What’s in the news?
- India is set to host the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meet in Goa.
- The SCO is a multilateral grouping comprising eight member states of China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
- This year, of the four observers, Iran and Belarus are set to be admitted as full members. Afghanistan and Mongolia are the two other observers.
- The dialogue partners are Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Turkey.
India and the SCO
- Moscow sees India’s presence in the SCO as a potential countervailing force to Chinese dominance of Central Asia.
- It was Russia that began pushing for India’s membership of the group, around the time that China’s Xi Jinping launched his Belt and Road Initiative in Kazakhstan. In 2015, India was admitted as an observer along with Iran and Pakistan.
- Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit the same year to all five central Asian republics in one trip gave India’s interest in the region an authoritative imprimatur.
- The region spoke to all the recurrent themes of Indian foreign policy over the last two decades – trade, connectivity, energy security and combating terrorism. A membership of the SCO two years later gave India a higher profile in Central Asia to which it does not have overland access. In post-US Afghanistan, it has helped India stay involved in the regional discussion on Taliban rule, from which it is otherwise excluded.
- Just as Russia needs India in the SCO, with relations between India and China rough since the Doklam episode in 2017 and worsening steadily after the Chinese incursions in eastern Ladakh, the group has provided Delhi a forum to play up its proximity to Moscow.
- But if the Quad is India’s diplomacy in the Indo-Pacific, the SCO represents its diplomacy in the Eurasian landmass. It can also be seen as an exercise of true multipolarity.
- SCO veterans describe the forum as a “diplomatic battlefield”. The challenge for India is to use both the SCO and the Quad to further its own interests instead of getting trapped in an either-or proposition.