Context: Three years after joining the eight-nation Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), India hosted the SCO heads of governments (HoG) meeting for the first time.
How does the SCO serve India’s quest for geopolitical balance and regional engagement?
- The focus: The focus of the 66-point joint statement was in developing a “Plan of Priority Practical Measures for 2021-2022 to overcome the socio-economic, financial and food consequences of COVID-19 in the region”.
- Tackling Pakistan: India made strong observations on cross-border terrorism; Our Vice president called it the SCO region’s “biggest challenge”, in comments aimed at Pakistan.
- SCO: The SCO is a rare forum under which India-Pakistan troops take part in joint exercises under the Regional Anti-Terror Structure, although it would seem the two countries have come no closer on the issue.
- Neither statement on terrorism was reflected in the final joint statement, which focused on trade and economic issues.
- Dealing with china: India also marked its differences with China over the BRI by not joining other SCO members in a paragraph endorsing the BRI.
- India also made a pitch for “transparent and trustworthy” trade practices, seen as a sidebar aimed at China.
- SCO’s significance for India: The SCO is one of the few regional structures India is a part of now, given a decline in its engagement with SAARC, BBIN and the RCEP.
- The SCO provides India a convenient channel for its outreach for trade and strategic ties to Central Asian countries.
- It has afforded a platform, when needed, for bilateral discussions with the two countries India has the most tense ties with: China and Pakistan.
- The SCO has been seen as a grouping worth pursuing as it retains India’s geopolitical balance, a useful counterpoint to New Delhi’s otherwise much more robust relations with the western world, and hosting the SCO meeting was one more step towards developing that engagement.