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India refuses to back China’s Belt and Road Initiative

India was the only country on Sunday not to endorse a high-profile Chinese project in Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (PoK) at the end of the 18th Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in Qingdao even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi stressed that New Delhi’s priority was connectivity with the neighbourhood and between the SCO countries.

All remaining seven members of the SCO bloc supported the project which is part of President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – an ambitious multi-billion inter-continental connectivity mission. The 17-page joint Qingdao declaration said all other seven member countries had endorsed the project and agreed to work towards implementing it.

India was not expected to endorse the BRI in the Qingdao declaration which was released soon after Prime Minister Narendra Modi speech at the plenary session.

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is one of the flagship projects of the BRI that goes through PoK. India has stayed away from the BRI — the only SCO country to be opposed to it — saying the CPEC violates its territorial integrity.

Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale had said on Saturday that India’s position on the BRI “is spelt out”, that India “supports all connectivity initiatives but they should be keeping in mind territorial sovereignty, integrity” as well as viability and sustainability in all areas.

Reiterating the position on Sunday, Ruchi Ghanashyam, secretary (West), said: “I don’t think that India’s position (on the BRI) is not known to others. So, I really don’t see India’s position coming as a surprise to anybody because it is not the first time that India has articulated it. The prime minister has articulated earlier. It is a well-known position.”

Earlier on Sunday, Prime Minister Modi said India supports connectivity projects that are inclusive, transparent and respect territorial sovereignty.

Speaking at the plenary session of the summit, Modi said India’s priority was connectivity with the neighbourhood and between the SCO countries in the region.

“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,” he said, and emphasised the need for inclusiveness and transparency in connectivity projects to be successful.

On the issue of terrorism, the Qingdao declaration said that all member states strongly condemn terrorism in all forms and manifestations.

One of the documents released, Ghanashyam said was “A joint appeal by the SCO heads of member states for the prevention of radicalisation of youth, programme of cooperation in combating terrorism, separatism and extremism for the years 2019-21”.

The declaration said that member States “…strongly condemn terrorism in all forms and manifestations”.

In his speech, Modi also spoke about terrorism in the region and mentioned how it had affected Afghanistan, an observer country in the SCO.

“Afghanistan is an unfortunate example of the effect of terrorism,” he said and hoped that the steps towards peace taken by its President Ashraf Ghani will be respected by all in the region.

Modi said India will play its part as part of the SCO-Afghanistan contact group to restore peace in the country.

Promising full cooperation for the summit a year after India joined the bloc, the Prime Minister said, “We should together set a goal for the 25th SCO Summit. We should work together as a committee. India is committed to extend full cooperation to a successful outcome of the summit.”

It is for the first time an Indian prime minister is attending the SCO summit after India along with Pakistan became a full-fledged member of the grouping, jointly dominated by China and Russia.

Commenting on tourism in the SCO region, Modi said that India will organise a SCO food festival and a Buddhist festival to boost tourism from SCO countries.

“Only 6 per cent of foreign tourists in India are from SCO countries; this can easily be doubled. Increasing awareness of our shared cultures can help boost this number. We will organise a SCO food festival and a Buddhist festival in India,” he said.

Besides Modi, other leaders attending the summit include Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Pakistan President Mamnoon Hussain.

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 in 2017.

The eight member countries of the SCO represent around 42 per cent of the world’s population and 20 per cent of the global GDP.

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