Tricky Summitry as Rising Powers Meet at Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Samarkand
Rising Powers Initiative – Sigur Center for Asian Studies
Policy Alert #250- September 21, 2022
The 2022 Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Samarkand, which took place from September 15th to 16th, was much anticipated by international media, as it would provide the opportunity for Russian President Vladimir Putin to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping, as well as with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, for the first time since the beginning of the Russian war in Ukraine. As such, their encounters were heavily scrutinized, especially to assess the extent to which China and India would support Russia. Both China and India shared circumspection about the war and did not provide unconditional assurances of support. In fact, Prime Minister Modi spoke out in a rare public rebuke of Russia, while President Xi shared his concerns. Both China and India played a balancing act of not endorsing Russian actions while also not outwardly condemning them, with Chinese media criticizing the US for trying to seed dissent within the SCO while some Indian media saw this as a premise to nurturing India’s “growing ties with the US.” Russian media minimized the dissent within the SCO, and President Putin deflected criticism about the war in Ukraine, blaming continued hostilities on Ukrainian intransigeance. The most striking contrast in analysis of the SCO summit was between Russian and Chinese officials. Indeed, while Russian officials and state media argued that the SCO gave its member states tools to resist Western sanctions as a united bloc, and that the Samarkand summit contributed to building a new world architecture, Chinese officials resisted the notion of “China and Russia as a political and military bloc.”
Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi described President Xi’s attendance as a “strategic move to break US’ “encirclement” of China.” President Xi himself warned of “interference in internal affairs” by “external forces.” Despite this open criticism of the US, Chinese officials were wary of fully embracing Russia and refuted the notion that China, Russia and the SCO as a whole were forming an anti-Western block. To that effect, Chinese official media put out very nuanced statements about the state of the Russia China relationship. “China-Russia relations are at their best in history” according to Yang Jin, an associate research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, but at the same time, “China has many friends in the world in addition to Russia.” Another round of negotiations this time only with Russia, the 17th China-Russia strategic security consultation, may yield more details about the Chinese-Russian security relationship in the context of the Ukrainian war. Chinese media also addressed China-India relations, noting that while China supports India hosting the next SCO meeting, India is taking economic decoupling measures from China. Chinese social media users however, as well as the Chinese public, expressed support for India about its participation in the SCO as an independent power and lauded Modi for his successful balancing act.
- The Global Times, a Chinese nationalist newspaper run under the official newspaper of the Communist Party of China (CPC), repeatedly introduced US-China tensions when discussing the SCO meeting, putting forward official criticism of the US and its policies, shortly before lambasting US president Biden for his statement in support of defending Taiwan.
- The independent South China Morning Post also castigated “Anglo-American mainstream media” for its tendency to lump together China and Russia, ignoring the nuances of Chinese diplomacy. The SCMP also pointed out that the summit was not just about Russia and China, but provided indicators of the poor state of the India-China relationship as well.
- The China Daily, owned by the CPC, deemed China the “undisputed leader of the region,” and the People’s Daily, (the CPC official newspaper) lauded the SCO meeting as a remarkable success for China, and echoed positive press from Pakistan.
Indian Prime Minister Modi made a declaration rebuking Russia in public, asserting that the “era of war” is no more. India’s Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra clarified this statement and explained that it was India’s view that “hostilities should cease and the path to resolution is through diplomacy and dialogue.” Shortly after these statements, India voted in favor of “allowing Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to address the United Nations virtually” next week, reinforcing the perception that India refused to enter a firm alliance with Russia. Some Indian media also considered this a refusal to join a Chinese and Russian bid to challenge world order. In this, Indian media went further than Modi who did not denounce China, which itself shared with Russia its concern about the Russian war in Ukraine.Modi’s rebuttal of Russia and balancing act is supported by Indian media, the absence of criticism from opposition media a tacit endorsement of Modi’s position, though the unimpeachable nature of the statements made by Modi against war in general made criticism inopportune. Indian media also highlighted news related to the India-Pakistan relationship, such as Pakistan’s reluctance to have India host the next SCO meeting or difficult transit trade access negotiations. Indian media also derided Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif for an earphonemalfunction. Though the mishap itself was unimportant, the attention it was given is telling of tensions with Pakistan, while also contributing to it.
