Home The Significance of the SCO's Full Membership for India

The Significance of the SCO's Full Membership for India

When Prime Minister Modi went to Tashkent on a two-day visit last month to attend the annual summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Origination (SCO), both Indian media and foreign policy experts mainly focused on his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping as a part of India’s efforts to secure China’s support for its membership of the Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG). In the process, the significance of the meeting of SCO for India was completely lost.

The SCO came into existence in 2001 when the Shanghai Five (China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan), founded in 1996, was renamed after the inclusion of Uzbekistan. One of its primary objectives is to promote cooperation among member countries in the security sphere, especially to deal with the evils of terrorism, separatism, and extremism. It is true that during the fifteen years of its existence, the SCO has not made much headway. However, with the presence of two economic and military powers – China and Russia as well as some oil and gas reach countries – Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, the SCO is viewed to play a leading role in shaping the future of Central Asia.

In fact, being mindful of its objectives and limitations, at the Tashkent summit held in June the SCO leaders have cleared the final process for India’s induction as a full member of the organisation. In turn, India’s inclusion will strengthen the organisation for various reasons. At a time when there is an economic slowdown across the globe, India’s fastest growing economy can play an important role in improving the economic conditions of the member countries of the organisation. As India imports 80 percent of its oil consumption, it can be a major destination of oil exports for Russia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. With New Delhi being part of SCO, Russia would succeed in stopping China from using the SCO to promote its economic interests. With its experience of fighting terrorism for the longest period time, India can share its expertise with other SCO countries on how to deal with the menace of terrorism. Russia has been facing the recognition crisis of being a global power, ever since it was imposed sanctions by western countries and was ousted from the Group of Eight (G8). As Moscow views the SCO’s as a getaway to regaining its lost international legitimacy, India’s induction would further enhance Russia’s stature in the international arena. The presence of India, the world’s largest democracy would give unbound legitimacy to the organisation, as well. China hopes that India would participate in its One Belt One Road initiative.

For India, Central Asia is not merely an extended neighbourhood. This region, in fact, has huge economic, security and energy importance for New Delhi and,thus, induction into the SCO as a full member would greatly help New Delhi in achieving its vital national interests.

The Central Asia region has abundant resolvers of natural resources and minerals. Apart from having huge hydrocarbon fields, this region is home to an estimated 4 per cent of the world’s natural gas reserves and approximately 3 per cent of oil reserves. Most of these resources are found in Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Of course, there is stiff completion going on among countries to ensure their access to these resources. India, which is in the acute need of energy resources to sustain and increase its economic growth, sees this region as a vial source of oil, gas and other natural resources. The SCO could also facilitate the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline.

India can benefit through its cooperation with the SCO on security-related issues. Given close geo-strategic proximity with the Central Asia, Indian security experts believe that clouds of insecurity in the region would automatically endanger India’s peace and security also. This concern has in fact increased significantly with the rise of jihadist groups like ISIS and their links with terrorist organisations like Taliban and others in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Since the SCO has established a Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) with the aim of containing terrorism, India can benefit from this agency of the SCO in getting intelligence information on terrorist activities. Annual joint military exercises among the member states would provide valuable operational insights. The SCO would also help India in effectively dealing with issues like piracy, cyber security, drug-trafficking control and others. The situation in Afghanistan continues to pose huge security concerns to India. With the ouster of NATO forces from Afghanistan and Afghanistan being apriority for the SCO, New Delhi believes that the organisation can pay an active role in promoting peace, security and establishing in Afghanistan. India can utilise the forum to expose China’s double standards on this issue by not taking a tough action against Pakistan, known as a breeding ground for terrorism in South Asia.

Being a full member of the SCO India would be in a position to plan its policy to effective deal with China’s ambitious initiative of One Belt, One Road and “China Pakistan Economic Corridor” (CPEC). In this regard, the contraction of the International North South Transportation Corridor (INSTC) can prove to be of high significance for New Delhi, as it will facilitate the ship, rail and road route for moving freight between India, Russia, Iran, Europe and Central Asia.

Its inclusion would help India to further cement its ties with Russia – a times-tested friend, given the fact that there has been growing concerns among sections of Russia foreign policy experts and strategists that New Delhi is more focused on forging the bilateral relations with Washington than with Moscow. At the same time, Induction into the SCO would further strength India’s position as a promoter of a multilateral global order. While India has deepened its presence in the Central Asia market, India still has prospect for huge commercial benefits in the areas of banking, food processing, construction works and others. Centrally, the SCO is seen as a gateway to promoting India’s economic ties with the region.

It is evident now that while the inclusion of India will further boost the organisational capacity of the SCO, New Delhi would further get an opportunity to enhance its role as a big power in the 21st century.

The Author is ICCSR Doctoral Fellow, UGC Centre for Southern Asia Studies, Pondicherry University.Views expressed are personal.

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Sumit Kumar

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