Shanghai Cooperation Organisation(SCO) Meet: India as a Permanent Member

INTRODUCTION

Shanghai Cooperation Organisation(SCO)

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit was held at Qingdao, in China on 09-10 June 2018. Prime Minister Narendra Modi led the Indian delegation for the organisation’s first ever meeting with India as a full member.

The SCO is a Eurasian political, economic and security organization comprising of eight member states, namely, China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan; India and Pakistan joined SCO as full members on 09 June 2017 at a Summit in Astana, Kazakhstan. Apart from the member nations, Iran, Afghanistan, Belarus and Mongolia are observer states.

The SCO is emerging as one of the world’s most powerful and influential organizations, which represents around 42% of the world’s population, covering 60% of the Eurasian landmass and 20% of the global GDP.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization is being seen as a means by the Eurasian bloc to establish “balance of power” through the expansion of this regional organizations in a West-dominated world order. This “alliance of Asia”, is often being dubbed as the counter for NATO.

This year’s SCO meet assumed greater significance due to the following reasons:

Regional unity against US hegemony was displayed by Russia, China and India while showing preference for a more inclusive and multi-polar world order by principally opposing United States decision to impose unilateral sanctions against Iran.

Besides, the developments in Syria, Iran, Afghanistan and North Korea necessitate a resetting of strategic posturing and partnerships, so that multi-polarity is maintained in the world order.

The ongoing trade war between US and China and crippling economic sanctions imposed by US and European nations on Russia, compels these countries to realign their economic partnership with regional nations.

About Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO)

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), or the Shanghai Pact, emerged from the organisation, ‘Shanghai Five’ (China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan), which was founded in 1996 after demarcation of China’s borders with the four newly formed breakaway states of erstwhile USSR to peacefully resolve the boundary disputes.

This conglomeration was transformed into the today’s Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) after the induction of Uzbekistan as a new member at the Shanghai Summit in 2001.

Initially, the role of SCO was predominantly to look at the security concerns of the member states, often describing the main threats it confronts as being terrorism, separatism and extremism.

Later the scope of SCO was enlarged to encompass political, cultural, economic, and military cooperation, intelligence sharing and counterterrorism. There have been a number of SCO joint military exercises.

A major joint military exercise called the Peace Mission 2010 was conducted from 09–25 September at Kazakhstan’s Matybulak training area, where, over 5,000 personnel from China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan participated in joint planning and operational manoeuvres.

The official working languages of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation are Chinese and Russian.

Reasons for the Organisation to Come into Being

Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are all landlocked states. After the collapse of Soviet Union, these states had to fend for themselves as independent entities.

The Central Asian region is richly endowed with natural resources and vital minerals. Since, the region became landlocked after independence, movement and accessing these resources became difficult.

Trade with these states became dependent on passage through adjoining countries and also on the political dispensation of the regimes in power in those countries.

Consequently, major powers, both regional and farther away, came to compete to secure and possibly control access to these resources. Besides this, many endeavours are also going on to identify and create credible transport routes that pass through friendly countries to improve accessibility.

Hence, in the present regional geo-political context of growing fundamentalism, protectionism and need for projection of joint military power, SCO has assumed a much greater political, economic and military significance.

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Implications of Inclusion of India in SCO

Central Asia is truly an extended neighbourhood for India. India’s relations with countries in the region, however, have failed to realize the enormous potential for enhancing ties in areas such as security, policy, economy, trade, investment, energy, connectivity, and capacity development.

A major reason for India’s inability to exploit this resource rich neighbourhood is that India does not share common land-borders with the region. Moreover, Pakistan has flatly refused India land access to Central Asia through its territory.

In order to circumvent this challenge, India signed an agreement with Iran and Afghanistan last year to develop Chabahar Port facility and an associated rail-network at a cost of $500 million. Besides, India has also prioritized the construction of the International North-South Transport Corridor to connect with Eurasia.

Hence, joining the SCO will give a welcome diplomatic boost to India’s efforts to connect with Central Asia.

Another reason for lack of communication with Central Asia has been the infrequent visit of Indian dignitaries to these countries.

