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Shanghai Cooperation Organisation

Context:

Iran and Belarus could soon become the newest members of the China and Russia-backed Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).

Relevance:

GS II- International relations

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What is the SCO? 
  2. Organizational structure of SCO
  3. How is this relevant to India? 
  4. Is it about countering the West? 

What is the SCO? 

  • Founded in June 2001, it was built on the ‘Shanghai Five’, the grouping which consisted of Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
  • They came together in the post-Soviet era in 1996, in order to work on regional security, reduction of border troops and terrorism.
  • They endowed particular focus on ‘conflict resolution’, given its early success between China and Russia, and then within the Central Asian Republics.
  • Some of their prominent outcomes in this arena entail an ‘Agreement on Confidence-Building in the Military Field Along the Border Areas’ (in 1996) between China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, which led to an agreement on the mutual reduction of military forces on their common borders in 1997.
  • It would also pitch in to help the Central Asian countries resolve some of their boundary disputes. 
  • In 2001, the ‘Shanghai Five’ inducted Uzbekistan into its fold and named it the SCO, outlining its principles in a charter that promoted what was called the “Shanghai spirit” of cooperation.
  • The precise assertion, combined with some of the member states’ profiles, of building a “new international political and economic order” has often led to it being placed as a counter to treaties and groupings of the West, particularly North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).
Member states
  • India, Kazakhstan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
  • The SCO also has four observer states — Afghanistan, Iran, Belarus and Mongolia — of which Iran and Belarus are now moving towards full membership. 

Main goals
  • Strengthening mutual trust and neighbourliness among the member states;
  • Promoting their effective cooperation in politics, trade, economy, research and technology, and culture.
Focus areas:
  • Education, energy, transport, tourism and environmental protection.
  • It also calls for joint efforts to maintain and ensure peace, security and stability in the region; and the establishment of a democratic, fair and rational new international political and economic order.

Organizational structure of SCO

The SCO secretariat has two permanent bodies —

  • SCO Secretariat based in Beijing 
  • Executive Committee of the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) based in Tashkent.
Other than this, the grouping consists of

Heads of State Council (HSC):

  • It is the supreme decision-making body of the organisation.
  • It meets annually to adopt decisions and guidelines on all important matters relevant to the organisation.

Heads of Government Council (HGC):

  • The HGC (mainly including Prime Ministers) also meets annually to zero in on the organisation’s priority areas and multilateral cooperation strategy.
  • It also endeavours to resolve present economic and cooperation issues alongside approving the organisation’s annual budget. 

Foreign Ministers Council:

  • The Foreign Ministers Council considers issues pertaining to the day-to-day activities of the organisation, charting HSC meetings and consultations on international problems within the organisation and if required, makes statements on behalf of the SCO. 

How is this relevant to India? 

  • India acquired the observer status in the grouping in 2005 and was admitted as a full member in 2017.
  • Through the years, the SCO hosts have encouraged members to use the platform to discuss differences with other members on the sidelines.
  • India is also a part of the ‘Quadrilateral’ grouping with the U.S., Japan and Australia.
  • Its association with the grouping of a rather different nature is part of its foreign policy that emphasises on principles of “strategic autonomy and multi-alignment”. 

Is it about countering the West? 

  • The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) noted in 2015 that decades of rapid economic growth had propelled China onto the world’s stage, whereas Russia found itself beset with economic turmoil following the Crimean annexation in 2014 and ejection from the G8 grouping.
  • Most recently, Russia’s action in Ukraine caused it to be subjected to sanctions on multiple fronts by the West.
  • China, in what could be referred to as ‘distance diplomacy’, had held that security of one country should not be at the expense of another country — blaming the West (specifically referring to NATO) for the entire episode.
  • Thus, the organisation spearheaded by both Russia and China does not find its supporters in the West. 
  • The Iranian leadership has often stressed that the country must “look to the East”.
  • This is essential not only to resist its economic isolation (by addressing the banking and trade problems on account of U.S. sanctions) from the West, but also find strategic allies that would help it to reach a new agreement on the nuclear program.
  • In other words, using its ties with China and Russia as a leverage against the West. Additionally, it would help it strengthen its involvement in Asia. 
  • The same premise applies for Belarus, which lent its support to Russia for its actions in Ukraine. An association with the SCO bodes well for its diplomacy and regional stature.

-Source: The Hindu


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