Protectionism in all its forms should be rejected, says Sushma Swaraj

From left: SCO Secretary-General Rashid Alimov, Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov, Tajik Foreign Minister Sirodjidin Aslov, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Pakistan Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif, Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Erlan Abdyldaev, Kazakh Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov, Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj, SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure Director Yevgeniy Sergeyevich Sysoyev in Beijing, China on Tuesday. Photo: PTI
India on Tuesday said protectionism in all its forms should be rejected. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s remarks against protectionism and trade barriers were made during her address to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in Beijing.

Her speech indicated that New Delhi shared China’s concern over US protectionism, and also suggested mutual concerns on the issue are likely to feature prominently during Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ‘informal summit’ in Wuhan, the capital of the Hubei province in central China, later this week.
However, India did not endorse China’s controversial Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) at the SCO Foreign Ministers’ meeting. The rest of SCO’s members backed the pet project of President Xi.

“The foreign ministers of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan reiterated their support for the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ proposed by China,” said a joint statement issued by SCO foreign ministers at the end of their one-day meeting on Tuesday.

India’s name was missing from the list of countries which endorsed the BRI in which the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a part. The BRI is expected to figure in the informal summit between Modi and Xi at Wuhan on April 27-28.

In her speech, Swaraj said: “We believe that economic globalisation should be more open, inclusive, equitable and balanced for mutual benefits. Protectionism in all its forms should be rejected and efforts should be made to discipline measures that constitute barriers to trade.”

Swaraj’s statement comes in the wake of Chinese, as well as Japanese, concerns at the US increasing trade barriers. Earlier this month, the Donald Trump administration had announced tariffs on aluminium and steel, besides about $50 billion worth of Chinese imports across 1,300 categories of products to counter China’s trade practices.

China has criticised the move. Its ministry of commerce has said Beijing is ready to take measures against US products with the same intensity and scale.

In New Delhi, official sources indicated that the PM was unlikely to raise contentious issues during his meeting with the Chinese President, including New Delhi’s concerns on its Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) membership and China blocking the designation of Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar as a global terrorist by the UN.

They said the meeting will not have an “issue-based discussion but a strategic conversation between the two leaders to understand each other’s perspective on national and international matters”. Sources said the attempt wasn’t to “reset” India-China ties.

Briefing reporters in Beijing, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou said, “Both sides have agreed not to sign an agreement or release any joint document but reach important consensus to resolve outstanding issues.”

Asked whether the Doklam issue and the boundary dispute will figure in the talks, Kong said Doklam happened because of lack of trust. He said the summit was being held as there was need for greater communication between the two neighbours.

The Chinese official media have said the Wuhan summit between Modi and Xi could be as significant as the one between late prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and then leader of China, Deng Xiaoping, in 1988.

Kong said the informal summit is the first of its kind and there was no precedent in each other’s country. He said both President Xi and Prime Minister Modi have strategic vision and historical responsibility.

“Both of them have been widely supported by their people. Both leaders have attached great importance to India-China relationship and have devoted a lot of energy to grow this relationship,” the Chinese vice foreign minister said. 

Modi and Xi will have in-depth exchange of views on the issues of overarching long-term and strategic importance in bilateral relations, he said.
Kong said the informal summit will also open up new prospects in India-China cooperation. Such an informal summit would not only benefit the two countries and peoples but will also deliver peace and development in the region and beyond, he said.

“Both sides also agreed that after the summit the two sides will implement important consensus reached at the meeting, maintain high-level exchanges, have institutional engagements deepen cooperation, properly handle differences, step up multilateral cooperation and coordination so as to ensure that the China-India relationship will see better and fast development at a new starting point,” he said.

Over the past few days and months, competent authorities of both the countries have carried out intense engagement with each other about the upcoming informal summit to work together for a sound momentum in India-China relations.

Over the past month, New Delhi has attempted to allay Chinese misgivings over the Dalai Lama’s activities in India. But India-China relations had become frayed in the last 12-months, including over the Doklam military standoff.

In a first, India had hosted the 10 ASEAN leaders as chief guests at the Republic Day parade this year. Beijing has not been comfortable with India’s outreach to the South East Asian nations, and its exploring defence cooperation with Japan. After resisting for several years, New Delhi has also joined the US-Japan-Australia-India quadrilateral alliance.

India has also been strongly raising its voice, along with the US and Japan, about the importance of freedom of navigation in the Asia-Pacific region, and has expressed its concerns at China’s growing assertiveness in the region.

In her speech at the SCO Council of Defence Ministers’ meeting in Beijing, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman attacked Pakistan for its support of terrorism. 

“Arguments of political convenience to provide an alibi for terrorist organisations that support terrorism through material support or otherwise are no longer tolerable. Indeed, as the world has now realised, there are no good terrorists,” she said. Pakistan Defence Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan also attended the meeting.

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