The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), founded in 2001 in Shanghai, has grown to include nations representing approximately half of the world’s population. While it aims at military cooperation, mutual trust, and shared development, it’s often hindered by internal conflicts.
Issues Affecting the Functioning of the SCO:
- Bilateral Tensions: The 2017 Doklam standoff between India and China and the consistent India-Pakistan tensions since their simultaneous inclusion in 2017 have occasionally overshadowed the cooperative spirit of the SCO.
- Economic Disparities: With member economies ranging from the globally dominant China to the relatively smaller Central Asian republics, disparities can create friction.
- Geopolitical Ambitions: China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which India hasn’t endorsed due to sovereignty concerns over the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, is a point of divergence.
- External Alliances: India’s increasing partnership in forums like Quad, which China views with suspicion, can strain intra-SCO dynamics.
- Diverse Strategic Objectives: The RATS (Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure) of SCO emphasizes anti-terrorism, but divergent perceptions about terrorist entities can hinder joint actions.
Role of India in Mitigating the Problems:
- Constructive Dialogue: The Heart of Asia conference, where India and Pakistan jointly participated, can be a model for constructive dialogue within the SCO framework.
- Multilateralism: At the 2019 Bishkek summit, PM Narendra Modi emphasized India’s commitment to a rules-based international order, indicating a constructive engagement approach.
- Economic Integration: India’s proposal to set up SCO special working groups on startups and innovation, and traditional medicine at the 2020 summit indicates its push for deeper economic ties.
- Anti-Terrorism Initiatives: Joint military exercises like “Peaceful Mission” provide India with an opportunity to emphasize a unified stand against terrorism.
- Cultural Diplomacy: India hosted the SCO Food Festival in 2019 in New Delhi, promoting cultural exchange and mutual understanding.
- Promote Connectivity Projects: India’s proactive engagement with the Ashgabat Agreement, which seeks to establish an international transport and transit corridor, showcases its willingness for regional connectivity.
- Balanced Approach: Despite external pressures, India has managed to engage with Russia on defense deals, like the S-400, showing its balanced diplomatic engagements.
- Knowledge Exchange: The SCO Startup Forum, initiated by India in 2020, facilitates knowledge sharing and collaboration in the entrepreneurial space.
India, with its historical nuances of Panchsheel and non-alignment, can indeed play a pivotal role in bridging divides within the SCO. By infusing its engagements with tangible initiatives and cooperative spirit, India can help redirect the SCO’s trajectory towards its founding principles of trust and mutual benefit.