Why in news?
=>With India and Pakistan as newly incorporated members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), China is likely to face an increasing amount of divisiveness within a regional economic and security organisation accustomed to extreme comity and cooperative discussions.
=>The SCO could bring both the countries, India and Pakistan closer, despite the dispute over Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), the rising geo-political competition between the two Asian giants and different approaches to counter terrorism. This was achieved primarily because of healthy environment of give and take at the SCO.
Background on SCO:
=>The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) is a Eurasian political, economic and security organisation, the creation of which was announced on June 15, 2001, in Shanghai, China, by the Shanghai group comprising China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan.
=>The SCO Charter was signed in June 2002 and came into force on September 2003. These countries, except for Uzbekistan, had been members of the Shanghai Five group, founded on April 26, 1996, in Shanghai. India and Pakistan joined SCO as full members on June 09, 2017, at the summit in Astana, Kazakhstan.
=>At the Dushanbe, Tajikistan summit in 2000, members agreed to “oppose intervention into the internal affairs other countries on the pretexts of ‘humanitarianism’ and ‘protecting human rights’; and support the efforts of one another in safeguarding their national independence, their sovereignty, territorial integrity and social stability.”
=>The SCO in Ufa, Russia, decided to admit India and Pakistan as full members. Both signed the Memorandum of Obligations in June 2016 in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, thereby starting the formal process of joining the SCO as full members.
=>On June 09, 2017, at a summit in Astana, Kazakhstan, India and Pakistan officially joined the SCO as full-fledged members.
Economic & International presence:
=>The SCO has established relations with the United Nations in 2004 (where it is an observer in the General Assembly), the Commonwealth of Independent States in 2005, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2005, the Collective Security Treaty Organisation in 2007, the Economic Cooperation Organisation in 2007, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in 2011, the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA) in 2014 and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific in 2015.
=>In 2017, SCO’s eight full members accounted for approximately half of the world’s population, a quarter of the world’s GDP and about 80 per cent of Eurasia’s landmass.
=>The Council of Heads of State is the top decision-making body in the SCO. This council meets at the SCO summits that are held each year in the capital city of one of the member states. The Council of Foreign Ministers also holds regular meetings where they discuss the current international situation and the SCO’s interaction with other international organisations.
=>The Council of National Coordinators coordinates the multilateral cooperation of member states within the framework of the SCO’s charter.
=>The Secretariat of the SCO located at Beijing is the primary executive body of the organisation.
=>It serves to implement organisational decisions and decrees; drafts proposed documents such as declarations and agendas; functions as a document depository for the organisation; arranges specific activities within the SCO framework and promotes as well as disseminates information about the SCO.
Activities of the SCO Military Activities:
=>The Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS), headquartered in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, is a permanent organ of the SCO which serves to promote cooperation between the member states against the three evils of terrorism, separatism and extremism.
=>The Head of RATS is elected to a three-year term. Each member state also sends a permanent representative to RATS. Over the past few years, the activities of the organisation have expanded to include military cooperation, intelligence sharing and counter-terrorism. There have been a number of joint military exercises in the SCO.
Possibility of India -Pakistan Cooperation:
=>In his address to the representatives to the 13th meeting of Security Council Secretaries of the SCO in Beijing on May 22, 2018, President Xi Jinping said that maintaining regional security and stability has been the top priority of the bloc ever since it was founded.
=>The SCO members have fought the ‘three evil forces’ of terrorism, separatism and extremism; prevented the overflow of negative effects from hot issues as also have made important contribution to keeping regional peace, development and prosperity.
=>The SCO members should uphold the strategic direction of security cooperation, continue to boost mutual strategic trust, enhance coordination of policy, uphold justice and jointly push the resolution of regional hot issues through political and diplomatic measures.
=>The Pakistan government had also welcomed delegations from SCO member states on May 23, 2018. It claimed its support for SCO’s efforts in regional cooperation against terrorism, drug trafficking and organised crime.
=>Experts from the eight Shanghai SCO member states–China, Kazakhstan, India, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Pakistan, as well as representatives of the SCO-RATS, participated in the meeting held on May 23 and 25, 2018.
Role of China vis-a-vis India in the SCO:
=>Russia first proposed India as a member to complement bilateral economic and security engagement, but mainly to contain China’s growing influence in the organisation.
=>Russia is increasingly concerned that post Soviet SCO members — Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, are drifting into China’s geo-strategic orbit.
=>For example, it is well known that Moscow has long delayed implementing Chinese initiatives that would enable Beijing to reap greater benefits from regional trade, including establishing the SCO’s regional trade agreement and bank
=>As China gains more clout in Central Asia, Russia welcomed India by its side to occasionally strengthen Russia’s hand at slowing or opposing Chinese initiatives.
=>Indian Prime Minister’s informal summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi, Russia on May 21, 2018, is part of the regular consultation between the leadership of two countries.
