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China’s Xi Welcomes India, Pakistan To SCO, Hails ‘Unity’

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev arrives at Qingdao for the SCO summit.

Chinese President Xi Jinping ushered Pakistan and India into the political and economic bloc led by China and Russia as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit got under way in the northern port of Qingdao.

Xi on June 10 welcomed Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the gathering, calling their presence "of great historic significance."

"More member states means greater strength of the organization as well as greater attention and expectations of people of regional countries and the international community," Xi said.

Pakistan and India last year joined the economic bloc, which along with China and Russia includes Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran, and Mongolia have SCO observer status.

Opening ceremonies were held on June 9, while June 10 is the main working day.

Xi praised the “unity” of the SCO event, which got under way just as the Group of Seven summit in Canada was ending in what appeared to be disarray.

In that gathering, the United States was at loggerheads on most issues with its traditional allies. After a joint communique was announced, President Donald Trump withdrew his endorsement and had harsh words for the host, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Xi, meanwhile, told the SCO that "we also share greater responsibilities in maintaining regional security and stability and promoting development and prosperity."

In recent years, the SCO’s economic component has grown, highlighted by Xi's Belt and Road Initiative, a trillion-dollar foreign policy and infrastructure program.

The Global Times, a Communist Party newspaper, said in a commentary on June 10 that unlike Western organizations like NATO and the G7 -- which seek to "consolidate the global economic order that is favorable to the Western world" – the SCO is inclusive.

It is "is not a tool for geopolitical games, seeking hegemony or engaging in international confrontation," the paper wrote.

On June 9, Xi presented Russian President Vladimir Putin China's first Friendship Medal at an elaborate ceremony in Beijing.

Still, many differences remain among SCO countries, including competition between Beijing and Moscow for influence in the region and the bitter longstanding disputes between nuclear powers Pakistan and India.

The next SCO summit will be held in Kyrgyzstan in June 2019.

With reporting by AP, AFP, TASS, and Reuters