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Source: Reuters

Jul 4, 2023

SCO says not against any country as it expands reach, welcomes Iran

NEW DELHI, July 4 (Reuters) - Leaders of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) on Tuesday sought to forge closer ties and boost cooperation within the expanding Eurasian bloc but stressed the group is not directed against any other states.

A joint declaration by the leaders at the end of an online summit hosted by India also said SCO members oppose bloc, ideological and confrontational approaches to address problems and security challenges.

The leaders were critical of what they said was the negative impact of "unilateral and unlimited expansion of global missile defence systems by certain countries or groups of countries", without directly referring to NATO's expansion and Western military assistance to Ukraine.

Expressing concern about the situation in Afghanistan, the leaders said they consider "it essential to establish an inclusive government in Afghanistan with the participation of representatives of all ethnic, religious and political groups in Afghan society”.

All members bar India also supported China's vast Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) scheme which envisions rebuilding the old Silk Road to connect China with Asia, Europe and beyond with large infrastructure spending.

A Eurasian security and political group formed in 2001 by Beijing and Moscow, SCO includes India, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

Iran joined the grouping on Tuesday, becoming its ninth member with President Ebrahim Raisi taking part in the proceedings.

Belarus signed a memorandum of obligations which will lead to its membership in 2024, adding heft to the bloc as it seeks to expand its reach and counter Western influence in the region - a sentiment that was more pronounced in the individual remarks of China and Russia.


The virtual summit saw Russia's President Vladimir Putin making his first appearance at an international forum since a short-lived mutiny last month and reassuring SCO leaders of Russia's stability and unity.

Putin warned that the potential for conflicts and the risk of a global economic crisis were on the rise. He also said Moscow planned to boost ties with the SCO.

He told the summit that Russia would stand up against Western pressure, sanctions and "provocations" imposed over what Moscow calls its "special military operation" in Ukraine.

Russia views countries such as China, India and Iran as key partners in confronting the United States and resisting what it portrays as U.S. attempts to dictate the world order.

The summit took place barely two weeks after Modi was hosted by U.S. President Joe Biden during a state visit, and their two countries called themselves "among the closest partners in the world".


In his online address, China's President Xi Jinping called for strengthening exchanges, ensuring common security and enhancing solidarity and mutual trust.

"We should keep in mind the overall and long-term interests of our region, and make our foreign policies independently. We must be highly vigilant against external attempts to foment a new Cold War or camp-based confrontation in our region," Xi said.

Both Xi and Putin pushed for switching to a system under which foreign trade could be settled in local currencies, a move that helps get around the use of the U.S. dollar, especially in the aftermath of sanctions following Russia's war in Ukraine.

India, which holds the presidency of SCO and the G20 this year, has walked a diplomatic tightrope as relations between Western nations and a Russia-China partnership have been fraught due to Moscow's invasion of Ukraine last year, and Beijing's growing assertive presence in global geopolitics.

India's own ties with China have nosedived since a military clash on their disputed Himalayan border in 2020.

Speaking earlier as he opened the summit, Modi urged SCO members to jointly fight terrorism and tackle global challenges such as food, fuel and fertiliser shortages.

Modi spoke to Putin in a call last week in the aftermath of the mercenary mutiny. During the discussion, Modi reiterated a call for dialogue and diplomacy regarding the war in Ukraine.

Last year on the sidelines of the SCO summit in Uzbekistan, Modi told Putin that it was not the era of war, which is the closest India has come to addressing the issue directly with the Russian leader.

Both Putin and Xi are expected to visit New Delhi in September as India hosts the G20 summit, and Biden and leaders of other member nations are also likely to be present.

India has refused to blame Russia for the war and increased bilateral trade largely by lifting purchases of Russian oil to a record high, which has irked the West.

Reporting by Krishn Kaushik and YP Rajesh in New Delhi; Editing by William Maclean and Emelia Sithole-Matarise

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