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  • The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation: India Seeking New Role in the Eurasian Regional Mechanism

    The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation: India Seeking New Role in the Eurasian Regional Mechanism

    India, in 2005, acquired the observer status in the SCO. It has also expressed its desire to join the SCO as a full member. It is believed that China would try and delay India's entry as full member in this regional organisation, whereas Russia along with the Central Asian countries would continue to support India's full membership in the SCO. New regional and global order would demand greater cooperation between India and China in future.


    Milind M Chandurkar Asked: Why being a CAR, Turkmenistan is not a member of SCO yet?

    Meena Singh Roy replies: Since its independence, Turkmenistan has adhered to the principles of ‘positive neutrality’ in its foreign policy. On October 22, 1995, Turkmenistan for the first time conveyed to the UN its decision to adhere to a policy of neutrality in its foreign affairs. Subsequently, the 185 member-states of the UN unanimously adopted a special resolution of the General Assembly on the ‘permanent neutrality of Turkmenistan.’ The basis of Turkmenistan’s foreign policy was defined by its former President Saparmurat Niyazov in the following words:

    “The positive permanent neutrality, non-interference into internal affairs of other states, non-alignment with any military blocks and groupings and other international obligations envisaged in the country’s Constitution are the basis of Turkmenistan’s relations with all world states."

    Due to its policy of 'positive neutrality', Turkmenistan did not join the SCO. However, its head of state has several times participated as a special guest in the SCO summit meetings.

    One could also look at my article on “Strategic Importance of Turkmenistan for India”, Strategic Analysis, 35 (4), July 2011, pp. 661–682

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

    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.

    Praveen CV asked: What is the role of India in SCO? How SCO is beneficial for India?

    Reply: Please refer to Meena Singh Roy’s earlier reply to a similar query, at Also, refer to Roy’s commentary, “India's Options in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation”, Strategic Analysis, 36 (4), July-August 2012, pp. 645-650. (

    Abhijit Rathod asked: What is the importance of SCO for Indian foreign policy?

    Reply: Please refer to Meena Singh Roy’s earlier reply to a similar query, at Also, refer to her commentary “India's Options in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation”, Strategic Analysis, 36 (4), July-August 2012, pp. 645-650.

    India's Options in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation

    In June 2011, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), an influential Eurasian regional grouping consisting of Russia, China and four Central Asian Republics (CARs)—Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan—formally approved a ‘memorandum of obligation’, which will now enable non-member countries to apply for SCO membership. India is an observer in the SCO and has expressed its desire to play a larger and more meaningful role as a full member of the organisation.

    July 2012

    Sumit asked: What could be the reasons for the unproductive functioning of SAARC while other regional associations like ASEAN and SCO have led to effective cooperation?

    Smruti S. Pattanaik replies: First, I don’t agree that the SAARC has been unproductive for a number of reasons. Any analysis of the SAARC should take into consideration the bitter partition that the Sub-continent witnessed and the accompanied mistrust and suspicion that made normal state-to-state relations a complicated affair. The relevance of the SAARC should be seen in the following manner: (a) It provides a platform for the regional countries to meet and discuss issues confronting the region. (b) The smaller countries of the region can play a visible role by setting regional agenda in spite of 'big India's' presence. (c) It has helped in expanding areas of cooperation that require collective regional effort, including certain non-traditional issues like terrorism, drug smuggling, etc. (e) Meeting of leaders on the sidelines of the SAARC summits have often helped in ironing out bilateral differences.

    The ASEAN countries did not have contested ideologies, such as the one based on two-nation theory. The countries comprising ASEAN came together to defend themselves from the communist threat. Such external threat was absent in the case of SAARC. Rather, India was considered as a threat by some member countries. Thus, SAARC and ASEAN cannot be compared. Similarly, SCO is relatively a new organisation established in 2001. I don’t think SCO has been effective in terms of forging a common policy on Afghanistan. There is contestation between China and Russia as the latter feels that China is expanding its influence over Central Asia which is its legitimate sphere of influence. Though the forum speaks of countering terrorism; it is yet to have any comprehensive policy to deal with the post-withdrawal situation in Afghanistan.

    The Beijing SCO Summit: Not a Routine One for China

    While expanding the SCO mandate and reviewing the membership criteria are some of the issues that make the Beijing summit a vital one, contentious global issues like Iran also lend the summit greater importance.

    May 29, 2012

    Eminem asked: What does India stand to gain if the membership of SCO is granted?

    Meena Singh Roy: Given the increasing role and significance of the SCO in the Eurasian region and beyond, India is likely to benefit more in the long-term by joining the organisation rather than by staying out of it. For long India has been seen as a “mute spectator” and “fence sitter” in terms of its foreign policy towards Western and Central Asia. As India seeks to expand its role in regional and global affairs, it cannot remain insulated from the developments in its extended neighbourhood. Today, India’s growing economy and its scientific and technological advancement are perceived as being beneficial for the region.

    First and foremost, the full membership of the SCO will provide India greater visibility in the affairs of the Eurasian region which is strategically important for India. Secondly, it will enable India, as an integral part of the Eurasian security grouping, to neutralise centrifugal forces arising from religious extremism and terrorism in the region. In addition, it will help India in managing much more effectively the negative impact of a Talibanised Afghanistan, especially in the post-2014 scenario. Thirdly, it will provide India with a forum where it can constructively engage both China and Pakistan in a regional context and project India’s security interests in the turbulent regional swathe— including West Asia. More importantly, cooperation in three critical areas— energy, building trade and transportation links, and dealing with traditional and non-traditional security threats— can be facilitated through the SCO mechanism.

    Dynamics of Expanding the SCO

    Given the uncertainties and lack of consensus among SCO members, India must proceed cautiously on the issue seeking full membership.

    April 04, 2011