It is a privilege for me to join you in the beautiful city of Beijing [ Images ], at this august gathering of world leaders. I had the honour to represent India [ Images ] at the last two summits of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and I am delighted to have this opportunity again. I thank the government and the people of China for the gracious hospitality and warm welcome.
India admires the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and values its contribution over the past decade, to peace, stability and prosperity in the region. As the SCO prepares for the next decade of its journey, we see a welcome process of introspection among members, on the challenges of the next decade and the role of the body in a fast-evolving world, strewn with multiple multilateral bodies, with intersecting agendas.
India, on its part, has been participating constructively at all SCO meetings open to the Observers. By doing so, we have shown our strong willingness to be meaningfully associated with this grouping.
We believe the SCO can potentially play a much larger role in the future, both for the security and prosperity of our region. We also value the fact that most SCO member countries are our neighbours, or belong to our extended neighbourhood, with a strong historical and cultural legacy of centuries binding us together.
The most important security challenge we face today relates to Afghanistan, which lies in the heart of Asia and is a bridge, connecting not just Central and South Asia but also Eurasia and the Middle East. The SCO provides a promising alternative regional platform to discuss the rapidly changing Afghan situation.
The economic development projects of the SCO can be a meaningful additional effort for Afghanistan's reconstruction. India has already committed over $2 billion towards reconstruction and developmental activities in Afghanistan.
This is a reflection of our commitment to the prosperity of the Afghan people. We will be unwavering in our support to this cause.
The other major security challenge of our age continues to be terrorism, which is a common threat to the international community and particularly to our SCO space. India is a long-standing victim of terrorism emanating from our region and believes that there is need for stronger resolve and firmer efforts in tackling this scourge.
We appreciate greater cooperation within the Regional Anti Terrorist Structure as an important regional answer to this challenge. India looks forward to greater engagement with this structure. Illicit narco-trafficking and cyber security are other challenges in the region which deserve greater focus and stronger collective efforts.
Connectivity between SCO countries is crucial to bind us together. The SCO needs to address the problem of connectivity through regional solutions to encourage trade and investment flows between our countries.
India is ready to cooperate with regional countries to find viable solutions to this problem and contribute to the endeavour to build bridges between Central and South Asia. The International North South Transport Corridor, which we are re-energising, is one such effort in this direction.
Members and observers of the SCO can prosper by mutual sharing of experiences and best practices. India is already engaged with the SCO member states in areas such as information technology, management, and entrepreneurship development.
We will be happy to share with SCO countries our unique experience in specific areas of economic endeavour, such as banking, capital markets, micro-finance, small and medium enterprises.
Energy cooperation is another area of interest to us. The proposed TAPI Project within our region is an example of cooperation that can bind us in energy linkages.
As we have emphasised at various SCO fora, India would be happy to play a larger, wider and more constructive role in the SCO as a full member, as and when the organisation finalises the expansion modalities.
We welcome the general trajectory of the SCO towards expansion and redefinition of its role. We feel a wider and more representative SCO will be able to deal more effectively with the common challenges of security and development in our region.
In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, I would like to once again thank our hosts for the excellent arrangements and gracious hospitality.
I also congratulate the leadership of the Kyrgyz Republic on taking over the chairmanship of this important organisation and wish them all the best in organising SCO's activities in the year ahead.
Image: Chinese President Hu Jintao shakes hands with External Affairs Minister SM Krishna at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing
Photograph: Mark Ralston/Reuters