India’s role as new SCO member

Nitya Chakraborty

India will be participating in the coming summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) as a full member in the middle of 2017 after the completion of the procedural full membership formalities. This new role of India offers the Modi Government big opportunities to play a dominant role in the affairs of the Eurasian region, especially focusing on the expansion of the economic and trade collaboration among the member countries.SCO had originally six members- apart from China and Russia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are member countries.

From the next summit, SCO will have eight full members including India and Pakistan. This will be of importance to India also as India can take up the issues concerning terrorism at the summit involving Pakistan. Russia and China are equally involved in the developments in Afghanistan. That way, India has to make use of the SCO forum to ventilate its views on the terror threat from the jehadi elements and how to find out ways to eliminate that from the region. There might be differences of opinion between India and Pakistan on the sources of terrorist activities but a frank discussion with the participation of other big powers, should help in facilitating a solution to the issue.

India has immense benefits from its SCO membership but it can take full advantage of that only by becoming pro-active in the activities of the SCO and contributing to the discussions on regional and global policies. It is a fact that China is the main force behind SCO and an understanding between China and Russia acts as a catalyst for determining the policies and action programmes. But India has a big clout and the present Government leaders have retained good relationships with both China and Russia. That way, India can be an equal partner along with Russia and China in navigating the SCO in the coming years. With Donald Trump starting his tenure in White House on January 20 this year, the global politics is sure to undergo change and SCO has to adapt to the new situation to protect the regional interests. India can contribute a lot to the evolution of the SCO programme in Trump era.

China’s views are important for the functioning of SCO. Despite occasional irritants, India- China relationship is growing and both the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Chinese President Xi Jinping are determined to improve economic and trade relationship keeping the long standing border dispute aside. China and India are holding meaningful discussions on a wide range of issues from AIIB projects to counter terrorism measures. The trade relations are on an upswing and the Chinese companies are investing in India in a big way. Apart from bilateral discussions, SCO forum gives India a new venue to discuss relations both bilateral and regional.

SCO is projected as a non military block but certainly this body can talk from the position of strength. Russian President Putin has talked of giving SCO a pan Asian dimension and favours to make Iran a member. If Iran is included, the SCO grouping will get additional muscle in terms of both economic and military powers. In the post Trump period, the policies to be followed by the US President have to be appraised by the SCO members to understand its impact on the economic and politics of the region and then action programmes have to be taken accordingly. India can play an important role in this area in view of India’s close relationship with all three major powers. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has visited the CA countries in the last two years and his talks with the four SCO member countries have helped India in getting further foothold in the energy rich central Asian region.

Both China and Russia have invested heavily in the resources rich central Asia region. India has joined late but the Indian oil and gas companies are having extensive discussions with these CA countries. There has been some progress in respect of few projects but these are nothing compared to the potential in the region and India’s energy requirements. The oil prices have started to rise again and this is the right time when India has to work for energy security by having effective collaboration with these countries. The SCO membership will certainly help in facilitating that course of cooperation and collaboration.

India is in a position to export its technical knowhow and consultancy expertise to the central Asian members of the SCO who have embarked on a massive infrastructure programme. India has the requisite expertise to help these countries who are now depending more on knowhow from the western countries as also China. Indian technology costs are cheap compared to the western companies and it is a big opportunity for India to take up massive construction and consultancy work in the central Asian countries. The SCO membership will be of big help to harness the process. Both the private and public sector companies in India will be benefitted by participating in the infra programme of the region.

The usual complaint in the global diplomatic circles is that India does not want to assert in the world forums unless it becomes absolutely necessary. In the new century, this low key diplomacy will not get due dividends. India is an emerging power with both economic and political strength. The country has to act as one of the driving powers in the world forums. Both at SCO and BRICS, India has to step up its activities and play a key role in policymaking. The global situation is turning complex in 2017 and India has to be alert, agile and proactive in diplomacy. (IPA)

Monday, 9 January, 2017