Modi brings vision to SCO against Chinese shadow

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By Shivansh Mishra

New Delhi, September 23: Samarkand, once the capital of the vast empire of Timur (Tamerlane), hosted the 2022 annual summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). The organization covers approximately 60 per cent of the area of Eurasia, 40 per cent of the world population, and more than 30 per cent of the global GDP.

It is a permanent intergovernmental international organization formed in 2001 and is often seen as the counterweight to North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). If we go back to the history of its formation, prior to SCO, Kazakhstan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan were members of the ‘Shanghai Five’.

Shanghai Five emerged from a series of border demarcation and demilitarization talks which the four former Soviet republics held with China to ensure stability along the borders. Following the accession of Uzbekistan to the organization in 2001, the Shanghai Five was renamed as the SCO.

The SCO currently comprises eight members, including China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Further, Iran, hitherto a dialogue partner, has been now admitted as a ninth permanent member. The SCO has emerged as the most prominent international group outside the United Nation Organization (UNO).

The SCO 2022 was held amidst the Russian invasion of Ukraine and Sino-Indian border tensions. For the first time since the Galwan Valley clash happened more than two years ago, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi came face to face. However, they did not have a separate bilateral meeting, and even though Modi and Xi faced each other, no formal handshake was exchanged between the two leaders.

Further, through the SCO forum, for the first time India expressed its annoyance publicly at the Russian invasion of Ukraine, with PM Modi saying “today’s era is not of war and we have spoken to you many times on the phone that democracy, diplomacy and dialogue are such things that touch the world.”

He also added his concerns about food and fertilizers shortages and fuel security. However, Putin’s response was even more snappy, he said “I know your position on the conflict in Ukraine, the concerns that you constantly express. We will do everything to stop this as soon as possible.” Further, Putin blamed Ukraine for the continuing violence, saying that Ukraine had rejected negotiations.

It has been evident that although India had maintained its neutral stance on the Ukraine War, Russia’s more recent struggles in that country are making it increasingly difficult for Modi to back Putin even through neutrality, and the above statement underlines the same trouble situation.

The relationship between India and Russia has also not been the finest for a while. Given the growing strategic proximity between China and Russia, it seems unlikely that the issues affecting India-Russia relations will go away soon. The difficulties might become insurmountable since, despite the escalating animosity between Russia and the West, Russia may continue to pursue a closer alliance with China.

As China continues to pose the greatest threat to India’s national security and Russia forges more robust ties with China at India’s expense, tensions between the two countries are likely to grow.

Furthermore, PM Modi spoke at the summit about India’s rise in the startup culture, mentioning that “India is now the hub of more than 70,000 startups and more than 100 unicorns”. He also stated his desire to share India’s expertise with the SCO member countries for establishing new Special Working Group on Start-ups and Innovation.

PM Modi has also branded India as one of the most affordable destinations for medical and wellness tourism in the world through the SCO, and WHO establishing the first and only global centre for traditional medicine has added another feather to India’s cap in the same ambit.

Moreover, India raised the issue of supply chain disruptions arising from Covid-19 and the Ukraine-Russia conflict, thus calling upon the SCO to become adaptable and develop reliable, resilient, and diversified supply chains.

Further, India emphasized the initiative to promote millet for achieving food security in the world. In a similar purview, United Nation declared 2023 as the International Year of Millet, and India has been leading the world towards super food by accounting for 20 per cent of global and 80 per cent of Asia’s production, becoming the largest producer of millet in the world.

Indian tourism also marked its relevance in the international arena and received a boost from SCO, as Varanasi was nominated as the first-ever SCO Tourism and Cultural Capital during 2022-2023. The nomination of Varanasi as the first ever SCO Tourism and Cultural Capital will promote tourism, cultural and humanitarian exchanges between India and the SCO member Countries. It also underlines India’s ancient civilizational links with the Member States of SCO, especially the Central Asian Republics.

Overall for India, the SCO is fast becoming a platform for promoting its economic capabilities, cultural tradition and making a common arena of discussion with China and Russia on global issues.

Besides economic, energy, connectivity, and security interests that are driving factors for India towards SCO, India’s objectives of capacity building in the central Asian region, connectivity with the Eurasian region, counter-terrorism and energy cooperation can also be promoted through SCO agencies like SCO Business Council, Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS), SCO Interbank Consortium.

(Author is a researcher with Public Policy Research Centre)

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