India Joins Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)
India and Pakistan have recently joined SCO as full members on 9 June 2017. The expansion means that the Astana summit saw far more reverberation than any other since at least 2005, when the organization issued a statement demanding the closure of non-SCO military bases in the region.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is a Eurasian political, economic, and security organization, the creation of which was announced by the leaders of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan in 2001. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization Charter was signed in June 2002 and entered into force on September 2003. Its eight full members account for half of the world’s population and a quarter of the world’s GDP.
The SCO has established relations with the United Nations in 2004 (where it is an observer in the General Assembly), Commonwealth of Independent States in 2005, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2005, the Collective Security Treaty Organization in 2007, the Economic Cooperation Organization in 2007, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in 2011, the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA) in 2014, and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific in 2015.
Objectives of SCO
The SCO’s objectives are centered around cooperation between member nations on security-related concerns, military cooperation, intelligence sharing and counter-terrorism. It is mainly aimed at military cooperation between the members and involves intelligence-sharing, counter-terrorism operations in Central Asia.
Significance for India
Joining the SCO is a smart move by India that will offer us a long term, rather than any short-term, gain, provided we understand what that means. The SCO membership offers multiple opportunities to Indian diplomacy.
- It provides a platform for India to engage Pakistan in a wider regional setting. Our ties with Islamabad are not going to be permanently frozen as they are now. The SCO platform may prove to be a good way to unfreeze them by pushing Pakistan to enable India’s overland access to other SCO countries.
- It is an opening for India to reach out to China, bilaterally as well as to deal with Pakistan. China is seeking to promote its China-Pakistan economic corridor. But Chinese investments in Pakistan will not provide the returns they seek, unless the Pakistani economy is integrated with the larger South Asian region. China is aware of India’s importance as a market and as a destination of its overseas investment. It is for this reason, it has taken a fairly relaxed stance on New Delhi’s rejection of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
- It provides India with a hedge for its maritime strategy which emphasizes cooperation and developing security networks with the US, Japan, Australia and Vietnam. With the US pulling out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and its posture on the erstwhile Asian pivot uncertain, India needs to shore up its continental strategy.
- India feels as an SCO member, it will be able to play a major role in addressing these threats. New Delhi 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.
- Partnering with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization will be the continuation of the “Connect Central Asia” policy, and the initial phase of “Look North” approach of Prime Minister Modi’s sustained diplomatic parleys, at a time when he is balancing both the eastern and the western blocs at once.
India’s membership of the SCO is a win-win proposition for the Organization, for Central Asia, for Russia, for China as well as for India. Members will reap huge benefits if they conduct themselves with responsibility.
However, a few have expressed concern that the induction of India and Pakistan could shift the focus of SCO from Central Asia to South Asia and could disrupt the SCO’s smooth and consensual functioning through an emphasis on India-Pakistan bilateral disputes. This appears highly unlikely. India’s only objective is to engage with SCO members to promote peace, security, connectivity, energy trade, people-to-people contact and economic development in the region.