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RSTV: THE BIG PICTURE : SCO HEADS OF GOVERNMENT SUMMIT

RSTV


Introduction:

Addressing a virtual meeting, Vice President Venkaiah Naidu while underlining India’s brave fight against the Covid 19 pandemic and economic recovery, condemned terrorism describing it as the most important challenge faced by the countries in the region…Chairing the Summit, the Vice President also stressed on the collective need to combat scourge of terrorism…It was also the first time that India chaired a summit-level meeting of the SCO since it gained full-membership of organisation in 2017…Highlighting India’s fight against the coronavirus pandemic, Mr. Naidu especially talked about the resilience shown by India in ensuring economic stability…The council of heads of government is the second highest body of SCO and is responsible for handling the grouping’s trade and economic agenda and approving its annual budget.

SCO:

  • Shanghai Cooperation Organisation or SCO is a Eurasian political, economic and security organisation. SCO grew out of Shanghai Five founded in 1996 with China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan as its original members.
  • After the disintegration of Soviet Union in 1991, China has a large number of undecided and disputed borders with many of the countries that became independent then. This saw the formation of Shanghai Five by these nations.
  • Uzbekistan joined the Shanghai Five group in June 2011 and the group was henceforth named, Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. Its charter was signed in June 2002.
  • India and Pakistan joined SCO as full members in June 2017 at a summit in Astana, Kazakhstan.
  • SCO is the largest regional organisation in the world in terms of geographical coverage and population and has become very powerful and influential.
  • Members of SCO in 2018:
    • 8 member states: China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
    • 4 observer states: Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran and Mongolia
    • 6 dialogue partners: Armenia, Azerbaizan, Cambodia, Nepal, SriLanka and Turkey
  • SCO was initially formed to secure relations about security. Countries were supposed to work together against terrorism, extremism and separatism. Over the years it has become a comprehensive regional organisation. Its goals have become more widened.
  • Main goals of SCO are:
    • Promoting mutual trust and neighbourliness.
    • Promoting cooperation in politics, trade, economy, research, technology and culture.
    • Enhancing ties in areas like education, energy, transport, tourism, environmental protection and healthcare.
    • Maintaining and ensuring peace, security and stability in the region.
    • Moving towards establishment of democratic, fair and rational international political and economic order.

India hosted the summit for the first time:

  • Members committed to strengthening multilateralism and the UN charter while welcoming the fact that the grouping is now being seen as an “influential and responsible participant in the modern system of international relations”. The meeting also showed up persisting differences.
  • Although the HoG Council consists of the Prime Ministers of all SCO countries, neither Prime Minister Narendra Modi nor Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan attended the meet, ostensibly due to a protocol mismatch between the position of PMs in parliamentary democracies versus those in the former Soviet bloc and China.
  • Modi was represented by Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu, who made strong observations on cross-border terrorism; he called it the SCO region’s “biggest challenge”, in comments aimed at Pakistan.
  • Pakistan’s representative too spoke of the need to combat what she called “state terrorism” in disputed areas, in a reference to Jammu and Kashmir.
  • The SCO is a rare forum where India-Pakistan troops take part in joint exercises under the Regional Anti-Terror Structure, although it would seem the two countries have come no closer on the issue.
  • Neither statement on terrorism was reflected in the final joint statement, which focused on trade and economic issues.
  • India also marked its differences with China over the BRI by not joining other SCO members in a paragraph endorsing the BRI.
  • Naidu made a pitch for “transparent and trustworthy” trade practices, seen as a sidebar aimed at China.

SCO’s Significance for India:

  • The SCO’s significance for India lies in economics and geopolitics with the Eurasian states.
  • SCO is a potential platform to advance India’s Connect Central Asia policy.
  • The SCO member states occupy the huge landmass adjacent to India’s extended neighbourhood where India has both economic and security imperatives.
  • Importance of SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group to stabilise Afghanistan.
  • SCO membership provides India a vital counter to some of the other groupings it is a part of.
  • The SCO provides the only multilateral platform for India to deal in close proximity with Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Challenges for India:

  • There are differences on the idea of connectivity being put forth by different SCO members.
  • While India has made its opposition to Belt and Road Initiative clear, all other SCO members have embraced the Chinese project.
  • Growing closeness of Russia and China.
  • India’s bilateral trade with Central Asia and Russia is very low compared to China’s trade with Russia and Central Asia.
  • The lack of connectivity has also hampered development of energy ties between the hydrocarbonrich region and India.

Way Forward:

  • SCO provides a very good opportunity to India to connect with the leadership of Central Asian countries and that a very big take away.
  • India has a good record of economic growth and handling problem which is a problem of other countries which lays foundation to huge foreign investment.
  • Increase cooperation between SCO and other multilateral organisations.
  • Need to increase economic cooperation among SCO member states.
  • Focus on illegal drug trafficking, cooperation in information technology, environment, healthcare and sports.
  • Strengthen the fight against terrorism, extremism, drug trafficking and organised crime among others.
  • Increasing awareness of our shared cultures can help boost tourism.
  • If India is not able to exploit the economic potential of the region, it will be a missed opportunity.