India will host the annual summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in the virtual format on July 4, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) announced on Tuesday.
However, it did not cite reasons for holding the summit in the virtual mode.
People familiar with the matter said the option of holding the summit in the virtual format was on the table considering various aspects and a final decision on it was taken following consultations with the member states.
Last year, the in-person SCO summit took place in the Uzbek city of Samarkand that was attended by all top leaders of the grouping including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.
In September, India will host the G20 summit for which it is going to invite Xi and Putin besides other leaders of the bloc.
India assumed the rotating chairmanship of the SCO at the Samarkand Summit on September 16 last year.
What did MEA say?
"Under India's first-ever chairmanship, the 22nd summit of the SCO Council of Heads of State will be held in the virtual format on July 4, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi," the MEA said in a statement.
India hosted the foreign ministers of the SCO at a two-day conclave in Goa earlier this month.
The MEA said all the SCO member states -- China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan -- have been invited to attend the summit.
"In addition, Iran, Belarus and Mongolia have been invited as observer states. As per SCO tradition, Turkmenistan has also been invited as the guest of the chair," it said.
The SCO is an influential economic and security bloc and has emerged as one of the largest transregional international organisations.
The SCO was founded at a summit in Shanghai in 2001 by the presidents of Russia, China, the Kyrgyz Republic, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. India and Pakistan became its permanent members in 2017.
Heads of the two SCO bodies -- the secretariat and the SCO RATS (Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure) will also be present.
The MEA said heads of six international and regional organisations have also been invited to the summit.
The organisations are the UN, the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States), CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization), EAEU (Eurasian Economic Union) and CICA (Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia).
"India has set up new pillars of cooperation under its chairmanship -- startups and innovation; traditional medicine; digital inclusion; youth empowerment; and shared buddhist heritage," the MEA said.
"In addition, India has worked towards fostering greater people to people ties that celebrate the historical and civilizational bonds between our nations. These include the various socio-cultural events hosted by Varanasi under the framework of the first-ever SCO cultural and tourist capital for 2022-23," it said.
The MEA said India's chairmanship of SCO has been a period of intense activity and mutually beneficial cooperation between member states.
"India has hosted a total of 134 meetings and events, including 14 Ministerial-level meetings. India remains committed to play a positive and constructive role in the organization, and looks forward to a successful SCO Summit as the culmination of its Chairmanship," it said.
SCO Summit Theme
The theme of the summit is 'Towards a SECURE SCO'.
The SECURE acronym was coined by Prime Minister Modi at the 2018 SCO summit and it stands for Security; Economy and Trade; Connectivity; Unity; Respect for Sovereignty and Territorial Integrity; and Environment.
These themes have been highlighted during India's chairmanship of the SCO.
India was made an observer at the SCO in 2005 and has generally participated in the ministerial-level meetings of the grouping, which focus mainly on security and economic cooperation in the Eurasian region.
India has shown a keen interest in deepening its security-related cooperation with the SCO and its Regional Anti-Terrorism Structure (RATS), which specifically deals with issues relating to security and defence.
(With PTI Inputs)