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SCO Membership:INDIA TO WEIGH BENEFITS, By Amrita Banerjee, 31 Aug, 2015 Print E-mail

Round The World

New Delhi, 31 August 2015

SCO Membership


By Amrita Banerjee

(School of International Studies, JNU, New Delhi)


The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) has made an important announcement regarding the expansion of the organisation with two States --India and Pakistan-- who had enjoyed Observer Status in the organisation for about a decade now. It is true, that over the years, SCO has widened its horizon to include the interests of countries beyond the Eurasian space with dialogue partners like Belarus, Turkey and Sri Lanka; but it has remained cautious about expanding the organization to even include the observer States. So, the announcement of extending membership to India and Pakistan in SCO should be considered as a significant breakthrough.

In the past, SCO had been hesitant to extend membership to India due to several issues. Firstly, China wanted to treat SCO as a forum to pursue its exclusive goals. Secondly, the SCO has been avoiding the expansion because of the persistent tension between India and Pakistan and the risk of SCO getting mired into South Asian conflict. Thirdly, India has been perceived as a country which is politically and intellectually more inclined towards the West as well as to the East rather than towards Eurasia. And lastly, many commentators were and still of the view that a high profile country like India needs to chart its own regional economic course and need not seek membership into an organization where it will have lesser political voice and status.

Indian government corridors have also been abuzz with speculations whether an Indian membership in SCO is worth pursuing. Apprehensions have been raised about the incompatibility between India’s security interest and that of the Chinese. Also, China does not look upon Pakistan-sponsored anti-India organizations in its mission to combat terror. In this regard, if ever India tries to move any resolution against such groups, the motion will not garner support from Beijing and its puppet nations in SCO. Fighting cyber terrorism would be another challenge as China is itself a Cyber bully as has (State-sponsored) Chinese hackers.

Also, SCO, as an organisation, is mired with certain problems. First, it has no clear idea as to how the organization would deal with the challenges if the chaos there flares up to engulf the region like the Afghan situation. Second, the Central Asian states despite the SCO bindings showed their strong inclinations for cooperating with the West on a broad set of issues. Third, the growing contradiction between China and Russia also has the potential to impede the SCO’s growth. The fourth issue deals with problems relating to expansion which become limited because the ‘official language’ clause (which includes only Chinese and Russian) of the SCO keeps the English speaking countries away from entering the grouping.

Even though SCO is not free from lacunae, it can bring credible benefits for India in an event of membership by 2016. In this regard, it would be worthwhile to note what benefits India would accrue from this membership. First, gain is geopolitical in nature, i.e. to protect its interests in Afghanistan, to keep a close watch on Russia-Pakistan nearness, to be able to rebut any useless resolutions put forward by Pakistan on the SCO table and learning from the ways SCO has been successful in containing the spread of extremism and terrorism in Central Asia.

Secondly, the SCO membership could give India a new way to build promising bridges with Central Asia by giving New Delhi more leeway in pursuing its energy interests and along with Pakistan’s membership, projects like CASA, TAPI, IPI might also see the light at the end. As Prime Minister Narendra Modi has rightly said that the expansion of the SCO should serve a ‘springboard’ for the organisation to become one of the most dynamic in the world as it would give it a chance to get a better foothold on the region and also benefit from Central Asia's gas riches.

Thirdly, India can create a vast network of physical and digital connectivity that extends from Eurasia's northern corner to Asia's southern shores. The International North South Transportation Corridor is a step in that direction.

Fourthly, India brings decades of experience in dealing with social issues especially in the multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural settings that could be shared with the SCO member States which are confronted with lots of social and religious challenges. Modi had stated that India's membership ‘reflects the natural links of history’ and ‘it will also promote peace and prosperity in this vast region that has often been called the pivot of human history.’

Fifthly, India could gain from SCO’s public information and mass media mechanisms for enhancing greater presence in the Eurasian space. Sixthly, India could gain access in the soft-political areas of the Eurasian region, such as our participation in educational, environmental protection, disaster management and rescue operations, climate change debate, water related issues and people-to-people level contact (through institutional means).

Seventhly, participation in other non-conventional security areas such as food security measures, drug-trafficking control, information and cyber security, etc. could be of advantage for India. And finally, India’s participation in the SCO’s military and counter-terror exercises could prove to be beneficial for our armed forces to understand and interact with other militaries, thereby instilling greater confidence at the regional level.

India would no doubt gain from the membership but an uncertainty about how much still remains because the membership is not just being extended to India but given to Pakistan as well. However, Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Cheng does not seem to carry these apprehensions. In fact, he remains overly optimistic about the SCO’s ability to bridge the differences that persist between India and Pakistan. Besides this, geopolitically SCO membership could highlight avenues for greater cooperation between India and China in areas such as terrorism and Afghan reconstruction. China will be hoping that India’s inclusion will stave off some of the criticism of the organization as a grouping of States with little affection for the Western world order. Also, incorporating India as a full member mitigates fears that the SCO will shape up to be a China-led NATO.

In a nutshell, the process of expansion would bring four nuclear armed nations, China, Russia, India and Pakistan under one security bloc led by Beijing being the most important power broker. Even though there is lot of optimism in SCO’s expansion with relation with Xi’s burgeoning ‘One Belt, One Road’ vision, it’s hard to imagine how the inclusion of Pakistan and India will allow the organization to somehow suddenly become more dynamic and cooperative forum. Nonetheless, having got an opportunity in the organisation, India must have a clear pro-active policy in SCO otherwise it may risk becoming a focal point of criticism by the Central Asia States just like the way New Delhi is targeted in the SAARC. Only future would be able to say whether India actually gets benefitted in SCO or not. Till then, we can at best wait and watch. --- INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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