India to host SCO meet next week: Trade, economic cooperation to be the focus

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Updated: Nov 28, 2020 2:54 PM

This will be the first time that India is hosting a meeting of the body since it became a full member in 2017 and the agenda is focused on the trade and economic agenda of the grouping.

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. (File photo)

On Monday, (November 30, 2020), India is set to host a summit of the council of heads of government of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). This will be the first time that India is hosting a meeting of the body since it became a full member in 2017 and the agenda is focused on the trade and economic agenda of the grouping.

Why is the grouping important?

India is currently holding the chairmanship of the SCO Council of Heads of Government, which will end on Monday. And the meeting is expected to help in giving an opportunity to India to contribute to the trade and economic agenda of SCO.

According to the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), the focus of India has been on the expansion of its cooperation with the eight-member regional grouping which is representing almost 42 % of the world’s population.

At a recent seminar organised by Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA), on ties between India and SCO, Vikas Swarup, Secretary (West) in the MEA, in his remarks had talked about the renewed momentum in building regional synergies by the bloc.

India & SCO

India, until 2017, was an observer at the SCO since 2005. It became a full member in 2017 and since then has been concentrating on building connectivity with the countries in the regional bloc which is resource-rich through projects like the International North-South Transport Corridor.

India is ready to play a meaningful role in the grouping and this is because it is seeking to further deepen its Eurasian partnerships, therefore, SCO is the perfect springboard to establish deeper connects in the extended neighbourhood.

Why?

With its expertise in building institutional capabilities and its growing economic potential, India can play a critical role in sharing best practices, adding value to the ongoing SCO’s projects. And to help in forging a common vision for the region.

The Agenda for Monday meet

Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu is expected to chair the SCO council of heads of government summit on November 30. In last year’s meeting, India was represented by the Defence Minister Rajnath Singh in Uzbekistan.

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.

Earlier this month at the SCO Summit which was hosted by Moscow, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan and Chinese President Xi Jinping were present.

Who will be virtually present at the meet?

Besides India, other members of the regional grouping including Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Four observer nations including Belarus, Afghanistan, Mongolia and Iran. And, Turkmenistan, the executive director of SCO’s Regional Anti-terrorist Structure and the SCO secretary-general will be attending.

At the end of the annual meeting, there will be a joint communiqué which will have proposals related to furthering trade and economic cooperation.

The Birth of SCO – Expert View

“The SCO is an outcome of the Shanghai Five forum (1996) in which three Central Asian States along with Russia and China decided to initiate negotiations on amicable resolution of border issues. It has served its primary purpose of maintaining stability in the region and isolating the Central Asian states from the influence of other powers such as the US, Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia,” Prof Rajan Kumar, School of International Studies, JNU, tells Financial Express Online.

According to Prof Rajan, “The SCO and the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) are two crucial security organisations in the Eurasian region. If the Central Asian states have not witnessed violent border wars, like the one that we see in the Nagorno-Karabakh, it is partly due to the security umbrella provided by the SCO and the CSTO.”

“The SCO has created a delicate geopolitical balance for vying regional powers: it allows Russia to remain the dominant player in the region; China gets access to vast resources and unhindered support for its ambitious BRI project; India and Pakistan find a platform for developing their outreach to Central Asian states; and, smaller states of Central Asia do not feel threatened by the regional powers. Thus, it has manufactured an artificial regional balance for all the stakeholders,” he opines.

One may lament that these organisations have impeded the development of democracy by warding off democracy-promoters from the US and Europe. “But as we have seen in Ukraine, Georgia, and Belarus, such attempts rarely achieve the desired outcome and instead bring catastrophe and misery to people. All the members of the SCO prefer political stability to chaotic transition and regime change. They detest the idea of external intervention or interference in domestic issues and consider sovereignty to be sacrosanct. The concept of ‘sovereign democracy’ is hugely popular among the SCO members,” the JNU professor says.

Who is the beneficiary of SCO & why?

“China is the biggest beneficiary of the SCO as it gets access to vast energy resources and a secured land-route for its flagship BRI project. Without the Central Asian landscape, the road and rail networks of China to Europe would pass through difficult geographical and political terrains,” according to Prof Rajan.

In conclusion, Prof Rajan states, “The SCO began with an exclusive focus on border and security issues, but over the time it has embraced a wider dimension including energy, economy and cultural exchanges. As a Chair, India has underlined the importance of start-ups, innovation and traditional medicine. Clearly, the SCO has moved beyond its original blueprint.”

India can leverage the SCO to its advantage.

“Its presence tips the balance in Russia’s favour. It offers an opportunity for Central Asian states to develop closer ties with India. Without India, China would exert a disproportionate influence over them. India’s absence from the SCO would amount to giving an easy walk over to China and Pakistan in Eurasia, Iran and Afghanistan. That would be a nightmare for India’s security interests in the region,” Prof Rajan says.

“India’s grand-strategy to connect to Afghanistan and Eurasia through Chabahar port will face headwinds if it does not remain embedded to the security institutions in the region. Similarly, its efforts to contain terrorism will be hampered severely without support from the neutral SCO members. Moreover, as the US army withdraws from Afghanistan, the SCO can become a vital institution for negotiating with the Taliban in the region. Given India’shigh-security stakes there, it is imperative to remain active in the regional security architecture.”

The achievements of the SCO have been modest.

In his view, “Most of the economic agreements are signed through bilateral or other multilateral mechanisms. The SCO has managed to ward off the spillover of radical Wahabi Islam from West Asia somewhat. But it is yet to develop a robust strategy for taking concrete steps against the menace of terrorism. The Regional Anti-Terrorist Architecture (RAT) of the SCO needs to be more effective in sharing information and tackling this threat. Border conflicts between its members pose a serious threat to its credibility.”

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