India’s membership in the SCO will provide renewed opportunities for India’s leadership, including prime ministers, to meet with their counterparts from Central Asia, Russia, China, Afghanistan, and others regularly and frequently. India’s potential participation in the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) will be an added advantage to make this partnership more fruitful.

India being the third largest economy ($8 trillion) in PPP(purchasing power parity) terms and seventh largest ($2.3 trillion) in nominal dollar terms, it’s rapidly expanding energy needs will provide a stable and assured market for these countries.

In addition, stalled processes like the agreement on Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline, signed in December 2015 will get a cogent attention.

India’s development experience, particularly in promoting agriculture, small and medium enterprises, pharmaceuticals, and information technology, can be of immense benefit to Central Asian countries.

In terms of tackling terrorism and issues relating to security, which is one of the greatest challenges of the present times, India will have a greater say and can build consensus for effective action in combating terrorism in the region.

Lastly, India’s membership in the SCO will further add to the military muscle of the organization and is likely to give a boost to the ‘Make in India’ campaign, especially in the defence sector, as the breakaway provinces of USSR were a hub for manufacture of defence equipment and weaponry.

Areas of Ambiguity

India and Pakistan as permanent members, will be participating along with the other six countries, in joint exercises against terrorism under the Tashkent-based RATS (Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure) of SCO.

The same will also include sharing of data about terrorists and terror organisations. The terror outfits like the Jamat ud Dawah (JuD), which happens to be the political wing of the dreaded militant outfit, Lashkar-e-Taiba, is called a charitable organisation by Pakistan.

Hence, the efficacy of counter-terrorism cooperation is likely to be coloured by individual perceptions.

Further, after the Bombay attack mastermind and JuD’s chief Hafiz Saeed was put under house arrest and a crackdown launched on the organisation’s activities within Pakistan, it emerged with a new name of ‘Tehreek Azadi Jammu and Kashmir.’

Pakistan claims that the organisation is supporting the aspirations of Kashmiri people, while India calls it interference in the internal affairs of the country. Pakistan is similarly accusing India for its covert role in Baloch militancy.

Another challenge that can be foreseen within SCO is the endorsement of China’s OBOR, which India argues impinges upon its sovereignty in the form of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

This corridor is being further linked with Central Asia and will be used by all member states, except India. This tricky matter is being simply brushed under the carpet as of now by all the stake holders.

Major Takeaways from the 18th SCO Meet: 09-10 June 2018

The SCO, via its Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) based in Tashkent envisages to facilitate cooperation among the members to exchange information and counter-terrorism and related security challenges.

Ratification of a five-year outline for the implementation of the Treaty on Long-term Good Neighborliness, Friendship and Cooperation was done during the SCO summit.

Ten cooperation deals covering areas including security, economy, and people-to-people exchanges were signed.

India and Pakistan have decided to participate in ‘Peace Mission 2018’, which is a military exercise to be held in Russia’s Ural mountain region, tentatively in August-September 2018.

PM Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping, carrying forward the spirit of Wuhan informal meet, concluded two key pacts on hydrological data sharing and agricultural exports.

Please read my previous blog regarding the Wuhan meet also: https://latestexplained.com/2018/05/02/sino-india-relationship-the-informal-summit/

The above said MoU will enable the Chinese side to provide hydrological data on cross-border Rivers, like Brahmaputra and Sutlej, if the water level exceeds mutually agreed level from 15th May to 15th October every year, so as to get an early warning regarding flood like situations.

As per the second MoU referred above, India will export non-Basmati varieties of rice to China. The same will contribute towards reducing the huge trade deficit that India has with China.

PM Modi also held bilateral talks with the President’s of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan on the sidelines of the SCO summit to further strengthen India’s ties with the resource-rich Central Asian countries.

CONCLUSION

India’s association with the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation will immensely help the country to enhance the much desired connectivity with Eurasia and provide a fillip to trade and commerce.

Moreover, the ambit of SCO also very importantly covers counter-terrorism cooperation and will provide India with a regional platform to strongly air its views and expose Pakistan’s dubious designs.

Lastly, a strong Shanghai Cooperation Organisation will ensure global balance of power and maintenance of a multi-polar world order, so that the West is restrained from acting against the economic, political and security interests of the developing nations

JAI HIND