As Russia, China vie for upper hand, what SCO means for India

Source: The post is based on the article “As Russia, China vie for upper hand, what SCO means for India” published in The Indian Express on 5th May 2023.

Syllabus: GS 2 – International Institutions

Relevance: Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)

News: The Council of Foreign Ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) will meet Friday in Goa.

About Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)

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The main work of the foreign ministers’ meeting is to prepare for the upcoming meeting of the Heads of State Council, or the SCO summit, expected to be held in July.

China and Russia dominate the SCO. Due to which, the SCO is criticized, and different views are often put up.

What are the different views regarding SCO?

The West views the SCO as a club run by China and ally Russia where the two dominant powers are in competition with each other for influence.

Moreover, four of the five Central Asian republics are members of SCO. Russia views these resource-rich republics, that were part of the erstwhile Soviet Union, as its strategic backyard.

However, the influence of China in the Central Asian-5 (C5) countries has grown with the Belt and Road Initiative and Russia has not been able to stop growing Chinese footprint over the region.

Despite this, Russia’s economic influence in the central Asian region is still strong, due to its political, cultural and people-to-people connections.

This power play in central Asia has its impact in the SCO and this is where Russia needs India.

Why is the presence of India in the SCO important for Russia?

Russia sees India’s presence in the SCO as a potential countervailing force to Chinese dominance of Central Asia.

It was Russia which pushed for India’s membership in the group. Due to which, in 2015, India was admitted as an observer along with Iran and Pakistan.

Moreover, the visit of the PM to the central Asian countries in 2015 and India becoming a member of the SCO in 2017 gave India a higher profile in Central Asia.

In post-US Afghanistan, SCO has helped India stay involved in the regional discussion on Taliban rule. SCO has also helped India to improve its ties with Russia given the increasing tensions with China after the Doklam issue.

What are the concerns with India membership in the SCO?

Some experts view the Quad grouping as a counter to the influence that Russia and China seek to project through the SCO, and India’s membership of both as a contradiction.

However, the Quad is India’s diplomacy in the Indo-Pacific and the SCO represents its diplomacy in the Eurasian landmass. It can also be seen as an exercise of true multipolarity.

Further, if the SCO is a bipolar China-Russia platform, it offers several multipolarities within itself as members have options to get the best deal for themselves.

For instance, India was the only country that did not sign a joint statement calling for the strengthening of the Biological Weapons Convention in last year’s foreign ministers’ meeting.

What is the way ahead for India?

SCO is described as a “diplomatic battlefield”. Hence, the challenge for India is to use both the SCO and the Quad for its own interests instead of getting trapped in.

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