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Nov 29, 2020

‘Exclusive Interview’ of SCO Secretary General Vladimir Norov with Prasar Bharati ahead of 19th Council of Heads of Govt. hosted by India

Interviewer: Anshuman Mishra, Prasar Bharati Special Correspondent, Beijing

1. What are the most urgent issues and challenges SCO is facing today ahead of its 19th Council of Heads of Govt. hosted by India? What can we expect from the meeting on 30th November?

For the first time under the Chairmanship of India, the meeting of the SCO Council of Heads of government will be held in the video conference format on November 30, 2020.

Unfortunately, today humanity is facing unprecedented challenges in all spheres of life, the severity of which is steadily increasing due to the continued spread of coronavirus infection (COVID-19). Global political and economic turbulence remains high, and the process of economic globalization is hindered by the growth of unilateral and protectionist measures, instability of financial markets, and other risks to international trade.

Accordingly, the SCO is making efforts to build its activities based on new realities.

The Council of Heads of Government is the main body of the SCO responsible for making decisions in the field of trade, economic, cultural and humanitarian cooperation.

The heads of delegations will exchange views on deepening cooperation between the SCO member States in the trade, economic and investment spheres, in the context of overcoming the negative consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, discuss practical implementation of the new Program of Multilateral Trade and Economic Cooperation, and review the activities of the SCO Business Council and Interbank Association.

In the run-up to the meeting of the Council, a number of Ministerial meetings, including a meeting of the Ministers of health, agriculture, culture, foreign economic activity, transport, etc. were held, during which issues of further development of multi-faceted cooperation were discussed.

The Ministerial meetings held on the eve of the meeting of the Council of Heads of State held on November 10, 2020 became platforms for intensive discussions. As a result of our joint work, we have developed an Action Plan for implementing the Program of Multilateral Trade and Economic Cooperation, which will be adopted at the upcoming meeting of the Council of Heads of Government.

The Plan is the main document that outlines our joint actions to overcome the negative consequences of the pandemic and restore the economy. I believe that the action Plan will help boost economic growth in our countries.

The first meeting of the Consortium of economic analytical centers, held in August this year, served as a platform for studying and comprehensive analysis of factors affecting economic interaction within the SCO, taking into account global and regional processes.

During the SCO Business Conclave organized this week, representatives of industry and business discussed issues of promoting business, investment and trade relations in a promising direction. Strong business ties between member States will contribute to the growth of low domestic trade, which currently accounts for only about 5% of world trade.

During the SCO Summit, Prime Minister Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping stressed the importance of traditional medicine.  There is also a proposal by India to create a working group in this area. By the way, in September-October this year, a seminar was organized under the chairmanship of the Indian side, as well as a Forum on traditional medicine organized by the Chinese side.

The SCO Startup forum, which was held in October, and the Conclave of Young Scientists, scheduled for November 25-28 this year, are aimed at encouraging young talents and realizing the huge potential of 800 million young people in the SCO space. The issue of creating a working group on Startups is being considered. The events will help to find solutions to the problems of the new industry, as well as identify common projects that will benefit our youth.

These are in line with the joint message of our leaders to young people made in Qingdao in 2018, which calls for preventive action by member States to protect young people from alien and destructive influences.

I will also note the first ever SCO Digital exhibition dedicated to the common Buddhist heritage, which will open in New Delhi on November 30, 2020, coinciding Heads of Government meeting will boost the people to people linkages in our region.

In conclusion, I would note that the preparations for and outcomes of the upcoming Meeting of the Council of Heads of Government will enable us to address the complex socio-economic challenges the region is facing.

2. COVID-19 has made a profound economic and social impact on the world community. Is there any vaccine cooperation on anvil among SCO Countries specially when vaccines from India, Russia and China are nearing the completion of final phases of clinical trials?

The coronavirus pandemic has crossed national borders, and today it is a global problem affecting all countries, including the SCO member States.

In these difficult circumstances, the SCO has demonstrated its viability as an effective multilateral platform. India, China and Russia are at the forefront of providing medical assistance to the most needy countries in the region, which demonstrates the friendly nature of relations within the Organization and the desire to jointly overcome the emergency situation.

