Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin are set to address the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation alliance on Tuesday, with Iran expected to expand the Asian grouping.
Putin will be addressing his first summit since a short-lived mutiny last month after the head of the Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, led a failed rebellion against the Kremlin.
India is hosting the virtual summit of the eight-member SCO — headquartered in Beijing but hosted by New Delhi which holds the rotating chair — alongside the leaders of Russia, Pakistan and several Central Asian countries.
The Kremlin has confirmed Putin will address the summit, while Chinese state media also reported Xi Jinping will take part.
Created in 2001 to discuss security and economic matters, other SCO members are Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, with countries including Belarus and Mongolia invited as observers.
Encompassing a vast stretch of the globe from Moscow to Beijing, the bloc makes up around half the world’s population — when including both member states as well as observer and “dialogue partner” nations.
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India, which also host the G20 summit in September, is walking a diplomatic tightrope.
Uniquely, it is a member of both the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and the Quad, set up with the United States, Japan, and Australia to counter Beijing’s growing assertiveness.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was last month hosted in Washington with all the full pomp of a state visit, where US President Joe Biden spoke of “two great friends and two great powers”.
At the same time, Moscow remains by far India’s biggest arms supplier — they have been allies for decades — and New Delhi has been an enthusiastic buyer of cut-price Russian oil during the war in Ukraine.
India, with a rapidly growing economy, has surpassed China as the world’s most populous country and has a long-running territorial dispute with Beijing.
Iran is expected to join the grouping, with Tehran having intensified its diplomacy with friends and foes alike in recent months, seeking to reduce its isolation, improve its economy and project strength.
“This membership is beneficial both for Iran and for the organisation,” Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani said Monday, saying it would have “positive effects on economic development” between member nations.
India’s arch-rival and neighbour Pakistan will also take part, with Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif calling it an “important forum for regional security and prosperity”, Islamabad’s foreign ministry said in a statement.