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It's BRI against Indo-Pacific all over again

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From Asia Times

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Modi and Xi meeting could have a crucial SCO subplot focusing on security and economic cooperation

From commons.wikimedia.org: Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Chinese President Xi Jinping {MID-287560}
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Chinese President Xi Jinping
(Image by Wikipedia (commons.wikimedia.org))
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All bets are off on the outcome of India Prime Minister Narendra Modi's potentially ground-breaking meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping this Friday and Saturday in Wuhan.

Things have not exactly started in auspicious mode.

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After a meeting in Beijing of foreign ministers represented at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), India, once again refused to support the New Silk Roads, known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in the final communique.

Every other SCO member -- represented by the foreign ministers of Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Pakistan -- did.

So here we go again -- back to the interminable, intractable India-Pakistan soap opera.

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Both India and Pakistan were admitted as full members of the SCO in 2017. The SCO, led by China and Russia, is the premier Eurasian mechanism dealing not only with security matters but also expanding, in these past few years, towards economic cooperation.

New Delhi though argues that one of BRI's key connectivity projects -- the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) -- runs through sections of Kashmir that it considers occupied territory.

Still, the Chinese Foreign Ministry is putting out the best PR possible on the informal Modi-Xi meeting. They're bound to discuss CPEC in detail. Formally, any breakthrough may be announced at the next SCO summit in June, in Qingdao, China.

Don't touch the Iran nuclear deal

This key China-India rift inside the SCO actually mirrors the much bigger clash between BRI and the so-called "Indo-Pacific" strategy pushed by Washington in conjunction with India, Japan and Australia. New Delhi seems to consider BRI and Indo-Pacific mutually exclusive.

BRI though is a vast pan-Eurasian economic integration project while Indo-Pacific is essentially a vehicle for military containment of China.

Economically, New Delhi is concentrating on the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) -- which aims to link Russia with India via Iran. Additionally, India's investment in Chabahar port in Iran aims to configure its own New Silk Road to Afghanistan and Central Asia, bypassing Pakistan.

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And that brings us to a crucial SCO subplot. Every member-nation -- with special relevance in the case of BRICS members China, Russia and India -- supports the JCPOA, or the Iran nuclear deal. Iran, currently an observer, is bound to be admitted as a full SCO member by 2019.

When it comes to the classic SCO staple of fighting terrorism, Iran also fits (heavily supported by the three BRICS). Tehran is actively fighting Daesh in both Iraq and Syria, as well as all forms of jihadism in Afghanistan. All these key players -- the three BRICS plus Iran -- favor a SCO-led solution for Afghanistan.

On top of it, earlier this week Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev signed an agreement to set up a free trade zone between Iran and the Russian-led Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU).

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Pepe Escobar is an independent geopolitical analyst. He writes for RT, Sputnik and TomDispatch, and is a frequent contributor to websites and radio and TV shows ranging from the US to East Asia. He is the former roving correspondent for Asia (more...)
 

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