23rd Meeting of the SCO Council of Heads of State (CHS)

Context:  Recently, the Prime Minister addressed the 23rd Summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Council of Heads of State via video conferencing.
Probable Question: Q.  Discuss the key challenges faced by the SCO and suggest measures to enhance its effectiveness in promoting regional stability and economic cooperation.
Key Highlights of Prime-Minister’s Address:
  • Chabahar Port: Prime-Minister suggested expanding the utilization of the Chabahar port for enhanced trade activities following Iran’s inclusion in the SCO group.
  • New Delhi Declaration on Terrorism: The New Delhi declaration was signed by the member nations at the end of the meeting stating that the international community must come together to “counter the activities of terrorist, separatist and extremist groups.
  • China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC):  He outlined that while executing connectivity projects, it is essential to “respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity” of member countries of the SCO.
  • Terror Financing: There is a need to enhance mutual cooperation through the RATS (regional anti-terrorist structure) mechanism of SCO in dealing with terror financing.
  • Afghanistan: India shares its concerns and expectations regarding Afghanistan with those of most SCO countries.
About Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO):
  • The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is a eight-member multilateral organization, established on 15 June 2001 in Shanghai, China by the leaders of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
  • Origin: Prior to the creation of SCO in 2001, Kazakhstan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan were members of the Shanghai Five.
    • Shanghai Five (1996) 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 the SCO.
  • Official Languages: Russian and Chinese
  • Member states:  Kazakhstan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, India, Pakistan and Iran.
  • Observer States: Afghanistan, Belarus, Mongolia
  • Dialogue Partners: Azerbaijan, Armenia, Cambodia, Nepal, Turkey, and Sri Lanka.
  • Coverage: The SCO’s geographic scope covers 60 percent of Eurasia and represents 40 percent of the world’s population, with a combined GDP accounting for 20 percent of the global economy.
  • Chairmanship: The Chairmanship of SCO is by rotation for a year by Member States.
Objectives:
  • To strengthen mutual trust, friendly relations and cooperation among young people of SCO member States.
  • It seeks to counter western influence in Eurasia.
India and SCO:
  •  India was granted Observer status at the July 2005 Astana Summit, and subsequently participated in all SCO forums open to Observers.
  • India and Pakistan became members at the Astana Summit, in 2017.
SCO under India’s Presidency:
  • The theme of India’s Presidency of SCO is SECURE which stands for – S: Security, E: Economic development, C: Connectivity, U: Unity, R: Respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity and E: Environmental protection,”
  • India has made five new pillars for cooperation in the SCO, which include:
    • Startups and Innovation
    • Traditional Medicine
    • Youth Empowerment
    • Digital Inclusion
    • Shared Buddhist Heritage
Organizational Structure:
  • Heads of State Council – The supreme SCO body which decides its internal functioning and its interaction with other States & international organizations, and considers international issues.
  • Heads of Government Council – Approves the budget, considers and decides upon issues related to economic spheres of interaction within SCO.
  • Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs – Considers issues related to day-to-day activities.
  • Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) – Established to combat terrorism, separatism and extremism.
  • Secretariat: The Secretariat of the SCO serves to implement organizational decisions and decrees, documents (such as declarations and agendas)
Benefits of SCO Membership to India:
  • Multi-Pronged Engagement: SCO gives India a singular platform to deepen ties with Russia; monitor and counter the influence of China and Pakistan, and expand economic and cultural cooperation with Central Asian Republics (CARs).
  • Connectivity: The lack of adequate connectivity with the CARs has been a major constraint for India. With SCO membership, India’s pending energy projects like the TAPI pipeline, IPI pipeline, can get a much-needed push.
  • Energy Resources: The CARs supply around 10 percent of oil and energy to the world. With India being one of the most energy-hungry nations, involvement in the SCO provides it with an opportunity to satisfy its energy requirements through regional diplomacy.
  • Counterterrorism: India through the Regional Anti-Terrorism Structure (RATS) of the SCO can improve its counterterrorism experience, by working toward intelligence sharing, developing best practices and technologies, extradition arrangements etc.
  • Platform to Promote Dialogue among Members: The SCO Charter doesn’t allow any bilateral dispute to be taken up, thereby it may facilitate dialogue between India-Pakistan which has been on hold for years.
  • Checkmating China: Being a full member of the SCO, India would be in a position to plan its policy to effectively deal with China’s ambitious initiative of “One Belt, One Road” and “China Pakistan Economic Corridor” (CPEC).
  • Strengthening India’s Position: Membership of the SCO would further strength India’s position as a promoter of a multilateral global order.
Challenges:
  • Pakistan entanglement: Alongside India, Pakistan was accepted as a full member. The presence of Pakistan and the dominance of China in the SCO, arguably limit India to a secondary role in the organization.
  • Connectivity to CARs: There are differences on the idea of connectivity being put forth by different SCO members. India has its focus on the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC), the Ashgabat Agreement, the Chabahar port whereas the rest of the members have embraced China’s BRI.
  • Counter Terrorism: The organization has done little in practical terms to counter terrorism as Pakistan is still indulged in a major proxy war with India. Moreover, SCO has not been able to provide a platform to India in the Afghanistan peace process.
  • Minimal Engagement: India does not have a significant standing in the region. For instance, India’s bilateral trade with Central Asia stands at about $2 billion and with Russia about $10 billion in 2017 as opposed to over $50 billion and $100 billion respectively for China.
  • Rise of Alternative Multilateral Groupings: Whether the SCO grows into a successful regional forum depends on its ability to overcome bilateral differences between its members and their respective geopolitical calculations.
    • For Example: The proliferation of other regional undertakings — EAEU, BRI, Greater Eurasian Partnership, CSTO, CICA — will also pose a challenge for SCO.
  • Conflicts Among Member Countries of SCO: India-China and Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan share border disputes which hinders cooperation among SCO members.
  • Lack of Dispute Resolution Mechanism: SCO lacks a formal mechanism for resolving disputes between member states.
Way Forward:
  • Promoting Cooperation based on Principles: To further enhance cooperation within the SCO, India should emphasize the importance of universally recognized international norms, good governance, rule of law, openness, transparency, and equality.
  • Adherence to Charter Principles: India should advocate for strict adherence to the principles outlined in the SCO’s charter.
  • Enhancing the Role of the SCO Summit: India should push for the SCO Summit to assume a central and coordinating role in enforcing sanctions imposed by the council on concerned entities.
  • Establishment of Working Groups: To address the concerns of all entities involved, India should propose the establishment of dedicated working groups within the SCO framework.
News Source: The Hindu

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