Iran and Belarus could soon become the newest members of the China and Russia-backed Shanghai Cooperation Organization(SCO).
- In the Samarkand summit, the leadership will adopt a document on the obligations Iran must fulfill to gain membership.
Relevance to India:
- India acquired the observer status in the grouping in 2005 and was admitted as a full member in 2017.
- Discuss differences with other members on the sidelines: SCO hosts have encouraged members to use the platform to discuss differences with other members on the sidelines
- Bilateral meeting with Pakistan: It was on such an occasion that the Prime Minister of India held a bilateral meeting with the former Pakistani Prime Minister in 2015 in Ufa.
- Negotiation of five point agreement with Chinese counterpart: Foreign Minister of India negotiated a five-point agreement with his Chinese counterpart on the sidelines of the Moscow conference in 2020.
- Strategic autonomy and multi-alignment: 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 emphasizes on principles of “strategic autonomy and multi-alignment”.
- Fulfilling energy demand: India being an energy deficient country with increasing demands for energy, SCO provides it with an opportunity to meet its energy requirements through regional diplomacy.
- Talks on the construction of stalled pipelines like the TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) pipeline; IPI (Iran-Pakistan-India) pipeline can get a much needed push through the SCO.
- Economic ties: Central Asian countries provide India with a market for its IT, telecommunications, banking, finance and pharmaceutical industries.
- Geopolitical: Central Asia is a part of India’s Extended Neighbourhood, SCO provides India an opportunity to pursue the “Connect Central Asian Policy”.
- Helps India fulfill its aspiration of playing an active role in its extended neighborhood as well as checking the ever growing influence of China in Eurasia.
Challenges of SCO Membership for India:
- Pakistan’s inclusion in SCO poses potential difficulties for India.
- India’s ability to assert itself would be limited and it may have to play second fiddle since China and Russia are co-founders of SCO and its dominant powers.
- India may also have to either dilute its growing partnership with the West or engage in a delicate balancing act – as SCO has traditionally adopted an anti-Western posture.
Is it about countering the West?
- Growing differences with 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
- Russia found itself beset with economic turmoil following the Crimean annexation in 2014 and ejection from the G8 grouping.
- No supporters in the west: The organization spearheaded by both Russia and China does not find its supporters in the West.
- Russian action in Ukraine and China’s distance diplomacy: Most recently, Russia’s action in Ukraine caused it to be subjected to sanctions on multiple fronts by the West.
- China’s ‘distance diplomacy’, had held that the security of one country should not be at the expense of another country, blaming the West (specifically referring to NATO) for the entire episode.
- Look to the east by Iran: 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.
- Diplomacy and regional stature for Belarus: 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
- More measures against terrorism: Despite the establishment of the SCO’s Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS), the SCO has not taken visible counterterrorism measures against the main threat facing its members.
- There is a need for the Summit to play a central and coordinating role to enforce the Council’s sanctions against concerned entities.
- Engagement: It provides a platform for India to simultaneously engage with its traditional friend Russia as well as its rivals, China and Pakistan and provides India an opportunity to pursue the “Connect Central Asian Policy”.
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