The forthcoming summit of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) at Tashkent in June this year has big significance since for the first time in the last 15 years, the SCO is being expanded with the proposal to admit India and Pakistan as full members, apart from the existing six member countries-Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
But this big opportunity seems to be not properly utilised as simmering differences among the permanent members are slowing the process of implementation of the developmental programmes and China, as the major country driving SCO, is putting some obstacle into the process of India’s immediate admission. China is still delaying the transfer of obligations draft to India and if this is not solved immediately, the admission of new members may not be possible next month.
SCO has long term plans and its development strategy till 2025 adopted during the summit in Ufa in 2015, should result in deepening its influence in South and Central Asian region. But it is apparent that the process of implementation is slowing down due to a number of factors related to the interests of the member countries, especially China and Russia.
There are economic difficulties in the countries of most of the members in the context of the global economic slowdown. Further, Russia is facing sanctions from the West and this has adversely affected its forward planning in imparting dynamism to the working of the SCO for making it as a major developmental vehicle.
SCO members have differing perceptions about the goals of the organisation during the next 10 year period till 2025. Russia, it seems, is more interested in giving a political-military dimension in order to meet effectively the challenge from the western powers led by USA and the European Union (EU) while other member countries are interested in solely focusing on the expansion of economic cooperation.
Though Russia and China have similarity of views on a number of global issues and they are coordinating more effectively in projecting the joint approach vis a vis the US and EU actions, there are divergences in their respective approach to steer the operations of the SCO. Russia supports the creation of supranational structures with delegation of a part of the sovereignty and favours quick admission of new members like India and Pakistan, China is aiming at maintaining pragmatic ties with the US and does not favour SCO to have any military-politico focus.
China is interested in pursuing its agenda at SCO which means creating a space in SCO for a free trade zone for its expanding business operations and laying through the central Asia routes for its goods to Europe within framework of the concept of the economic zone of Silk Road, China’s pet project.
The central Asian members of the SCO are generally looking at the organisation as a forum to solve their economic and other problems taking advantage of the competition between China and Russia. These central Asian nations have kept other options open to expand their economic activities including assistance from the Asia Development Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. All these have resulted in the absence of a speedy joint strategy to collaborate in energy projects though the hydrocarbon resources are very rich in the member countries. Interestingly, the western powers, especially the USA is playing a cunning diplomatic game with the
central Asian countries.
US wants to organise an alternative to China led SCO by activating its alliance with EU and Japan for action in the SCO region. They are offering the central Asian countries concessional aid for infrastructure projects and assistance in expansion of exports to European and Asian directions.
It is under this complex scenario in SCO that India’s membership will be endorsed at the June summit at Tashkent if China cooperates. Taking into account the fact that the membership will get through at the summit, the question remains how is India projecting itself at the SCO and what will be its effective policies for intervention? India can do a lot in imparting a new dynamism to the functioning of the SCO and India can also act as a catalyst for facilitating the process of conciliation so that the SCO can effectively implement the Ufa agenda for development up to 2025. India has a big interest in Afghanistan and SCO forum gives a good opportunity to project its views on regional security in development in the South Asia.
India can very well make use of the forum to promote energy partnership including implementation of the TAPI pipeline project. Apart, the full membership at SCO will give India the opportunity to facilitate the launching of the transport corridor North South and create special economic zones along it and activate the work on the establishment of a Development Fund for SCO members.
SCO has a chequered history. SCO emerged from Shanghai Five (China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan) which was established in 1996 after demarcation of China’s borders with the four newly independent states that came into being after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Sanghai Five was transformed into the present SCO after inclusion of Uzbekistan in 2000.
Since then, these six countries have been formulating the policies which have focused more on economic cooperation, mainly benefitting the central Asian members of the organisation. In the last fifteen years, SCO has concluded wide ranging agreements on security, trade and investment, connectivity, energy club as also the SCO Bank but the progress of implementation has been tardy and SCO leadership has lacked the necessary dynamism.
The coming summit at Tashkent has given a good opportunity to the members both existing six and the incoming India and Pakistan to impart a new dimension to its operations so that SCO can be converted into a new springboard for giving a big push to development and security in the region. India has already demonstrated its special interest in central Asian region with the visit of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the five countries of the region last year.
India has big stake in energy security and in this area, central Asian countries can be a big source of assistance. India has got expertise in a number of areas including information technology and pharma which are of crucial importance to the central Asian countries.
India’s full membership is sure to offer that special incentive to India to expand the areas of cooperation with the central Asian as also other members China and Russia.The need of the hour is to ensure that India and Russia persuades China to withdraw its technical objections to India’s full membership and evolve a joint approach for the speedy implementation of the SCO’s development agenda. India, on its part, will be benefitted through discussions on affairs related to Afghanistan.
India will be in a position to balance growing influence of China in the Afghan settlement and consolidate the pressure on Pakistan on the elimination by the Pakistani regime of the terrorist dens located in its territory.
India is sure to get Russian support to its Afghan position and even Iran can be friendly to the Indian position. SCO has immense opportunities as a block and the Asian members can make full use of the forum to bolster both regional security and developmental programmes.
Chinese leadership has to take a broader view of the potential of SCO operations and narrow partisan interests should not block the progress of SCO initiatives. The Tashkent summit must facilitate that process of bringing the major member countries together to achieve the objectives for which SCO was founded.