I am pleased to note that several vaccines trials from India, Russia and China have entered the third stage of testing. I hope that these developments will soon be available for large-scale production.

At the recent SCO Summit, the member States, relying on the " Shanghai spirit "and the provisions of the Statement of the SCO member States" on Joint Counteraction to the Threat of Epidemics " of June 10, 2018, expressed their readiness to provide effective mutual support in providing citizens with medical, social and other protection.

This reflects the desire of member States for mutual cooperation and assistance in this very important area.

3. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that "Self-Reliant India" will be a force multiplier for the world economy and will accelerate economic progress in the SCO region. What are the plans of SCO to further improve economic integration with India?

With India's accession to SCO, new opportunities for further development and deepening of full-scale cooperation have opened up.

Today, the SCO region is home to almost half of humanity. The total GDP of the SCO member states is about 22 percent of the world's GDP. This figure is expected to reach 35-40% of world GDP by 2030.

India continues to expand its trade and economic relations with the SCO countries. Since joining the SCO, bilateral trade of India with other SCO member states has increased by 27 percent between 2017 and 2018, compared to the previous period.

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi has put forward a number of important proposals to further deepen cooperation in a number of areas, including development of alternative energy sources, environmental protection, development of innovative technologies and start-ups, capacity building in telemedicine, pharmaceuticals, medical tourism, financial services, tourism, etc.

At a time when the world is suffering from coronavirus pandemic, India plans to seize opportunities presented by the crisis, which will also benefit peoples and countries of the SCO region.

Each country has its own national development strategy. This helps them to strengthen their economic potential and, in turn, enables the countries to contribute to the progressive development of the global economy by aligning their national interests with it.

The SCO is at the center of large-scale economic initiatives that already play a central role in determining the future development path of Eurasia. Undoubtedly, strong economies of the member States will contribute to further strengthening of mutually beneficial trade and economic cooperation within the Organization.

The SCO region has great potential for economic, trade and investment cooperation. Therefore, today we are working to link the national strategic plans of the member States. Given the multilateral nature of cooperation in the implementation of initiatives, the most important element is political coordination, harmonization of national interests on the basis of multilateral discussion in a wide range of areas, which would be aimed at finding mutually acceptable solutions, determined the strategy and specific steps of joint activities.

On my part, I note that the "Self-Reliant India" initiative voiced by Mr. Modi deserves high attention. It aims to strengthen industry, medium and small enterprises, which are the livelihood of millions of people in India.

I am confident that the initiative will have a multiplier effect on the world economy, as well as will contribute to the early recovery of the economies of the SCO member States in the post-Pandemic period and to intensification of multi-faceted trade and economic cooperation within the Organization.

4. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has always advocated cooperation in Alternate Energy. What are your views on this?
India is currently home to 18% of the world's population, and your country consumes about 6% of the world's primary energy. India is the world's 3rd largest producer of electricity. Currently, about 53.4 of India's energy capacity is based on coal. India is still largely dependent on imports to meet its energy demand.

Thanks to the consistent, committed and innovative work of the Government of India under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in recent years, India has made impressive progress in expanding its energy sources, particularly in alternative energy.

The country has carried out a number of reforms in the energy sector, including promotion of renewable energy sources, in particular, solar energy.
In the last few years, India's policies in renewable energy sector has undergone tremendous changes, resulting in accelerated and ambitious plans to increase the contribution of alternative energy to the country's economy.

As one of the world's largest producers of renewable energy, your country, at the initiative of Prime Minister Modi, launched International Solar Alliance, which aims to mobilise technology and finance to reduce the cost of solar energy.

I believe it is important for the Organisation to carefully study its experience, given that most SCO Member States should take full advantage of their geographical location to produce cheap and clean electricity.

The SCO member States attach great importance to the development of cooperation in energy sector. This is enshrined in the SCO Charter, SCO Development Strategy until 2025, Program of Multilateral Trade and Economic Cooperation and the Action Plan for its implementation, and other documents. Here, I would like to note that even before India's entry into the SCO, in accordance with the SCO Development Strategy until 2025, the member States had agreed that they would develop mutually beneficial and diverse cooperation in the energy sector, including in the use of renewable and alternative energy sources.

