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Editorial of the Day: Virtual summit, virtual silence (The Hindu)

Context: The article discusses India’s virtual participation in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit and raises concerns about the country’s diplomatic approach towards the SCO. It criticizes India’s decision to hold the summit virtually, stating that it undermines the significance of the event and suggests a potential dilution of India’s objectives within the SCO. The article points out that India had previously invested significant effort in the SCO, hosting numerous meetings and events during its presidency. It argues that due to this active engagement, the summit should have been held physically or in a hybrid format to underscore India’s commitment to the organization and enhance its importance. Overall, the article suggests that India holding a virtual summit indicates a diplomatic shift or drift concerning its engagement with the SCO.


Shanghai Cooperation Organisation


  • Definition: The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) is a permanent intergovernmental international organization founded in Shanghai on 15 June 2001.
    • The SCO has been an observer in the UN General Assembly since 2005.
  • History: The SCO was built on the ‘Shanghai Five’ grouping of Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, which had come together in the post-Soviet era in 1996, in order to work on regional security, reduction of border troops, and terrorism.
    •  In 2001, the Shanghai Five inducted Uzbekistan into the group and named it the SCO.
  • Goals:
    • Strengthening mutual trust and good-neighbourly relations among the member states.
    • Promoting their effective cooperation in politics, trade, the economy, research, technology, culture, education, energy, transport, tourism, environmental protection.
    • Making joint efforts to ensure peace, security and stability in the region;
    • Moving towards the establishment of a democratic, fair and rational new international political and economic order.
  • Policy:
    • SCO pursues its internal policy based on the principles of mutual trust, mutual benefit etc.
    • SCO’s external policy is conducted in accordance with the principles of non-alignment, non-targeting of any third country, and openness.
  • Language: Russian and Chinese are the official working languages of the SCO.
  • Members: Currently, 8 countries enjoy the status of the SCO full members: India, Kazakhstan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
    • India and Pakistan  were admitted as full members in 2017.
  • Observer Status: Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran and Mongolia  have an observer status with the SCO.
  • Dialogue Partner Status: Azerbaijan, Armenia, Cambodia, Nepal, Turkey and Sri Lanka have a dialogue partner status.
  • Chairmanship: The Chairmanship of SCO is by rotation for a year by Member States.
    •  India is currently the chair of SCO.
  • Structure:
    • Heads of State Council: It is the highest decision-making body of the SCO which decides its internal functioning and its interaction with other States & international organisations, and considers international issues.
    • Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs: It is responsible for issues related to day-to-day activities.
    •  Heads of Government Council: It is responsible for approving the budget, considers and decides upon issues related to economic spheres of interaction within SCO.
    • Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS):  It was founded in 2004 and is responsible for combating terrorism, separatism and extremism.
      • Headquarters of RATS is located in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
  • Functions:
    • Through RATS, the SCO members share crucial intelligence, knowledge, legal expertise as well as allow for extradition of terrorists.
    • SCO also has a form of military cooperation with Member States holding joint military exercises and ‘war games’.
    • SCO promotes cooperation in the fields of economics and culture, with focus on regional development for tackling security issues.
    • SCO has worked closely with various UN organizations to address various serious global issues.
  • Headquarters: The Headquarters of SCO is located in Beijing.
  • SCO as Anti- NATO: One of the goals that calls to build a “new international political and economic order” did not sit well with the U.S. and Europe, and has led to the SCO being dubbed as “anti-NATO” for proposing military cooperation.
    • This concern was further heightened when heavy sanctions were placed on Russia for its actions in Crimea and China came to its aid, signing a $400 billion gas pipeline agreement.
    •  Since then, through the personal bond between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping, the SCO has become a platform for Eurasian cooperation in a region rich with energy resources.

Decoding the Editorial

The article discusses how India believed in achieving a mutual understanding or agreement (referred to as a “modus vivendi”) with the Chinese President on the contentious issues between India and China. However, there has been a  shift in India’s approach towards the organization compared to the one that led to its full membership in 2017.

