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Address by Secretary (West) during Industry interaction with Mr. Vladimir Norov, Secretary General, Shanghai Cooperation Organisation at FICCI (January 13, 2020)

January 16, 2020

Your Excellency, Secretary General Vladimir Norov, Your Excellency the Ambassadors of Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan
Ms. Sangita Reddy, President, FICCI
Mr Shiv Vikram Khemka, Chair of the Indian Chapter of the SCO Business Council, Mr. Dilip Chenoy, Secretary General, FICCI
Ms. Yojna Patel, Joint Secretary, SCO in the MEA

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen!

On behalf of the Government of India I would like to welcome Mr Norov and his delegation. This interaction with FICCI is part of our policy of enhanced engagement with the SCO and to broaden the partnership to bring in a very important stakeholder, the Indian industry.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) has emerged as a key regional organisation in the Eurasian space in the past two decades of its existence. Accounting for over 60 per cent of Eurasia’s territory and more than 40 per cent of the world’s population, the Member States of SCO account for almost a quarter of the world’s GDP. The induction of new states, both as permanent and observer members, has expanded the frontiers of the organisation. The renewed momentum at building regional synergies is reflected in addressing common security challenges and building long-term economic and energy linkages. While still a work in progress, there appears to be a strong desire among SCO stakeholders to strengthen the bonds of regional cooperation. This is, arguably, best reflected in co-opting Afghanistan as an Observer State with a view to transform a potential arc of Eurasian instability into an oasis of regional stability and cooperation.

India’s interests, against this backdrop, align with the priorities of SCO. India received the Observer status of the organisation in 2005 and was accorded the full member status in 2017. More than a decade’s engagement with the organisation, highlights India’s willingness to play a more meaningful role in this regional grouping. This synergy also stems from India’s strategy of deepening its Eurasian partnerships and the SCO provides a springboard for reconnecting with this extended neighbourhood, with which we are bound by the silken bonds of centuries of common history. India's cultural heritage is deeply influenced by countries in Eurasia. Indian traders and travelers had actively traded along the caravan routes and Buddhism had flourished across the vast Eurasian steppe. History is full of friendly interactions between India and Central Asia, through movement of people, goods and ideas, including spiritual interfaces that enriched us both.

Acknowledging these umbilical bonds, Prime Minister Modi at the 2015 SCO Ufa Summit highlighted the scope and importance of SCO in India’s Eurasian geo-strategic calculus, "as the political landscape of the region changed at the turn of this century, India restored its historical ties of natural affinity with the Central Asian countries….. Our membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation is a natural extension of these relationships and mirrors the region’s place in India’s future. SCO could be a vehicle for an integrated and connected Eurasia to become one of the most dynamic regions in the world”. India’s growing economic potential and vast experience and expertise in building institutional capabilities, can add greater value to SCO’s ongoing projects and share best practices in newer areas to forge a common vision for the region. India’s priorities in the SCO are therefore, aimed at expanding synergies in connectivity, counter-terrorism, energy and economic arenas.

The foundation of India’s economic outreach to the region is also premised on its 2012 Connect Central Asia Policy with its focus on building long-term partnerships, both bilaterally and collectively. India is more than willing to share its unique experience in banking, finance, Information Technology (IT), education, telecommunication, health and agriculture with SCO Member States to build mutually beneficial development partnerships. India has already implemented several projects involving IT excellence, entrepreneurship development and industrial training centers in Central Asia and can share this expertise with others.

Some of India’s core strengths that can be leveraged to expand India’s engagement with SCO could involve :

(i). Pharmaceutical and Health Care: One of India’s biggest strength is its niche capabilities in the pharma, health care and hospitality sectors. It's pharmaceutical companies have much to offer to the Eurasian region, including affordable medicines. Other areas of collaboration can include tele-medicine and medical tourism. Notably, India has emerged as an attractive destination for medical tourism for regional countries.

(ii). Green Technology and Bio-Fuels: Green technology is an area where India is investing heavily, particularly in solar, bio and wind energy. India is a founding member of the International Solar Alliance with its secretariat based in New Delhi. India can contribute, collaborate and share its experience with the regional countries on adopting clean, renewable energy. These capabilities can gain traction on account of environmental issues being a serious cause of concern for the entire region.

(iii). Education: India has a robust education and training curriculum that can be offered to the SCO member states. Its technology institutes, business schools, and banking and financial institutions can be of relevance for the region. In this context, India’s successful tele-education and telemedicine initiatives in Africa can be a model for the Eurasian region as well. Similarly, our Technical and Economic Cooperation Program (ITEC) with the Central Asian countries can be further expanded.

(iv). Culture: Given India’s historical and civilizational linkages with the Eurasian countries, culture can be a vital area where India can contribute to the SCO processes. Cultural exchange programs, in the mould of SCO Food and Film Festivals and SCO World Heritage Exhibition etc that foster greater people to people contact and exchange of ideas can be expanded. Indian art, music, dance and movies continue to be popular in the region. India’s proposal to host the SCO exhibition on ‘Shared Buddhist Heritage’ in 2020 as proposed by our Prime Minister, is intended to showcase our vibrant and shared cultural heritage.

(v). Infrastructure and Energy: India and SCO members share the similar objective of developing multi-modal transport and transit routes, effectively linking markets of Central Asia to South Asia, South East Asia and Europe, to boost intra and inter-regional trade and investment. The need of the hour, therefore, is to build pan-Asian cooperation but with due respect to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of SCO Member States. India is already working to enhance its connectivity with the region through the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) and would welcome greater participation of SCO. Indian companies have, meanwhile, built considerable expertise in building oil refineries. Indian infrastructure and oil companies can cooperate with Central Asian republics, China, Russia, Iran, Mongolia and other member states to boost ties in the regional framework. The SCO’s deliberations on forming an Energy Club, in order to bring together the regional producers and consumers, hold strategic relevance for an energy deficit India.

(vi). Disaster Management: India has developed robust disaster management practices given the incidence of multiple disasters, both natural and man-made, that impact us frequently. These are being further augmented by niche Indian advancements in space with satellite mapping and weather forecasting that help to prevent and mitigate disasters. India’s skills can be of relevance for SCO members that have to tackle similar critical environmental challenges. It is in this context, that India successfully hosted the last meeting of the SCO Heads of Disaster Management Agencies and joint exercises in New Delhi in November 2019.

Apart from these areas of cooperation, I am sure that many more areas that remain unexplored. I would urge the Indian business community led by FICCI, to identify concrete areas and projects to enrich the agenda for multilateral economic cooperation under the SCO format to create win-win trade partnerships between our countries.

In conclusion, I would like to assure Mr. Norov that his visit comes at a time when we are ready to enhance our role and engagement with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization after becoming a full – fledged member in 2017. There is a distinct optimism in this country on our membership of this vibrant organization and the vast opportunities that it opens up to a resurgent New India.

Thank you !


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