"Shanghai Cooperation Organization: from Central Asia to Eurasia"
“India's Cultural and Humanitarian Cooperation in SCO”
Dr. Punit Gaur
Indian Council of World Affairs
Thank you so much moderator of the session Mr. Alisher Sabirov,
Excellencies, distinguished participants, ladies and gentlemen good afternoon to all of you
On behalf of the Indian Council of World Affairs, New Delhi, at the outset, let me warmly thank the International Institute of Central Asia, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Uzbekistan and especially, Mr. А. Nasirov - Director, International Institute of Central Asia, for their invitation to the Council to participate in this International Conference on: "Shanghai Cooperation Organization: from Central Asia to Eurasia" to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the SCO Charter here today in Tashkent.
I also sincerely thank the organisers for the warm hospitality and efficient management.
1. The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation was formed in 2001. In two decades, the Organisation has emerged as an authoritative collective voice of regional countries in the Eurasian space. The achievements of SCO are primarily due to the steady roles played by the Organization and various initiatives associated with it, including the cultural and humanitarian cooperation, in the region. Addressing online the 21st Meeting of SCO Council of Heads of State in September 2021, which was held in Tajikistan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said: "One of the main reasons for the success of SCO is that its core focus has been on the priorities of the region."
2. India attaches particular importance to SCO in promoting multilateral, political, security, economic and people-to-people interaction in the region. The Indian Council of World Affairs is privileged to participate in the SCO's academic activities.
3. This conference is being held when various geo-economic and geopolitical challenges have been taking place at regional and international levels. These challenges, such as the pandemic, the Afghanistan situation, and the Russia-Ukraine crisis, have created an unprecedented humanitarian crisis. The global community is trying to cope with the testing times amid multiple transitions. At the same time, challenges also provide an opportunity for SCO member states to strengthen humanitarian cooperation.
4. SCO promotes connectivity in the region in all areas. The gradual expansion of SCO from Central Asia to South Asia and the Middle East proves its spreading influence and positive prospects. The extension of SCO has augmented its capacity to work for collaboration for inter-regional connectivity. SCO member states recognise common security threats like terrorism, extremism, and separatism and define an inclusive mechanism for dealing with them. A strong impetus for inter-regional connectivity can be made by promoting people-to-people contact through cultural and humanitarian cooperation, which would also boost tourism.
5. India has unique relations and key partnerships with the Eurasia region. The historical importance of the Eurasia region as a network of numerous inter-linked trade routes connecting various regions of Asia is well established. Ancient trade routes traversed parts of Europe and Asia's inner spaces for the movement of peoples, cultural practices, religious values, and commodities, known collectively as the Silk Road, the "first engagement in globalisation". India has also been emphasising the social, cultural, and economic interconnections among the region's peoples. Over the period, infrastructural developments and a globalised economy have unlocked many transnational economic networks and cross-cultural exchanges in the region.
6. Increasing people's stake in the SCO is critical, and India has launched various initiatives in the direction of cultural and humanitarian cooperation. During India's Chairmanship of the Council of Heads of Government in 2020, India mainly focused on creating three new pillars of cooperation: Startups and Innovation, Science and Technology, and Traditional Medicine. During its chairmanship, India organised the first-ever SCO Young Scientists Conclave in the virtual format, in which more than 200 young scientists participated. India hosted the first-ever SCO Economic Think Tanks Consortium and the first SCO Startup Forum. India also hosted an SCO seminar on the role of women in the armed forces in October 2021 in virtual format. These initiatives certainly contribute to enhance people to people contact.
7. In an effort to widen the fight against COVID-19, India voluntarily offered to share with SCO countries its open-source technologies of robust digital platforms like the Aarogya-Setu and COWIN applications. India has shared these technologies with other countries. Such policy initiatives are aimed at taking advantage of cooperation with the common people.
8. At the 21st Heads of State Council meeting of SCO in September 2021, Prime Minister Narendra Modi emphasised that the Central Asian region has been a 'bastion' of moderate and progressive cultures and values. Based on the region's historical heritage, SCO should develop a common template to fight radicalisation and extremism.
9. Cultural and people-to-people engagement is one of the pillars of India's relationship with the region. Indian culture, its poets and writers, and films are famous across the region. People of India and Central Asia have a cultural affinity and have similar cultural preferences and understanding, which can help further boost the relationship. Buddhism, Jainism, Islam, Sufism and rich literary heritage are aspects binding India and Central Asian countries in common cultural perceptions. India's technical cooperation programme, telemedicine and healthcare have been directly beneficial for the common people of the region and are very popular among them.
10. In the direction of cultural-humanitarian cooperation, India organised the first-ever SCO virtual 3D Digital Exhibition on Shared Buddhist Heritage. The unique digital exhibition on shared Buddhist heritage developed by National Museum, New Delhi, with active collaboration with SCO member countries, showcased magnificent and rare treasurers. The exhibition also revealed various Buddhist art forms that transcend national boundaries, rendering similar subjects that encourage comparisons among regional aesthetics while distinguishing aspects unique to each area.
11. Another initiative was to translate ten classics of Indian regional literature into Russian and Chinese, the official languages of SCO. This work strengthens the cultural bonds between the people of member countries of the SCO.
12. International Day of Yoga is another important example. The declaration of 21st June as the International Day of Yoga by the UN with a record number of 177 co-sponsoring member states was one of the most compelling demonstrations of India's soft power, which showcased the strength of India's old traditions that had wide acceptance across the world. Consequently, countries worldwide observe Yoga day enthusiastically, including SCO members.
13. India's initiatives have focused on further enhancing the SCO through a proactive, positive and constructive role in the Organisation. People-to-people contacts, energy security, regional security and connectivity are some of India's utmost reasons to engage with the SCO. Through its active participation, India has undertaken initiatives to further strengthen economic and cultural cooperation within SCO to put people at the centre of SCO activities.
14. In the end, we may like to congratulate Uzbekistan for its ongoing Chairmanship of SCO for the year 2021-2022 and convey best wishes for a successful Summit in the historic city of Samarqand in September 2022.
15. And we shall seek support and cooperation from the Uzbek side for India's upcoming SCO Council of Heads of State Chairmanship in 2022-2023.