The Programme of Multilateral Trade and Economic Cooperation of the SCO Member States adopted at the meeting of the Council of Heads of Government (Prime Ministers) of the SCO Member States on 2 November 2019 in Tashkent, outlined the following specific areas of joint work:
- development of a dialogue on the implementation of projects for construction of new and modernization of existing energy infrastructure;
- cooperation on introduction and use of renewable energy sources, development and implementation of innovative technologies in this area;
- exchange of information in the field of energy, including on generating capacities and volumes of electricity generation;
- exchange of experience and best practices in improving energy efficiency, including on energy-efficient and clean energy technologies.

5. Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the ‘Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure’ at the UN Climate Action Summit last year. How will SCO collaborate with this?

First of all, I would like to note that the establishment of the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure plays an important role in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Agenda until 2030.

Natural disasters have a negative impact on environmental, social and economic infrastructure. In this regard, the ability of individual countries and the international community as a whole to deal competently with disaster management is of significant importance. In case India proposes regarding cooperation of the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure with SCO, we are ready to study relevant proposals together with experts.

It seems to me that the SCO Secretariat could well act as a knowledge and development partner to the UN Office for Risk Reduction, UNDP and the World Bank. But I would like to draw your attention once again to the fact that this issue requires thorough elaboration at the expert level.

As far as the SCO activities are concerned, the mechanism of the Meeting of Heads of Agencies Responsible for Disaster Management is quite effective within our Organization.

At the same time, mutual assistance is one of the main areas of cooperation within the SCO. In this context, our work is based on the Intergovernmental Agreement of the SCO Member States on Cooperation in Disaster Management Assistance signed in October 2005 in Moscow. It defines the legal norms of interaction between our States in coordination of activities of government agencies. Based on mutual interest, a corresponding Action Plan for implementation of the Agreement is being developed. At the 10th Meeting of Heads of Agencies of the SCO Member States dealing with issues of disaster management, which was held on November 8, 2019 in New Delhi, the Plan for 2020-2021 was approved.

It should be emphasized that joint exercises of the SCO member States on further improving search and rescue operations and emergency rescue units play a particularly important role in eliminating the risks of emergency situations. On November 4-7, 2019 in New Delhi joint exercises on search and rescue in cities during an earthquake took place. During the course of command and staff exercise, practical actions regarding strategic and tactical aspects of response within the scenario of a large earthquake requiring international assistance were simulated. The exercise was conducted in accordance with the general methodology of INSARAG (International Search and Rescue Group), 4 response phases were carried out at the highest level: preparedness, mobilization, operation and demobilization.

Once again, I would like to emphasize that the SCO has gained considerable experience in this area. We are open to establishing partnerships with all interested international and regional organizations in order to ensure stability and security, exchange best practices and knowledge, provide mutual assistance, implement joint programs and train professional staff.

6. India has shown strong resolve towards improving connectivity. However, India believes that to further deepen Connectivity, it is necessary to respect each other's sovereignty, and Territorial Integrity. What are your views on this?

Of course, respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as non – aggression, non-interference in the internal Affairs of States, and non-use of force or threat of force in international relations are not only basic principles of international law-this is also enshrined in the SCO Charter.

Our Organization operates on the basis of the principles of the "Shanghai spirit", which provides for mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality, mutual consultation, respect for the diversity of cultures and the desire for joint development.

Each SCO member State makes a great contribution to the strengthening and development of our Organization. Bilateral issues that exist between some countries do not affect the Organization's activities. The SCO is not a platform for resolving disputes and disagreements of a bilateral nature.

The SCO has a common understanding that problems arising in relations between States, in particular territorial and border issues, are usually resolved bilaterally through bilateral mechanisms. The practice in recent years has shown the ability of our States to solve existing problems through peaceful political and diplomatic means, without interference. Political will of the leaders of the SCO countries and the wisdom of our peoples make it possible to solve all existing issues, including local problems of a bilateral nature, through compromise and dialogue.

7. What tangible steps have been taken by Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure of SCO to tackle terrorism in the region specially non state actors?

The SCO RATS is the coordinating Executive body of our Organization in the fight against terrorism, extremism and separatism – issues that are a priority on the SCO's agenda.