Reasons for India’s shifting Interest:

China’s actions towards India in 2020 and the changing international landscape have prompted India to re-evaluate its interests within the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation). The reasons for India’s policy shift towards the SCO are:

  • China’s actions and behaviour towards India: China’s actions in 2020 such as border disputes, military tensions, or other contentious issues may have likely played a significant role in India’s reassessment of its interests within the SCO.
  • Holding a virtual summit: The fact that India opted to hold a virtual summit, rather than a physical or hybrid one, indicates a departure from its previous approach within the SCO. This decision might reflect a shift in India’s engagement and priorities within the organization.
  • Assertiveness on terrorism: India’s strong stance on issues of terrorism during the summit indicates that India has fundamental differences with China and Pakistan on this matter. India believes that some countries use cross-border terrorism as a tool and provide shelter to terrorists. India expects the SCO to criticize such nations and insists on no double standards in dealing with terrorism. This difference in perspective likely contributes to India’s policy shift.
  • Connectivity concerns: Another point of contention for India within the SCO is connectivity projects. India has always emphasized that connectivity projects should respect national sovereignty. Specifically, India has been criticizing China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as projects that violate Indian sovereignty.

The Eurasian Game:

  • Concerns about China’s integration of Eurasia: The author suggests that despite the negative consequences of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), SCO members remain enthusiastic about it. He warns India to be cautious about the potential danger of China integrating Eurasia and excluding India from the region, with the active support of Pakistan. This implies that India needs to be proactive in safeguarding its interests and maintaining close ties with Eurasian countries.
  • India’s stance on the BRI: It should be clear that India should not endorse the BRI, considering it an instrument of Chinese expansionism.
  • Finding alternative ways to engage with Eurasia: India needs to find alternative strategies to maintain close ties with Eurasia despite the growing influence of China. It suggests that efforts such as promoting Buddhist heritage alone will not be sufficient to draw SCO members towards India.
    • Instead, India should focus on developing connectivity through initiatives like the Chabahar project in Iran and establishing active air corridors with the Central Asian Republics.
    • There is also  the need for a pragmatic policy towards Afghanistan, without implying diplomatic recognition of the Taliban.
  • The importance of remaining engaged in the Eurasian game: It may be challenging for India to secure its position in the Eurasian region. However, it highlights the necessity for India to allocate more resources and energy towards maintaining connectivity and engagement with Eurasian countries. By doing so, India can strive to stay involved in the Eurasian game, even if the position is tenuous.

Beyond the Editorial

Importance of SCO for India:

  • Economic Cooperation: The SCO provides India with an opportunity to enhance economic cooperation with Central Asian countries, which possess significant reserves of natural resources. India aims to diversify its economic partnerships and increase trade and investment ties with SCO member states.
  • Energy Security: Central Asia is rich in oil and gas reserves, and India seeks to tap into these resources to enhance its energy security. The SCO serves as a platform for India to engage with energy-rich countries in Central Asia and explore opportunities for cooperation in the energy sector.
  • Cultural Cooperation: The SCO promotes cultural cooperation among its member states, including the preservation and promotion of cultural heritage. India actively participates in cultural initiatives within the SCO, fostering cultural exchanges and collaborations.
  • Counterterrorism: The SCO places a strong emphasis on counterterrorism cooperation. As a victim of terrorism itself, India can benefit from the collective efforts of SCO member states to combat terrorism, separatism, and extremism in the region. The SCO provides a platform for sharing intelligence, conducting joint exercises and operations, and coordinating actions against terrorism.

Significance of the SCO:

  • Economic Cooperation: The SCO represents a substantial portion of the world’s population and GDP, making it a significant economic bloc. Increasing awareness about SCO countries and promoting tourism potential within the region can further boost economic cooperation.
  • Connectivity: The SCO actively promotes connectivity initiatives among member states, such as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC). These infrastructure projects enhance regional connectivity and facilitate trade and transportation.
  • Security Cooperation: The SCO addresses various security threats, including terrorism, separatism, and extremism. The Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) facilitates cooperation among member states to combat these challenges. RATS serves as a platform for intelligence sharing, joint exercises, and coordinated actions against terrorism.

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