India to talk with China, Russia before Central Asia meeting

AP , Thursday 4 May 2023

India's foreign minister is expected to hold bilateral talks Thursday with counterparts from China and Russia ahead of a Central Asian security forum meeting.

Security personnel check the main venue of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) council of foreign ministers meeting, in Goa, India, Thursday, May 4, 2023. AP


Foreign ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization began arriving in host India's tourist hotspot Goa, where they are expected to discuss deepening economic and security cooperation in the region on Friday.

The planned meeting between India's Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and China's Qin Gang comes as the two countries remain embroiled in a three-year-long intense standoff involving thousands of soldiers stationed along their disputed border in the eastern Ladakh region.

During a meeting last week between their defense ministers, India accused its neighbor of eroding ties by violating bilateral agreements, and China said the border conditions were “stable overall.”

A clash three years ago in Ladakh killed 20 Indian soldiers and four Chinese.

The differing tone of the statements reflects India’s desire to draw attention to what it says is the deployment of a large number of Chinese troops, their aggressive behavior, and attempts to unilaterally alter the border status quo between the countries.

China, for its part, has tried to downplay moves to consolidate its border presence and often portrays the frictions as part of deliberate attempts by the United States to sow discord between the two nuclear-armed Asian giants.

Analysts say India is also likely to be concerned over Russia's growing reliance on China as its invasion of Ukraine drags on.

New Delhi's relationship with Moscow, its Cold War ally, has remained strong. But Beijing gaining more sway over Moscow could prove frustrating for India in the long run. While Jaishankar is unlikely to raise this in the SCO meeting, he could bring it up with Russia's Sergey Lavrov on the sidelines.

India will also be hosting Pakistan Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who is set to arrive later Thursday, in what will be the first visit from a high-ranking official from India’s archrival in nearly a decade.

Zardari’s attendance triggered speculations of a thaw in strained relations between the two South Asian countries, though both leaders have dismissed reports of a bilateral chat.

“During my visit, which is focused exclusively on the SCO, I look forward to constructive discussions with my counterparts from friendly countries,” Zardari tweeted before he set off for India.

The two countries have a history of bitter relations, mainly over Kashmir, a disputed Himalayan region that was split between them but claimed by both in its entirety. India and Pakistan have fought two wars over Kashmir since gaining independence from British colonial rule in 1947.

Jaishankar held talks with the SCO's Secretary General, Zhang Ming, earlier on Thursday and is also expected to speak with Uzbekistan's foreign minister.

Russia and China founded the SCO in 2001 as a counterweight to U.S. alliances across East Asia to the Indian Ocean. The group includes the four Central Asian nations of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, which Russia considers its backyard. In 2017, India and Pakistan became new members and Iran is set to join later this year.

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