Under these conditions, the competent authorities of our countries pay increased attention to the implementation of specific decisions approved by the SCO RATS Council.

The results of the RATS work contribute to maintaining stability in the region.

Here are just a few figures. In 2019, thanks to the actions of the competent authorities of the SCO member States, 288 crimes of terrorist and religious extremist nature were uncovered, 78 clandestine terrorist cells were suppressed, 193 militants were neutralized. More than 1,100 participants in international terrorist and religious extremist organizations and their accomplices were detained, more than 4,000 foreign nationals suspected of involvement in terrorist activities were denied entry to the SCO countries, 6 channels for transferring recruits to combat zones were blocked, and bank accounts of more than 5,000 individuals and 24 channels for financing terrorism were blocked.

The RATS maintains an appropriate information base, which consists of the list of banned terrorist, separatist and extremist organizations, the Unified Search Register of Persons, as well as the Table of Registration of Persons who returned to the SCO countries after participation in armed conflicts on the side of international terrorist organizations.

Practical interaction of SCO competent authorities is facilitated by regular joint anti-terrorist exercises and training, including a seminar organized last year in India on countering the use of the Internet for terrorist, separatist and extremist purposes.

The SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group's Roadmap for Further Action, approved in 2019, provides additional impetus to consolidate our efforts to combat international terrorism by providing opportunities for practical interaction with Afghan partners.

With the active assistance of the SCO RATS, operational and outreach work is underway to expose terrorist ideology. Last year, access to more than 23,000 Internet resources containing terrorist and extremist material was restricted.

The SCO member States attach special importance to measures for social rehabilitation and reintegration of citizens who are victims of terrorism. In particular, humanitarian operations are carried out to return their own citizens from armed conflict zones, most of them women and children.

This year, despite the pandemic, RATS has consistently deepened its counterterrorism cooperation with the UN, including in the context of technical assistance projects to SCO countries at their request from UN specialized agencies. To this end, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the SCO RATS and the UN Office for Counter-Terrorism.

8. This year’s Council of Heads of Government is taking place in the backdrop of the 75th Anniversary of establishment of the United Nations (UN). The International Community led by India has been saying that the UN no longer reflects the realities of the contemporary world. What is the SCO’s position on reform of the United Nations, including the UN Security Council?

The United Nations, whose creation was a result of the tragedy of the Second World War, has played an important role in saving millions of human lives, improving living conditions and fulfilling its main task - preventing new global "hot spots" of conflict.

Unfortunately, the 75th anniversary of the United Nations coincides with the time the world is witnessing great disruption, compounded by an unprecedented global health crisis, as well as aggravation of old and increase of new risks in the field of security and sustainable development.
Contemporary international relations are going through a phase of profound transformation due to strengthening of new political and economic centers of influence and formation of a new world order on the principles of multipolarity.

I have to state that this process is unfolding against the backdrop of increasing challenges and threats to international security and the established system of interstate relations based on respect for and observance of universally recognized norms of international law.

In particular, the Moscow Declaration of the SCO Council of Heads of State noted that the politicization of world economic relations and the lack of significant progress in reforming the existing international financial institutions bear serious risks for the sustainable development of the world economy.

We all know very well that in September at the high-level debate of the 75th session of the UN General Assembly Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi stressed the need for UN reforms in order to adapt it to the realities of the modern world.

I believe that there should be a forward movement. This is the most important thing. The world must rethink multilateralism, enable it to function and ensure effective global governance.

In this context, at the Moscow Summit of the SCO, the leaders of our countries spoke in favor of strengthening the SCO's position as one of the pillars of a more representative and just world order, based on the rule of international law, primarily the UN Charter, equal partnership of states to ensure equal, joint, indivisible, comprehensive and sustainable security, and implementation of the Sustainable Development Agenda for the period until 2030.

The SCO member States expressed their strong support for the efforts of the UN as a universal multilateral organization that plays a central and coordinating role in maintaining international peace and security, stimulating global development, promoting and protecting human rights, and advocated the further formation of a multipolar world order.

I am confident that India's non-permanent membership in the UN Security Council in 2021-2022 will further strengthen the principles of the UN Charter. 

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