The 18th Meeting of the Council of Heads of Member States of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) attracted immense global attention and in particular was a magnet for both regional and worldwide media because it was the first time that otherwise archrivals Pakistan and India were participating in the meeting together as full member states.
Top leaders from the eight SCO member states met in Qingdao, east China's Shandong Province, on June 9-10. Chinese President Xi Jinping chaired the summit as the current holder of the SCO presidency, which rotates among its member states.
The summit was the first time Pakistan and India sat on a regional cooperation platform after the failure of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, where they were unable to agree on mutual cooperation on combating terror, eradicating disputes through dialogue and attaining peace. However, even before arriving in Qingdao as full SCO member states, both Pakistan and India had already agreed to participate in joint military exercises in Russia later this year as part of an SCO platform. India had also sent an official delegation to an event that took place in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad.
The importance of the SCO could be gauged by the fact that approximately 3,000 accredited journalists from all over the world registered with the SCO Summit Media Center. Thousands of camera clicks could be heard as Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi opted for a warm handshake on center stage. It was followed by an informal chat which showed pleasant body language as Xi smiled in the background.
This was a spectacular display of the Shanghai Spirit which revolves around the Treaty on Long-Term Good Neighborliness, Friendship and Cooperation of the SCO Member States. It was a very strong and positive message about the SCO and its role in global peace now and in the future.
It has to be remembered that Pakistan and India have had highly strained relations for the past three years. There has been constant burning of gun powder at the shared border, with both armies alleging hundreds of violations of ceasefire accords. India suspended all talks and dialogue with Pakistan, accusing it of being behind terror acts in India. Meanwhile, in 2016, Pakistan arrested a senior Indian intelligence officer who admitted to carrying out a variety of terrorist activities in Pakistan in a video confession.
It was against this backdrop that Hussain and Modi traveled to Qingdao for the SCO Summit, where the Shanghai Spirit enabled the leaders to shake hands and break the ice to forge peace and good-neighborly ties. Many observers attributed this success to Xi's personal charisma and the respect he enjoys among global leaders. Xi held an informal meeting with Modi about a month ago in China. It was after this meeting that India agreed to send a delegation to an SCO legal expert conference in Islamabad. Similarly, analysts and observers linked Xi's personal efforts to the agreement reached by Pakistan and India to take part in joint military exercises in Russia, something never before seen.
At the meeting of the SCO leaders on June 10, Xi called on the organization to continue to carry forward its fine traditions, actively cope with challenges within and outside the region, and promote comprehensive cooperation in various areas in order to ensure a steady and sustainable SCO.
Xi also called on member states to remain true to the original aspirations of the SCO and work together for a more closely connected community with a shared future.
Leaders of the SCO member states agreed that the 2018 Summit was of historic significance and that the SCO improved its ability to cooperate in all areas with its two new member states. They also agreed that the organization had increased its responsibilities of maintaining regional security and stability, and promoting prosperity. Under the new circumstances, the leaders also agreed that the SCO should continue upholding the Shanghai Spirit.
Overall the summit conveyed to the world that the SCO is a shared home for regional players and thus all will share in a future that promises to be bright.
The author is editor in chief of Pakistan's The Daily Mail in Islamabad
Copyedited by Rebeca Toledo
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