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India’s membership in Shanghai Cooperation Organisation

Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) is an intergovernmental organization founded in Shanghai on 15 June 2001 by six countries, People’s Republic of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. India, Mongolia, Iran, and Pakistan later joined in 2005 as Observer states. This year’s annual summit, held in Astana, Kazakhstan from 8-9 June, 2017, has received much attention for one specific reason- India and Pakistan’s status in the organisation is changing from “Observer” to “Member”. As the name suggests, Observer states have limited observatory role in the organisation, without any voting rights, and a change in it implies an active involvement of India in this regional coalition.

What is in store for India?

India has been actively pursuing its inclusion as member in the organisation, strengthening its chances with an all-round Central Asia visit by Prime Minister in 2015, and more recently, in a bilateral meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. With this pretext, it is important to understand what implications will arise from India’s SCO membership.
The membership is expected to intensify India’s economic and political presence in Central Asia. India is believed to benefit from SCO’s regional anti-terrorist structure that provides key intelligence inputs on terror outfits, cyber security and drug trafficking. Also, counter terror exercises and military drills that Indian army will be exposed to, are likely to infuse more energy into the army. Further, India would be able to seek mutually beneficial partnerships with SCO members in human capital creation, technology, education, and policy convergence in regional trade.
In economic spirit, SCO holds immense opportunities for India to bolster its trade linkages with Central Asia, a resource rich region. SCO membership is also positively linked with development of International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC) and the Chabahar port, both directed towards expanding transport and reducing costs of trade. However, notable progress as regards this linkage would be possible if Iran also converts from Observer to Member state in the organisation.
In Indian Prime Minister’s first day address at the summit, commitment to trade in various sectors, such as energy, education, security, minerals and investment, was sought along with an improved focus on climate change and connectivity.

A few lose ends

Apprehensions on ground of China’s dominance in the organisation are obvious, when we speak of India’s late entry into SCO. There have been frequent instances of contradictions in the two nations’ international ambitions, the most recent one being China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a part of which falls into Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir. Another example of China-India disagreement is India’s NSG membership and China’s constant denial of support. A regional partnership in the presence of an otherwise complicated relationship is open to contradictory outcomes. But on a positive note, it is also being seen as a re balancing of China’s pre-eminence in the organisation, with India joining on the other end of the thread.
From a constructive perspective, India’s membership in SCO, which constituting about half the world population, can turn out to be of strategic importance for its global aspirations. In essence, a zealous partnership with old ally Russia, unexplored Central Asia and growth competitor China will act as a catalyst for India to extend markets, and establish geopolitical relations in extended neighbourhood.

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