- The center-right newspaper Times of India placed the summit back in the context of China-India border tensions in Ladakh, and also remarked that “significantly”, Putin met in private with Prime Minister Sharif of Pakistan after Modi put pressure on Russia to cease hostilities. The newspaper interpreted Modi’s remarks as a strong condemnation of Russia’s war against Ukraine and as a “wrench in Putin’s plan to rally Asian leaders.”
- The Hindustan Times, a liberal publication, noted China’s support for India’s hosting of the 2023 SCO summit, and the Indian Express, another liberal publication, highlighted the positive reactions from the Chinese public, impressed that “India could pull-off such an intricate diplomatic manoeuvre in a heightened international crisis situation.”
- The Pioneer, a pro-BJP newspaper, kept tabs on security talks held between China and Russia after the SCO summit ended, downplaying dissensions between the two states.
Japan is the only country in this policy alert that is not a part of the SCO, which is why there were no major statements by the Japanese government on the issue. Japanese media however considered the event to be significant and viewed speeches and declarations in the context of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and China-US tensions.
- The conservative Yomiuri Shimbun saw the divide between China and Russia as a sign of the SCO’s weakness, and pointed out Russia’s struggle to keep its central Asia allies in its orbit.
- The left-leaning Manichi saw Chinese and Indian declarations at the SCO as rebukes of Putin’s war in Ukraine, despite originally seeing the promotion of the Global Security Initiative as supportive of Moscow’s attack on Ukraine.
- The business-focused Nikkei Asia Report found that China was placing itself in a position of strength within the SCO, as Russia’s prestige and international credibility was tarnished by the war in Ukraine, by both courting Kazakhstan and expressing “concerns” about Russia’s involvement in Ukraine. The newspaper also noted the slight rebuke from Indian Prime Minister Modi to Russian President Putin.
- The Japan Times, a centrist newspaper, pointed out that while China had not made clear and explicit declarations of support of Russia over Ukraine, Russia made strong statements in support of China over tensions in the Taiwan Straits.
Russian President Vladimir Putin acknowledged concern from China and India over the Russian-Ukrainian war, though he downplayed the opposition, stating that Russia will do “everything to ensure that this all stops as quickly as possible”. However, he blamed the Ukrainian government for the lack of negotiations, threatening to escalate Russian action against Ukraine, which indicates that a lack of support from China, India, and other SCO members are not enough to sway Russian strategy.Putin made a point of advocating for a bigger and stronger SCO, for it to become a “platform for constructive and productive interaction.” Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov deflected Western media criticism of the SCO and of Sino-Russian cooperation especially by declaring that “cooperation agreements between Russia and China are not aimed at world domination.” Russian state-owned media, provided support to this narrative, presenting the SCO as a potential shield which could develop “mechanisms to act calmly and withstand […] pressure” from aggressive and illegitimate Western sanctions.
- Russia Today, a government-funded outlet, noted that Turkey announced it would apply to join the SCO, marking the potential unprecedented arrival of a NATO country in the SCO. Russia Today kept with that theme and also published articles about SCO expansion both in terms of confirmed new member states and in terms of scope.
- Sputnik News, funded by the state, echoed Putin and considered the summit to have led to significant decisions which will reinforce “irreversible” and ”fundamental transformations“ in the world’s architecture.
- The Pravda Report, a nationalist newspaper, mentioned only the support Putin extended to China, omitting the concerns China expressed in return about the war in Ukraine.
The Rising Powers Initiative is a multi-year, cross-national research effort that examines the role of domestic identities and foreign policy debates of aspiring powers in Asia. RPI POLICY ALERTS inform policy makers, analysts, media professionals, and educators on the ongoing debates in China, India, Japan, and Russia on current issues and events relevant to US foreign policy making. The aim of the POLICY ALERTS if to provide a spectrum of divergent viewpoints within these countries.