Photo: Indian Express

The author of this piece is Allan George David, a second year student at Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Punjab. 

After a two-year process, India recently became a permanent member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization(SCO). The country along with Pakistan officially joined the organisation on 9th June 2017 during the organisation’s summit in Astana, Kazakhstan. So, what is the SCO and what does its membership mean for India?

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization(SCO) is a Eurasian political, economic, and security organisation formed on 15th June 2001 in Shanghai, China. The organization, dominated by China and Russia was formed as an Asian response to the NATO with the objective of “strengthening mutual trust and neighbourliness among the member states; promoting their effective cooperation in politics, trade, the economy, research, technology and culture, as well as in education, energy, transport, tourism, environmental protection, and other areas; making joint efforts to maintain and ensure peace, security and stability in the region; and moving towards the establishment of a democratic, fair and rational new international political and economic order.” as mentioned in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Charter signed in June 2002. The SCO was formed by 6 countries i.e. China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. All the countries except Uzbekistan were part of the Shanghai Five group, founded on 26 April 1996 and hence the SCO is essentially a successor to the Shanghai Five. The organisation has two permanent bodies — the SCO Secretariat based in Beijing and the Executive Committee of the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) based in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. The SCO Secretary-General and the Director of the Executive Committee of the SCO RATS are appointed by the Council of Heads of State for a term of three years.

India has been an observer of SCO meetings since 2005 and had participated in important meetings which focused on security and economic cooperation in the Eurasian region. It had sought to become the member in 2009. However, its path was blocked with objections raised by China which had been reluctant to India’s membership in the organisation. India and Pakistan’s membership is being billed as a key achievement by the organisation, something which couldn’t be achieved even by Washington. After the introduction of its two newest members, the SCO represents nearly half the world’s population and a quarter of the world’s GDP which is a testament to the political and economic importance of the organisation.

India’s insistence on joining an anti-western grouping is puzzling considering the fact that its relationship with the US is at its peak while the SCO is considered to be a Chinese stronghold. However, the country’s move has been lauded by analysts who call it a ‘calculated risk’. India’s presence in the group enhances its status in a region where it has been accused of failing to influence and mobilise support. In his speech to the summit, Narendra Modi spoke of the importance of upholding the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the member states while at the same time highlighting the importance of the organisation in formulating policies related to connectivity, terrorism and climate change. India’s inclusion opens up a vast sea of opportunities. It serves to provide a common platform for the Central and South Asian countries to combat terrorism, extremism and radicalism which has affected the peace and security of the entire region. Since one of the primary objectives of the organisation is to combat terrorism it will help India to coordinate with the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure(RATS) and push Pakistan to address the problem.
The Central Asian regions are richly endowed with essential natural resources and vital minerals. However, the region is landlocked making trade difficult. Inclusion in the SCO provides India with an opportunity to trade in these essential resources and help in fulfilling its ever-increasing energy needs.
India today is the fastest growing economy in the world. The economy today is the sixth-largest in the world measured by nominal GDP and the third-largest by purchasing power parity (PPP). However, it has been criticised for its under-developed trade relations with the Eurasian region considered as one of the resource-rich regions in the world. India’s relations with countries in the region, however, have failed to realise the enormous potential for enhancing ties in areas such as security, policy, economy, trade, investment, energy, connectivity, and capacity development. Part of the problem has been its lack of connectivity with the region. India has been prioritising the creation of the International North–South Transport Corridor (INSTC), a 7,200-km-long route for moving freight between India, Russia, Europe and Central Asia. At the same time, it has an agreement to develop the Chabahar port of Iran into a full deep-sea port with technological and financial support of Japan. Its inclusion into the SCO would help to speed up the process and enable Indian goods to access the untapped markets of the region.

Political analysts are cautioning tempered expectations during the initial days. India has to deal with multiple conflicting interests which would intersect at the SCO forum, ranging from regional and global issues to combating terrorism. India’s positions may sometimes be at odds with those of other countries, which have been going along with the Chinese viewpoints. It may also have to deal with the further increase in diplomatic ties with China and Pakistan and may be pressurised to be a part of the Belt Road Initiative(BRI) of China. It has to navigate through the interests of the other countries with Russia as its only ally. For now, India should push forward an early conclusion of a Free Trade Agreement with the Eurasian Economic Union(EAEU) in order to enable the unhindered flow of goods, raw materials, capital and technology. To raise its standing in the SCO in a more meaningful way, India should rope in one or more SCO countries, preferably Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, in its effort to project Chabahar as India’s gateway to Eurasia.

To sum up, India’s inclusion in the organisation creates a win-win situation for all. It increases the group’s potential in playing a more substantive role in promoting peace, security and economic development within the Asian continent. India will also get an opportunity to play a bigger role in regional geopolitics and establish diplomatic and trade relations with the Central Asian countries thus increasing its pace of economic growth and its status as an emerging global superpower.