, energy, free movement of goods and services, health, pharma, MSMEs, education, alternative energy and traditional medicine. So this tells you very clearly our commitment to boosting this particular pillar of intra-SCO cooperation. As far as whether Pakistan is going to join these initiatives, well that is entirely up to Pakistan, but the SCO charter does provide a provision that one country cannot hold up cooperation in all these areas and it allows other member countries which are interested to take particular cooperation sector forward with the exclusion of the one country, which is opposing it.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Sir, I will move on to a question on supply chains. This is from Pankaj Pandey of Hindustan – "SCO mein kya koi vaikalpik supply chain ko le kar baat hui. Covid ke doran lagatar Bharat nai supply chain ki pairavee karta raha hai, kya madhya Asia ke desh Bharat ke is vichar ke saath hain aur Cheen ise le kar asahaj to nahin hai?” Questioned in Hindi; Approximate translation) "Whether any discussions took place in the SCO with regards to any alternative supply chain. During Covid, India has been constantly advocating the supply chain issue. Are the countries of Central Asia supporting this idea of India and whether China is not uncomfortable with this?”

Shri Vikas Swarup, Secretary (West): Dekhiye Pankaj ji, jaise ki aaj maine abhi aapko bataya ki aaj jo hamari SCO Council of Heads of Government ki meeting hui thi usme kai muddo par bahut achi aur rachnatmak charcha hui, COVID-19 mahamari par charcha hui, aarthik sahyog par charcha hui, connectivity par charcha hui, energy par charcha hui, lekin vaikalpik supply chain par koi charcha nahin hui. To iske liye main iske alawa aur aapko isme aur kuch nahin bata sakta hun. (Answered in Hindi; Approximate translation) See Pankajji, as I just told you today, that the meeting of the SCO Council of Heads of Government was held today and there were very good and constructive discussions on many issues. We discussed Covid-19 pandemic, we discussed on economic cooperation, we discussed on connectivity, we discussed on energy but there was no discussion on alternative supply chain, so for this I cannot tell you anything else besides this.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: The next question is from Ranjit Kumar of Rakshak News - "since 3 of the prominent members of SCO, India, Pakistan and China are having strained relations, do you think SCO can function efficiently and serve its purpose?" I'll take another related question from Madhurendra from News Nation – "Bharat-Cheen aur Bharat-Pak ke beech jari tanaav ka asar kya SCO par dikhai deta hai?” Questioned in Hindi; Approximate translation) "Is the effect of the ongoing tension between India- China and India -Pakistan visible on SCO?”.

Shri Vikas Swarup, Secretary (West): Look, SCO was created primarily as a regional organization to promote peace and security, to tackle the challenges of terrorism, extremism and separatism and to promote trade and cooperation and of course cultural partnerships among the SCO member countries. So if SCO member countries have the will, I'm sure we can all find common ground and that is why the SCO charter, Article 2 of the SCO charter specifically prohibits bilateral issues from being raised in SCO forums, because we all have seen from our previous experience that raising of bilateral issues only serves to vitiate the atmosphere and holds up concrete cooperation in a whole host of areas. We, as far as we are concerned we have scrupulously adhered to this provision in the SCO charter, we do not raise bilateral issues in SCO forums, and we expect other countries to also do the same. If countries come with this mindset, I am very sure we can all find common ground to increase our mutual cooperation.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: So the next question is also from Madhurendra - "SCO mein pradhanmantri Imran Khan ki gair hazari ke kya mayne hain?" (Questioned in Hindi; Approximate translation)What does the absence of Prime Minister Imran Khan in SCO meeting convey?”

Shri Vikas Swarup, Secretary (West):
Dekhiye Madhurendra ji, iska uttar to Pakistan hi de sakta hai kyunki har desh ko swayam nirdharit karna hota hai ki woh SCO ki jo meetings hain usme kis star par bhag lega. Jahan tak hamara prashan hai, hum chair kar rahe the aaj ki Summit ko, aur humne apne level ko upgrade kia hai, pradhan mantri se hum uprashtrapati ke level pe gaye hain aur Pakistan ne kis level pe participate kia hai yeh Pakistan hi janta hai aur uska karna kya hai, Pakistan ki pratibadhta SCO ke prati kitni hai, yeh aap Pakistan se hi pooche. Answered in Hindi; Approximate translation): Look, Madhurendra Ji, only Pakistan can answer this, because each country individually decides that at what level they will participate in the SCO meeting. As far as we are concerned, we chaired the Summit and we have upgraded our level from Prime Minister to Vice President and at what level Pakistan has participated, Pakistan knows it better and the reason behind this. Better you ask Pakistan only about their commitment to SCO?

