THE 23rd Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit was held under the chairmanship of India ‘virtually’. Its virtual status has raised serious questions such as why India preferred holding it virtually where pandemic-related restrictions are already lifted. Secondly, India is not such a country that avoids travel or hosting events like the SCO Summit because PM Modi recently paid a visit to the US and hosted the G20 meeting with full zeal, and zest. Then why the SCO summit went virtual becomes a serious concern for the world at large and China in particular. To answer all the above questions let’s reflect on the aims, objectives/agenda of the SCO.
The SCO is a permanent inter-governmental international organization. The main goals of the SCO are strengthening confidence and good-neighborly relations among the member countries; promoting effective cooperation in politics, trade, economy, science, technology, culture as well as education, energy, transportation, tourism, environmental protection, and other fields; making joint efforts to maintain and ensure peace, security, and stability in the region, moving towards the establishment of a new, democratic, just and rational political and economic international order. Proceeding from the Spirit of Shanghai, the SCO pursues its internal policy based on the principles of mutual trust, mutual benefit, equal rights, consultations, respect for the diversity of cultures, and aspiration towards common development, its external policy is conducted following the principles of non-alignment, non-targeting anyone and openness.
The creation of the SCO was proclaimed on 15 June 2001, in Shanghai (China) by the Republic of Kazakhstan, the People’s Republic of China, the Kyrgyz Republic, the Russian Federation, the Republic of Tajikistan, and the Republic of Uzbekistan. Eight countries enjoyed the status of the SCO full members: India, Kazakhstan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan; four countries — Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran, and Mongolia — have observer status with the SCO, and six countries — Azerbaijan, Armenia, Cambodia, Nepal, Turkey, and Sri Lanka — have a dialogue partner status. During this 23rd Summit, Iran officially joined the SCO as the Ninth Member Country. The theme of India’s SCO presidency was “SECURE”. It stands for Security, Economic development, Connectivity, Unity, Respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, and Environmental protection. The Summit was expected to focus on the regional security situation and ways to boost connectivity and trade. This was Putin’s first participation in a multilateral summit after the Russia- Ukraine crisis.
According to Parveen Sawhney, it was India’s first presidency to host the event, but India rejected the two key things endorsed by the other SCO members: 1) India did not sign the Economic Development Strategy 2030; 2) Not signed the BRI and call it a debt trap despite the fact 149 nations have already endorsed it and 49 African nations out of 54 are on board with the BRI. Through the BRI initiative, China is looking at two outlooks that complement one another: 1) common prosperity and 2) cooperative security. It is not a zero-sum game where one benefits and the other loses. China aims to have physical infrastructure projects, cyberspace hardware, and cyberspace software connectivity that leads to a third-world revolution. This project connects the region through land, sea route, and space. The UN endorses the BRI for meeting all sustainable goals and objectives. In 2021, President Xi came up with an acronym Global Development Initiative – it is nothing more than the BRI yet looking at the UN SDGs. In 2022, President Xi came up with another acronym called Global Security Initiative – working under the UN. SCO is part of achieving the same goals.
During the SCO Summit, Modi told Putin “Today’s era is not an era of war.” Whose language India is speaking? Secondly, Modi emphasized the Chabahar Port and International North-South Transport Corridor bypassing China and Pakistan. Will Iran go with India and go against SCO countries, particularly China and Russia? Thirdly, Modi speaks about the terrorism originating from Pakistan. Is it all coming up post-Modi’s visit to the US where both states’ agenda revolved around terrorism and eradicating violent extremism concerning Pakistan? Other than these statements there is a complete media blackout about the SCO Summit. One has to dig deeper and conduct advanced research on the internet to find any updates on the SCO Summit. India is playing Chairmanship/Presidentship of both SCO and G2O this year but handled both differently. The world has seen how India projected the G20 meeting and how it brushed SCO under the carpet and kept it low profile and virtual.
From China’s perspective, it was a total failure! Statements as such matter because China along with Russia are the main forces behind SCO. Was the main purpose behind Modi’s visit to the US to fail the SCO summit, malign Pakistan and weaken the BRI along with its flagship project CPEC? Or warn the BRICS members of Indian presence? Where BRICS is composed of emerging economies supported by two banks: The BRICS Bank also called the New Development Bank and Asia Investment Infrastructure Bank. Both SCO and BRICS are setting up or creating a parallel structure to the existing system such as the World Bank and IMF. Considering the seriousness of SCO, why India chooses this Summit to go virtual is a serious question that comes to mind. India sees itself as a rival to China in the emerging global order and believes herself to be the voice of the Global South with support from G20 nations. Hence India believes it will not sign any strategy where China is present yet being a part of SCO and BRICS.
If India had to endorse SCO and BRICS activities and plans, it would have to accept the Chinese leadership that goes against the will of the US. Unfortunately, India is playing on both sides of the boat – stays with the Chinese bloc but remains active in the US bloc. It now raises a serious question about India’s role in SCO as well as in BRICS. How can members of both SCO and BRICS trust India? Where India failed the SCO Summit whereas the BRICS Summit is expected in August this year in Johannesburg, South Africa. BRICS countries can learn from the Indian role as a spoiler in the SCO and seriously think about Indian membership in the BRICS nations which is growing soon with the inclusion of KSA, UAE, Egypt, Algeria, Argentina, Mexico, and Nigeria. Since Indian economic contribution to BRICS is only 13% whereas China holds 70%, it’s time to park India at its right post otherwise it will continue as a spoiler in the region and beyond!
—The writer， Dr。 Farah Naz is an Assistant Professor, at the Department of Government and Public Policy, National University of Sciences and Technology.