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NEW DELHI : In a veiled reference to the ambitious Belt and Road Initiative,  (BRI), by China, external affairs minister S. Jaishankar on Thursday said any serious connectivity initiative must be transparent and conform to sovereignty and territorial integrity. He was speaking at the meeting of the Council of Heads of Government of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). 

India has repeatedly criticized the initiative considering that a part of the BRI, the China-Pakistan-Economic Corridor, runs through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. New Delhi claims the entire region as part of  Jammu and Kashmir. 

Without naming Pakistan, or its attempts to highlight the dispute over Kashmir, Jaishankar also slammed repeated attempts to deliberately raise bilateral issues at SCO meetings, which, he said, was in violation of the principles of the grouping. “Such acts are counterproductive to the spirit of consensus and cooperation that define this organization and should be condemned." 

India and Pakistan became permanent members of the Russia and China led grouping in 2017. “India considers the SCO as an important regional group to promote cooperation in various fields based on universally recognised international norms, good governance, rule of law, openness, transparency and equality," Jaishankar said. 

“It is unfortunate to note that there have been repeated attempts to deliberately bring bilateral issues into SCO. This violates the well-established principles and norms of the SCO charter," he added. 

The minister said India has been taking steps to operationalise the Chabahar port in Iran for secure and commercially-viable access to the sea for Central Asian countries. India had earlier proposed to include Chabahar port as part of International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC). 

On economic prosperity, he said India believed that greater connectivity was an economic force-multiplier with greater importance in a post-covid era. 

“However, any serious connectivity initiative must be consultative, transparent and participatory. It must conform to the most basic principle of international law—respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity," Jaishankar said. 

He said India is an “emerging economic force" globally and the country’s response in fighting covid-19 and ensuring economic stability is noteworthy despite the economic crisis caused by the pandemic. 

Despite the pandemic India had attracted record foreign investment inflows of $ 77 billion in 2020-21 and another $22 billion in the first three months of this year. “The International Monetary Fund has forecast 9.5 % growth for the Indian economy in 2021. Our trade performance has also been strong, growing by more than 20% this year," the minister said. 

Indian startups have so far created 65 unicorns, out of which 40 unicorns were added during 2021 alone. We stand ready to share our experience with other SCO member states through our initiative to set up a special working group on startups and innovation," he added.

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