India on Monday made a host of proposals to strengthen cooperation among the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) member states in the economic, health and cultural sectors, including setting up of working groups on startups and innovation as well as on cooperation on traditional medicine. In an address at the virtual meet of the council of heads of government of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu said that during its chairmanship this year, India has proposed to create a Special Working Group on startups and innovation and offers to annually host it.

“Our second proposal is to create an Expert Group on Traditional Medicine under the annual SCO Health Ministers meeting,” Naidu said. “We have witnessed the limitations of modern medical system, which is under tremendous pressure due to the unprecedented global spread of COVID-19 pandemic.

In such a scenario, traditional medicine systems have played an important supporting role in providing effective and low cost alternative to save the lives of millions in the region,” he said. At a media briefing on the SCO meet, Secretary West, Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), Vikas Swarup, when asked whether Pakistan would join the initiatives proposed by India, said it was entirely up to Pakistan.

He, however, pointed out that the “SCO charter does provide a provision that one country cannot hold up cooperation in all these areas and it allows other member countries which are interested to take particular cooperation sector forward with the exclusion of the one country which is opposing it”. Asked whether bilateral tensions between India and two other members -Pakistan and China — was impacting cooperation within the SCO, Swarup said the grouping was created primarily as a regional organisation to promote peace and security to tackle the challenges of terrorism, extremism and separatism, and to promote trade and cooperation as well as cultural partnerships among the SCO member countries.

“So, if the SCO member countries have the will, I am sure we can all find common ground and that is why article two of the SCO charter specifically prohibits bilateral issues from being raised in SCO forums because we all have seen from our previous experience that raising of bilateral issues only serves to vitiate the atmosphere and holds up concrete cooperation in a host of areas,” Swarup said.

“We have scrupulously adhered to this provision in the SCO charter, we do not raise bilateral issues in SCO forums and we expect other countries to also do the same. If countries come with this mindset, I am very sure we can all find common ground to increase our mutual cooperation,” he said. During the course of India’s chairmanship of the council of heads of government of the SCO in 2020, Swarup said India has particularly focused on creating three new pillars of cooperation — startups and innovation; science and technology; and traditional medicine.

Apart from the working groups on startups and innovation, and on cooperation on traditional medicine, he said India has also organised in the virtual format the first ever SCO young scientist conclave from November 24-28 in which more than 200 young scientists participated. “We also organised the first ever consortium of SCO economic think tanks on August 20-21 and the first ever start up forum on the 27th of October,” Swarup said, listing the initiatives undertaken by India to deepen SCO cooperation this year.

India also hosted the SCO Business Conclave in B2B format with special emphasis on MSMEs, he noted. “On the cultural humanitarian side, India has implemented the prime minister’s announcements made at the Bishkek Summit of the SCO council of heads of state in 2019 that were aimed to bring into sharper focus are millenia old shared civilizational heritage, they include the hosting the first ever digital exhibition on shared Buddhist heritage by the National Museum that has been inaugurated today and the translation of 10 classics of Indian regional literature in the Russian and Chinese languages,” Swarup said.

India has also proposed to hold the SCO food festival in 2021 in Delhi, he said. The underlining thought of these proposals was to move towards creating a shared cultural identity of the SCO region, Swarup said, adding that India was committed to deepening cooperation among SCO members.

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