As fissures grow in West, China’s SCO tries to heal India-Pakistan divide

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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (left) talks with Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain after a signing ceremony during the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit in Qingdao. Photo: AFP/Wang Zhao

Implications of tensions between Pakistan and India stretch beyond South Asia. Long-standing animosity, stemming from, among other things, the dispute over Kashmir, has complicated China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

But there are signs of progress in easing the tensions. Both countries joined the China-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) a year ago, marking the first membership expansion of the bloc since 2001.

This past weekend’s SCO summit, held in the eastern Chinese city of Qingdao, was the first of its kind since the organization’s expansion. Some hailed the development as an opportunity to make a breakthrough in India-Pakistan ties, including China’s top diplomat.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi noted in an interview with Chinese state media that both countries committed to improving their ties in joining the SCO.

“We know there are existing and historical, unresolved issues and conflicts between Pakistan and India. But I think after their joining of the SCO, maybe we can say that their relationship might be better as the grouping provides a better platform and opportunities for building the relations between them,” Wang said, as quoted by the Economic Times.

“Because when joining the SCO, a series of agreements had to be signed and pledges had to be made. One of the key pillars is to keep good and friendly relations and they should not see each other as opponents, much less enemies,” Wang added.

“Because they have signed these agreements, they shoulder a responsibility for implementing them.”

China’s Global Times said that India’s participation was also a sign of the country’s desire to build closer ties to Beijing.

“India’s inclusion in the SCO is conducive to increasing the strategic trust between China and India. Since India became an observer to the organization at its fifth summit in 2005, it has been trying to become a member.”

The state-run news outlet also suggested India’s involvement could help further regional connectivity.

“India’s SCO membership can also help promote connectivity between Central Asia and South Asia. Russia and Central Asia are important oil and natural-gas producers. As a country which imports about 70% of its oil and gas, India urgently needs a path to reach Central Asia.”

Pakistani media noted the symbolic importance of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s handshake with Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain.

Whatever the substance underlying the appearance of closer ties in South Asia, the optics stand in stark contrast to the disunity presented in Canada at the Group of Seven gathering. While friction grows among Western powers, it appears to be diminishing among Eastern ones.

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