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: There's a question from Sandeep Dikshit from The Tribune - "is there a common SCO stand on the six country proposal including by two SCO countries India and Pakistan for a relaxation in IPR laws, to reduce barriers for vaccine and other pandemic related work." I'll take another question, related one from Sidhant who wants to know - "on Covid vaccine collaboration, are there any plans?"

Shri Vikas Swarup, Secretary (West): Today, the COVID-19 pandemic featured in virtually all the interventions made by member states. Because this is a pandemic which has not respected any national boundaries, it is a global phenomenon and it is impacting every country. So there was a good discussion on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, how best countries can collaborate and work together in reducing the economic impact of the pandemic. As far as vaccine development is concerned, I think, you know very well in the public domain which are the countries within SCO which have active vaccine development programs, including India, of course. You must have seen the Prime Minister's recent visit to three of the major vaccine producers in the country and Prime Minister has repeatedly said that we want our vaccines to be used for the global good, poori humanity ki madad karne ke liye hum apni vaccines ka prayog karenge. (Answered in Hindi; Approximate translation) "We will help the entire humanity with our vaccines”. I think I would leave it at that. As far as the larger element is concerned of cooperation on vaccines, etc, we are all members of the World Health Organization and we believe that is the appropriate forum in which to take this cooperation forward.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: There's a question from Sidhant from WION - "any major steps being taken by India on the shared Buddhist Heritage?"

Shri Vikas Swarup, Secretary (West): Yes, as I have already explained we have given a lot of importance to developing a shared cultural identity among SCO member states and for this reason, Honorable Prime Minister at the Bishkek Summit in 2019 had given the proposal that we should basically collaborate together in showcasing the shared Buddhist Heritage, which is common to each and every SCO member state. And in implementation of Honorable Prime Minister's vision, today, our National Museum has launched a digital exhibition showcasing Buddhist artifacts from all the SCO member states, which have participated in this. The plan originally was to do this as a physical exhibition, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we had to convert it into a virtual exhibition, but I would urge all of you to kindly have a look. It will tell you how deeply the SCO member countries are linked together through the shared Buddhist Heritage.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: So the next question is "How SCO can be a launch pad for India to increase engagement with Central Asia in terms of connectivity and people-to-people engagement?" This is from Sidhant.

Shri Vikas Swarup, Secretary (West): Well again, we have already outlined the various initiatives that India has taken in the areas of trade, commerce, in the area of cultural and humanitarian cooperation, to develop and increase our shared understanding of each other's culture and heritage. Among these I think the proposal which has been implemented now to translate 10 books, 10 very prominent books of regional Indian literature into Chinese and Russian will certainly help acquaint people in the SCO region with the rich literary heritage of India. We have also proposed, we have joined the SCO Youth Council, and that I think will help bring our youth closer to each other and the third very important proposal was to have an SCO Food Festival. We wanted to host this physically in India in 2020, but because of the pandemic we have postponed it now to 2021 and we do hope that when it is actually held we can do it in a physical format. So I think all these proposals will definitely help promote connectivity and people-to-people engagement between India and the other SCO member countries.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: "Any plans to make English or Hindi official languages at SCO?" This is again from Sidhant.

Shri Vikas Swarup, Secretary (West): As you all know, we joined the SCO as a full-fledged member in 2017. We were an observer since 2005 and in 2017 we became a full-fledged member. Currently SCO has only two official languages which are Chinese and Russian and that is why all the officials that we have dealing with the SCO are all fluent Russian speakers, as is Yojna. You know, Russian is her foreign language. But, we have made a proposal since 2017 that we must have English as a third working language in SCO, this proposal is presently under consideration.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Sir, there are no further questions. So thank you Sir for joining us. Thank you Yojna and this concludes the special briefing.

Shri Vikas Swarup, Secretary (West): Thank you very much.

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