TASHKENT: Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived here today to a warm welcome as he kicked off a two-day visit to attend the annual summit of the SCO with an aim to expand India's engagement with the China-dominated grouping in areas of security, defence and energy.
In a special gesture, Modi was received at the Tashkent international airport by his Uzbek counterpart Shavkat Miromonovich Mirziyoev.
In the two-day summit that begins today, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) will start the process of India's accession to the grouping as a full-fledged member along with Pakistan.
However, the spotlight is on Modi's bilateral meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping later in the day during which the Prime Minister is expected to seek China's support for India's membership at the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) that controls access to sensitive nuclear technology.
Giving clear indications of its opposition to India's bid for entry into the atomic trading club, China had yesterday underlined the differences within NSG members, saying "parties are yet to see eye-to-eye on this issue".
It, however, said it will play a constructive role in the discussions.
Coinciding with the SCO summit, the two-day annual plenary of the NSG begins today in Seoul during which India's application for membership of the atomic trading club is set to be deliberated upon.
Prior to his departure from New Delhi to Tashkent, Modi said India looks forward to fruitful outcome from its engagement at the SCO summit.
India's entry into SCO as a full member will provide it an opportunity to have extended cooperation with member countries in areas of defence, security and counter-terrorism.
"I will travel to Uzbekistan for a brief visit to attend the SCO Summit and interact with leaders of SCO nations. India is glad to be a member of the SCO and looks forward to fruitful outcomes particularly in the field of economic cooperation through SCO," the Prime Minister said in a statement before leaving for Tashkent.
He said India attaches great importance to ties with Central Asia and always seeks to expand economic and people-to-people ties with the region.
Secretary (West) in the Ministry of External Affairs Sujata Mehta had yesterday said "The process of India's accession to the SCO will start with a signature on the base document which is called the Memorandum of Obligations".
Asked whether India will become a full member of the SCO, she said there was a schedule laid down for India to sign over 30 other documents and it will happen as the year goes by.
The SCO had set the ball rolling to make India a member of the bloc during its summit in Ufa in July last year when administrative hurdles were cleared to grant membership to India, Pakistan and Iran.
SCO was founded at a summit in Shanghai in 2001 by the Presidents of Russia, China, Kyrgyz Republic, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
India, Iran and Pakistan were admitted as observers at the 2005 Astana Summit.
The Tashkent SCO Summit in June 2010 had lifted the moratorium on new membership, paving the way for expansion of the grouping.
India feels as SCO member, it will be able to play a major role in addressing the threat of terrorism in the region.
India is also keen on 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.
India has been an observer at the SCO since 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.
Russia has been favouring permanent SCO membership for India while China pushed for induction of Pakistan.