After one-year completion of India’s and Pakistan’s full-time membership in the organization, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) held the 18th Annual Summit on June 9 – June 10, 2018 in Qingdao, a coastal city in east China’s Shandong Province chaired by Chinese President Xi Jinping where the leaders of all 8 SCO member states, 4 Observer states and Chiefs of various international organizations attended and took full participation. The leaders adopted ‘Qingdao Declaration’, signed dozens of agreements and multiple memoranda of understanding (MoU). The leaders also exchanged and shared their views on current and future development of the SCO, cooperation in all areas under the new situation, as well as on major international and regional issue. The Qingdao Declaration sought to prevent terrorism and promote multilateral trade through Belt Road Initiative (BRI). As India remains the only member state to not to endorse the idea of BRI due to its sovereignty-threat, SCO omitted India’s name from the Qingdao Declaration. There is no denial in the fact that SCO was formed to reduce the western influence in Asia and to promote its geopolitical interest in which OBOR is the crucial one. Now taking this behaviour of the organization into the account, this is the right time to ask what does SCO mean for India.
The Article 3 of SCO charter identifies the areas of cooperation “…to development and implementation of measures aimed at jointly counteracting terrorism, separatism and extremism, illicit narcotics and arms trafficking and other types of criminal activity of a transnational character, and also illegal migration” The Qingdao Declaration calls for the implementation of the Cooperation Programme to fight terrorism, separatism and extremism for the period of 2019-2021 and gearing up to the effect the SCO Convention on Countering Extremism. The declaration states that “The Member States note that the interference in the domestic affairs of other states under the pretence of combatting terrorism and extremism is unacceptable, as well as the use of terrorist, extremist and radical groups for one’s own purposes.” The SCO has also planned Anti-Drug Strategy for the period of 2018-2023 and the Programme of Action in order to reduce (and abolish) the Abuse of Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances. The revealed security to be a priority of the SCO. The educational programme also being introduced as a part of the security strategy to prevent the radicalisation of the youth. From the perspective of regional stability, Afghanistan had got a special attention from SCO leaders, especially from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, calling Afghanistan an unfortunate example of the effects of extremism and terrorism. He also praised the initiatives taken by President Ghani in the region to combat the extremism and role of the non-state actors in the region and it shall be respected by all member states. 
From the perspective of India, the major security concern for India are growing hostilities within Afghanistan and Pakistan’s continuous violation of territorial integrity. The SCO was seen as the mediator to solve Indo-Pak conflict when both India and Pakistan joined SCO last year. In the summit, Wang Yi, Foreign Minister of China, intended to solve the regional conflict saying, “We know there are existing and historical, unresolved conflicts between Pakistan and India. But I think after joining the SCO, maybe we can say that their relationship might be better”SCO might provide a rare opportunity for the militaries of Pakistan and India to share several multilateral tables – antiterrorism structure, military exercises – under the SCO framework, which in many ways might change the regional climate and have a positive impact on Indo-Pak relations.
The SCO-formed Regional Anti-Terrorism Structure (RATS) in 2005 which works on information sharing and joint counterterrorism measures between member states, might help India and enrich its experience in the counter-terrorism activity, both domestically and internationally.
The SCO has countries like Russia which has strong economic grip on most of part of Europe; China and India having multilateral economic agreements and partnerships with all major and middle powers like US, Japan, Brazil, Australia, Iran, etc.; Central Asian Countries like Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan acquiring and controlling the 10% World’s oil and minerals reserves. The member states of the SCO also have a membership of other regional economic organization like European Economic Union (Russia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan), BRICS (China, India and Russia), Quadrilateral partnership (India) and 2 permanent seats in UN (Russia and China). This makes the SCO a regional group of major economic stakeholders with the capacity to decide or change the global economic wave in one or another direction. India’s entry in SCO has opened the door of the Central Asian Region.
With regard to trade, multiple agreements and MOUs have been signed between India and China. The MoU was signed which allowed export of non-Basmati rice from India. It was earlier denied access to its market on the basis of phytosanitary grounds but given the fact that China is one of the world’s largest rice market, the exports were allowed at fixed rates. The MoU assumes significance in the light of India’s widening trade deficit ($51 billion in 2016-2017) with China.
Another MoU signed in the Summit allowed the sharing of hydrological information on the Brahmaputra, a practice stopped in the aftermath of the 73-day Doklam stand-off between Indian and Chinese troops last year. This enables China to provide hydrological data in flood season from May 15 to October 15 every year. It also enables the Chinese side to provide hydrological data if water level exceeds mutually agreed level during the non-flood season.
Through SCO, India might get into European Economic Union with an opportunity of having FTA with them to unhindered flow of goods, raw materials, capital and technology and at the same time, Chabahar project would also enable India to gain better access to the untapped markets of the entire Eurasian region including Russia’s Far East.
- The first and major challenge in SCO is Pakistan. Before giving membership to India and Pakistan, the bunch of agreements were signed between two countries by China and Russia so that SCO does not become a proxy site of India or Pakistan. It is often argued that the presence of Pakistan in the SCO limits India’s ability to push on the issue of terrorism given the fact that Pakistan is a safe harbour for different terrorist’s groups. China has repeatedly shielded terrorists from Pakistan in the United Nations Security Council with its veto power.
- The other major challenge for India is the dominant role of China in the SCO and its ambition for OBOR project. The removal of India’s name from the Qingdao Declaration because of its opposition to the OBOR-CPEC Projects has questioned its existence in the organization. Vijay Gokhale, Foreign Secretary, in a press briefing said that “Essentially India supports all connectivity initiatives but believes these should also bearing in mind the sensitivity to each country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty as well as sustainability and viability in other ways.”
- The third challenge for India is its growing relationship and multiple agreements and alliances with the west. The SCO was formed to reduce the western influence on Asia and support traditional values along with Russia. Now, this raises serious doubts on the extent of India’s cooperation with the SCO member states, while keeping close ties with West simultaneously.
For India, SCO is a powerhouse of the economic and political opportunities. Though there are many challenges on its path before even thinking about the fulfilling the opportunities, India can override each and every hurdle through continuous bilateral and multilateral talks using SCO forum. India should target CAR countries and other observer states of SCO to make its position dominant in the SCO and to get the direct access to Eurasia. Then, it should use the SCO atmosphere for building better alliances with China and Russia as well as to minimise its hostility with Pakistan.
Art. 3, SCO CHARTER, 2002, Retrieved: http://people.unica.it/annamariabaldussi/files/2015/04/SCO-Charter.pdf
SCO. Qingdao Declaration, 2018 Retrieved:http://www.jukkarannila.fi/docs/SCO_Qingdao_Declaration_2018.pdf