=>This has been an important occasion for the two leaders to exchange views on international matters in a broad and long-term perspective with the objective of further strengthening
India & BRI:
=>Going forward, this strategy is likely to pay rich dividends. India has a major hang up related to the activities of its archrival Pakistan, sponsored by China at the 2015 SCO summit to balance Moscow’s support of India and continues to be highly critical of China’s so-called “all-weather friendship” with Islamabad.
=>In May 2018, India refused to send a delegation to China’s widely publicised ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ summit which was aimed at increasing trade and infrastructure connectivity between China and Eurasian countries.
=>According to the Indian government, the flagship project of the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ — the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, was not “pursued in a manner that respects sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
=>Indian opposition stems from the plan to build the corridor through the disputed Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) region and to link it to the strategically positioned Pakistani port of Gwadar, prompting Indian Prime Minister to raise the issue again during his acceptance speech at the SCO summit.
Stage for strategic dimensions:
=>India is likely to continue criticising the corridor in the context of the SCO because, as a full member, India has the right to protest developments that do not serve the interests of SCO members.
=>The SCO also offers another public stage for India to constantly question the intent behind China’s exceptionally close ties with Pakistan. However, China can play a balancing act to bring sobriety between the two warring countries India and Pakistan by supporting genuine demands of India on terrorism and counseling India on J&K for peaceful negotiations.
=>India-Pakistan tensions also occasionally flare up, and Beijing may have to brace for either side to use the SCO as a platform to mediate for an amicable solution. In the absence of a major incident, Beijing has admirably handled the delicacy of this situation.
=>The SCO membership for India and Pakistan would lead to positive bilateral developments. Even if that were overly optimistic, it would set the right tone as the organisation forges ahead. But the odds are against China’s desired outcome.
=>China needs to look no farther than South Asia for a cautionary tale. In this region, both India and Pakistan are members of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). India along with Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Bhutan, boycotted last year’s summit in Islamabad because it believed Pakistan was behind a terrorist attack on an Indian army base in J&K.
=>Even with an official ban on discussing bilateral issues in its proceedings, SAARC has been perennially hobbled by the intrusion of India-Pakistan disputes.
=>China can probably keep its close friend Pakistan in line at the SCO, but India would also have to fall in line.
Full Membership of SCO for Afghanistan:
=>Another major issue for the SCO to contend with is the security of Afghanistan. An integral component of the organisation is the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure, aimed at combating China’s “three evils” — terrorism, extremism, and separatism.
=>India, however, is likely to reliably and reasonably highlight the contradiction between China’s stated anti- terrorism goals and the reality of its policy. Most notably, China has consistently looked the other way as Pakistani intelligence services continue to support terrorist groups in Afghanistan, including the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network.
=>Moreover, India being particularly close to the Afghanistan, could seek to sponsor Afghanistan to move from observer status to full SCO membership. This would give India even greater strength in the group and could bolster Russia’s position as well.
=>Thoughts Lingering border disputes and fierce geostrategic competition in South Asia between China and India are likely to temper any cooperation China might hope to achieve with India in the SCO.
=>The unfolding Doklam dispute is the latest example of tense relations at multiple points along their Line of Actual Control (LAC).
=>On the one hand, mutual suspicions in the maritime domain persist with the Indian government recently shoring up its position in the strategically important Andaman and Nicobar island chain to counter the perceived Chinese “string of pearls” strategy that is aimed at establishing access to naval ports throughout the Indian Ocean that could be militarily advantageous in a conflict. Such mutual suspicions are likely to impact SCO discussions on military matters.
=>On the other hand, China has Naval Bases in the making –Gwadar/ Pakistan, Hambantota/ Sri Lanka, Chittagong/ Bangladesh, Kyauskpyu/ Myanmar, Gan/ Maldives plus three Ports, Iskander, Klang and Meluka in Malaysia besides railway from its Malacca Straits/ West Coast to East Coast South China Sea.
=>Australian Islands of Coco and Chrisma, Souith West of Indonesia, have 80 per cent of Chinese population from where American and Australian P-8 Maritime Aircraft would be operating for surveillance in the South China Sea, the Bay of Bengal as also in the waters of Sri Lanka and the Maldives.
=>Although India may be an unwelcome addition and irritant to China at the SCO, China does not necessarily need the SCO to achieve its regional objectives.
=>For instance, even though India rejected Beijing’s ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ overture, China remains India’s top trading partner and a critical market for all Central and South Asian states, leaving them with few other appealing options.
=>Regardless of the bickering between countries that may break out, China is expected to show off the importance of the SCO with all pomp and show of circumstances at the next summit in June 2019, an event that Indian Prime Minister is likely to attend.
=>China, as the host, can emerge as a peacemaker in the continent if it handles the summit carefully by accepting members’ genuine viewpoint and accepting their justified demands.
=>This is a golden opportunity for China to display its statesmanship by creating a peaceful environment where all disputes among the member countries are discussed especially India and Pakistan, to arrive at a reasonable solution or a stage is set for further negotiations amicably agreed upon.
Pic courtesy:DNA India
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