India at the SCO

Issue 06, 2020

India at the SCO

Nivedita Kapoor |author

Issue 06, 2020

India has been constantly involved in promoting socio-economic cooperation and regional stability among members of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). Recently, the country was part of two crucial meetings of SCO. Nivedita Kapoor analyses the importance of India’s involvement and the country’s stand

The 20th Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit hosted virtually by Russia on November 10, 2020, and the 19th SCO Heads of Government Meeting hosted virtually by India on November 30, 2020, highlighted several issues of interest to the grouping. From the SCO’s progress on forging stronger socio-economic relations between member nations to the organisation’s role in countering terrorism and maintaining security and stability in Asia, India has been focussing on these areas since its inclusion in the regional body as a full-member in 2017. On November 30, Vice-President of India, Venkaiah Naidu, chaired the meeting of the SCO Council of Heads of Government that is tasked with discussing and promoting economic and trade cooperation within SCO. The Vice-President, in his address, called for a reformed multilateralism that would equitably represent all stakeholders. This was the first meeting of the SCO hosted by India since it became its member. Speaking at the SCO Council of Heads of State summit hosted by Russia, on November 10, 2020, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi reiterated the country’s commitment to peace and security, while outlining a vision for the role of the organisation for a post-COVID world.

The importance of SCO

The organisation’s multilateral setting has gained further importance, as a reordering of the international world order is underway, with Asia as the focus of the ongoing churn in the global system. This year, the meetings had to be shifted to the digital platform. While bilateral issues are not discussed at SCO, it presents an opportunity to offer a nuanced understanding of India’s ideas and stand on different issues to an international audience.

A screenshot of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (centre) and the leaders of SCO member states during a video-conference meeting of the Council of Heads of State of the SCO

India’s vision

Following the spirit and Charter of the SCO, as PM Modi noted, India has focussed on providing a broader roadmap that would benefit all member states, laying stress on economic cooperation, curbing terrorism and maintaining regional stability. In the sphere of extending cooperation between member nations, PM Modi called for promoting a “combination of economic multilateralism and national capacity building” to help SCO members deal with the pandemic induced recession in the global economy. He also vowed to mobilise India’s resources as the largest vaccine producing country. With reference to regional security, India emphasised its commitment to work against terrorism, illegal arms smuggling, and drugs and money laundering. India also called for respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity while furthering the idea of connectivity. In this context, special mention was made of the International North South Transport Corridor, Chabahar Port and Ashgabat Agreements that reflect India’s commitment to the cause. The policy of reformed multilateralism was stressed upon by the Prime Minister as India begins its stint as a non-permanent member of United Nations Security Council in 2021.

The Declarations

The declarations issued by the summit and the meeting included several topics of socio-economic cooperation that were of utmost relevance to India. The most important being the regional connectivity projects and the promotion of technology-driven digital measures to accelerate sustainable economic cooperation among SCO members. The result of India’s efforts alongside other SCO states was reflected in the Moscow Declaration, which decided to move forward the organisational agenda on several key issues beneficial to all the participants. Member states called for a multipolar world order and identified areas for further strengthening of cooperation. These include trade, production, transport, energy, finance, investment, agriculture, customs, telecommunications, information technology, innovation and other spheres in order to promote innovative, green and sustainable development. A special note was made of the establishment of the SCO Consortium of Economic Analysis Centres, whose first meeting was organised by India in August 2020.

PM Modi (left) shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a meeting on the sidelines of the SCO summit in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, on June 24, 2016

The economic and investment potential of SCO member states was also noted, as was emphasised by PM Modi. This potential can be enhanced through joint projects to promote sustainable development in areas like finance, investment, industry, transport, energy, agriculture etc. On two issues – information security and Belt and Road Initiative – India did not put its name alongside other SCO states in the Declaration; in line with its pre-stated position.  The participation in the SCO meetings is yet another example of India’s commitment to the path of diplomacy as it has steadily risen to become an important player at the regional and international level at a time of changing global order. This has also meant taking a long-term approach to foreign policy, including maintaining regular contacts with other key powers to promote national interests while managing bilateral differences through talks in a peaceful manner to promote stability and growth.

Nivedita Kapoor

Nivedita Kapoor is a Fellow Researcher with the Strategic Studies Program at Observer Research Foundation. She tracks Eurasian strategic affairs. She has recently authored a paper on the potential of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation to advance India’s Connect Central Asia policy.
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