Since India and Pakistan were included in the grouping in 2017, the China-led eight-member bloc has gained strategic importance.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi embarked on his maiden two-day multilateral engagement to Bishkek on June 13 to participate at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit. This visit had gained more importance after Kyrgyzstan President Sooronbay Jeenbekov attended the swearing-in ceremony of Modi 2.0 in New Delhi. This came just a fortnight before the SCO summit and showed India’s clear desire to increase its engagement with Central Asia.
Since India and Pakistan were included in the grouping in 2017, the China-led eight-member bloc has gained strategic importance. The SCO is the only platform where Central and South Asian countries come together for a dialogue. The summit has been a potential platform to discuss various issues ranging from terrorism, regional cooperation to the changing and unstable world order. Experts view India’s entry as an opportunity for connecting with the Eurasian neighbourhood.
On the margins of the SCO, the Indian prime minister also held successful bilateral meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss major issues. Besides attending the meet, PM Modi jointly inaugurated the first meeting of India-Kyrgyz Business Forum, an attempt to promote commercial trade between the nations.
Modi also said, “At a time when the world economy is rapidly changing, we need to look at the opportunities of the economic partnership between the two countries.”
Modi outlined India’s vision for the SCO through an acronym called ‘HEALTH’ (healthcare cooperation, economic cooperation, alternate energy, literature and culture, terrorism-free society and humanitarian cooperation).
Before leaving for his visit, PM Modi added that global security and economic cooperation were his top-notch agenda for the summit and also asserted that his visit to Kyrgyzstan would help strengthen India’s ties with the SCO member states.
The Pakistan Formula
With India trying to boycott Pakistan at the international level, Pak PM Imran Khan wrote a letter to his Indian counterpart offering dialogue at the side-lines of the summit. This was the first time both the leaders came face to face after months of tensions between the two countries.
The rhetoric question everyone had was: will both the countries have a dialogue? But, India made its stand clear and PM Modi added that India expected Pakistan to take concrete action.
Both the leaders did exchange pleasantries, but Modi made it clear that he was in no mood to revive talks without any major steps from Pakistan on shutting down its terror factories.
China, an all-weather friend to Pakistan, made it clear before the summit that Pakistan should not be targeted on terrorism at the SCO. Right from the beginning, when India became a member of the organisation, there have been speculations that India became a member only because Russia wanted to balance China’s growing dominance. The effort was apparently negated by China by bringing Pakistan in.
In the changing geopolitical scenario, India is trying to strike a balance between the new world orders. Beside the multilateral talks, crucial bilateral meetings also took place. As India is trying to catch the big fish in the sea, the Indo-China bilateral was a stepping stone.
The ongoing trade war with the USA has left China to look out for other options. This side-line meeting between both the leaders started on a positive note, coming after a successful listing of Masood Azhar as a global terrorist. PM Modi invited the Chinese president for an informal discussion later this year.
Both the countries bonded over some issues which gave a ray of hope for improving the relations. With reference to economic cooperation, PM Modi joined hands with Russia and China to send out a strong message, outlining the recent threats to global trade under the American unilateralism. During the bilateral talks at Bishkek, Modi called for plans to mark the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations.
In regard to Pakistan, India turned down China’s advice to open a channel of dialogue. PM Modi’s stern stand conveyed the message that, unless Pakistan created a terror-free adobe, talks would not be possible. Even as both the countries depicted personal warmth towards each other, India was the only country who opposed the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and raised concerns regarding about the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Opposing to China’s flagship project, India gained some criticism from the international media.
With three powerful countries under one umbrella — Russia, China and India – did manage to send a powerful message to the US on Donald Trump’s new aligning policies. Forming a trilateral, the countries will also meet on the side-lines of the G-20 summit in Japan later this month.
Russia: A true friend?
The major focus of the bilateral discussion between India and Russia was on trade, defence, and energy. Putin has invited PM Modi to be the chief guest at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok in September.After their meeting, Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale added that the meeting was brief but rich in terms of content. The Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar took to Twitter and described it as a “privileged relationship”.
A special partner, a privileged relationship!
PM @narendramodi met with @KremlinRussia_E Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of #SCOSummit in #Bishkek. Reviewed all aspects of bilateral relations to further strengthen the strategic relationship. pic.twitter.com/Jp6LSQsmMi
— Raveesh Kumar (@MEAIndia) June 13, 2019
Termed as the “Alliance of the East”, the SCO’s changing dynamics have caught the attention of many experts. Once known to be a Chinese-dominated organisation, today SCO is coming in alignment with Russia and the other Central Asian countries. India’s entry strikes a balance in the evolving Asian architecture.
The presence of Iran and Afghanistan makes this a ground for vital discussion. The four Central Asian nations — Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – add to the power of Eurasia though the policymakers still seem unclear as to what they want to achieve through this organisation.
With India and Pakistan, both trying to add the South Asian factor, the dynamics of the SCO are still unknown. The SCO has become an important venue for the member states to have a dialogue. But, it is unclear if this grouping will continue to be referred to as China’s achievement or pave the way for the new Eurasian order.