India Announces an SCO Summit in ‘Virtual’ Mode

Virtual summits became a necessity due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But, most diplomatic events have become overwhelmingly in-person for the last year. 

New Delhi: The Indian Ministry of External Affairs on Tuesday, May 30, announced that under India’s first-ever chairmanship, the meeting of the heads of state of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) will be held virtually on July 4.

The press note added that all the SCO member states – China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – had been invited to attend the Summit. Besides, Iran, Belarus and Mongolia have been invited as Observers.

“As per SCO tradition, Turkmenistan has also been invited as the guest of the Chair. Heads of the two SCO Bodies – the Secretariat and the SCO RATS – will also be present. Further, Heads of six international and regional organisations have also been invited, viz. UN, ASEAN, CIS, CSTO, EAEU and CICA,” said the MEA press release.

Virtual summits became a necessity due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But, most diplomatic events have become overwhelmingly in-person for the last year. In fact, it was on the sidelines of the SCO summit in Samarkand last year that Indian Prime Minister Modi told Russian President Vladimir Putin that “this is not an era of war”, which has become New Delhi’s constant refrain to beat back allegations that it is soft on Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

Diplomatic sources confirmed that India had first proposed a date in the last week of June for the SCO summit. While that date had nearly been confirmed, India scrapped it and proposed a fresh date in early July.

It is not clear why a new date was proposed. But the announced dates of the Indian prime minister’s visit to the United States were just before the previously scheduled June 25 meeting of SCO heads of state.

After a lot of negotiations, the new date had also been nearly confirmed. The Russian embassy in India had even tweeted the July dates of the SCO summit in the run-up to the foreign ministers meeting in April. It was understood that Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi was also going to visit India as Iran was going to become a full member of SCO.

However, sources indicated that the enthusiasm for hosting the summit sagged in New Delhi, with hardly any preparation having taken place in the last couple of weeks.

The SCO foreign ministers’ meeting in Goa was largely overshadowed by the verbal volleys between the Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers S. Jaishankar and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. It was the first visit by a Pakistan foreign minister to India since 2012. 

While Pakistan had not confirmed that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif would have travelled to India, there was a high likelihood that he would have participated, despite bilateral tensions.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Putin have also been invited to the G20 leaders’ summit in September.