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Amit Jain asked: Should India bargain with China for the SCO membership against the SAARC membership for the latter?

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  • Jagannath P. Panda replies: Not really. India shouldn’t bargain with China for the SCO membership against Beijing’s aspiration for the SAARC membership. Three things must be understood in this context. First, SCO and SAARC are two different regional bodies, based on different regional agenda and composition. Neither SCO is a parallel institution to SAARC nor are they complimentary in their mandate. SAARC is a body which mostly talks about South Asian issues that are non-political in nature; while the core mandate of SCO has been to address the key security, economic and political issues concerning China, Russia and the Central Asian Republics (CARs).

    Second, China is not a South Asian country. On the contrary, India has always been close to the Central Asian region, both in terms of historical and cultural parameters. The Central Asian countries do see India as a vital country and Russia too wants India to be a part of the SCO. Therefore, India’s SCO bid is a natural corollary of the Central Asian dynamics, and New Delhi must rely on these factors to prepare its case for the SCO membership.

    Third, SCO is a China dominated body; whereas in SAARC most of the member countries enjoy a more or less similar standing. India neither dominates the SAARC proceedings nor is the SAARC a political grouping that will entertain anybody’s dominance. Besides, though getting full SCO membership will help India to reach out to Central Asia more effectively, but India will not have the same position and influence as China enjoys within the SCO. On the other hand, China’s possible induction into the SAARC will allow Beijing to dominate its proceedings and pursue a stronger South Asia policy. Further, the Indian Ocean will get exposed to China like never before.