Indian Council of World Affairs
Sapru House, New Delhi
Shanghai Cooperation Organization Video Conference
(August 11, 2020)
Session I: Role of public diplomacy in strengthening cooperation within the SCO
Remarks by Dr. TCA Ragahavan, Director General, Indian Council of World Affairs
Secretary General Vladimir Norov,
Greetings to you, and all distinguished participants to our first online event. We would like to thank the SCO Secretariat, the Chinese Committee on Neighbourliness, Friendship and Cooperation of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and the Shanghai Academy of Global Governance and International Regional Studies for inviting us to participate in this event to discuss the challenges stemming from the coronavirus and the role of public diplomacy in strengthening cooperation in the SCO space.
2. The outbreak of the coronavirus has exacerbated various negative tendencies that already existed and poses grave issues for each of us. It would be premature to proceed on the assumption that the crisis in entirely behind us. Where and how will it end, we do not know yet. However, what we do know for certain is that in such a critical time it is most necessary that we increase our cooperation in all possible areas. At the last SCO summit in June 2019 hosted by the Kyrgyz Republic our Prime Minister had been very prescient when he said: ‘We should have a vision to strengthen healthy cooperation. The letters HEALTH can be a good template for our collaboration’ Unquote. W.r.t. healthcare cooperation he also said “We should emphasize SCO’s 2019-2021 work plan on Healthcare. India will be happy to share its experience in the field of telemedicine and medical tourism.”
3. Healthcare is a sector, which has often been placed low on agenda in international interactions and the perils are evident. The covid-19 pandemic exposed the reality of healthcare systems in our region and even in the so-called advanced economies, it demonstrated weak response, lack of coordination at national and international levels. It is absolutely vital that the best minds working in the fields of medicine and health come together to deal with the challenge. A resilient health infrastructure in the region should be our priority. Sharing of information and best practices is vital. The WHO is of course discharging its role but additional platforms can also contribute. In the Video Conference of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of SCO Member States in May 2020, External Affairs Minister of India S. Jaishankar reaffirmed ‘India’s strong commitment to the joint fight against Covid-19 pandemic and its readiness to share information, expertise and best practices to the SCO Member States.’
4. In the SCO Health Minister's Digital Meet on 24 July 2020, which was chaired by Mr. Mikhail Murashko, Minister of Health of Russia, our Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare Dr. Harsh Vardhan said India has one of the world’s lowest infection and death rates. The recovery rate stands at 63.45% whereas mortality rate is 2.3%. We understand that sharing of knowledge and experience, including on traditional healing systems, greater cooperation and effective coordination is much more critical in our resolve to deal with the challenge. Indian traditional systems of medicine has also contributed in boosting the immunity of people in COVID-19 outbreak. As proposed by our Minister, a new Sub Group on Traditional Medicine in SCO framework will significantly boost cooperation amongst the SCO family.
5. We believe that cooperation at varied levels will help us in achieving the common objectives identified by our political leaders. Public diplomacy has a significant role to play in increasing our cooperation and coordination. It increases the stake of the people as the ultimate objective of diplomacy is to bring benefits to the common people. We at Indian Council of World Affairs understand its import. Apart from our regular academic exercises, through our outreach activities, which includes public lectures, seminars & conferences in remote areas and non-major cities, essay competition for students and interactive visits, we reach out to a diverse section of population across the length and breadth of the country. Some of our initiatives can be considered pioneering among the foreign policy think tanks in India. We are of the view that tourism and medical visits directly benefit the people, therefore we need to further ease travel within SCO community, once the outbreak is checked. Certainly, it will help increasing people’s awareness which in turn will help us to deepen our cooperation with our partners both at bilateral and multilateral levels.
6. Finally, I would like to make two quick points. Economy and regional connectivity are areas where SCO can play a vital role. Our economic cooperation is yet to match the level of political interactions. A vast potential remains unused due to low intra-SCO trade and absence of an intra-SCO economic framework and connectivity. And secondly, this crisis, as is often the case, opens the door for further cooperation between us all and fraternal links between think tanks is one way to achieve this. Therefore in the midst of a public health crisis if we can reinforce older intellectual connections and forge new ones it will be of immense help to all concerned.
Thank you, I wish this conference a great success.