India and the SCO: Takeaways from the recent summit

India and the SCO: Takeaways from the recent summit

Context- Prime Minister Narendra Modi hosted the summit meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) this week, which was attended by China’s President Xi Jinping, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, and Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.

The leaders’ summit, which was hosted by India for the first time, was supposed to be held in person, but the government announced at the end of May that it would be a virtual meeting.

The SCO was founded in Shanghai in 2001 by the Presidents of Russia, China, the Kyrgyz Republic, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. India attended at the leadership level for the first time in 2009, and became a full member, along with Pakistan, in 2017.


Iran joined as a member this time, and the process is underway to grant SCO membership to Belarus.

Targeting terror

  • When India and Pakistan entered the grouping, there was an understanding that member countries will not bring up bilateral issues at the multilateral level. Russia had backed India’s entry; the Chinese had supported Pakistan’s membership.
  • Hosting the SCO summit could have presented an opportunity for India to engage with countries that are not part of the Western bloc. However, India’s difficult and strained ties with China and Pakistan made it difficult in terms of optics to host an in-person summit in New Delhi.
  • Modi did, however, target both Pakistan and China over issues of terrorism and territorial integrity. With Xi and Shehbaz on the screen, Modi said some countries “use cross-border terrorism as an instrument” of policy, and the SCO should not hesitate to criticise them — there can be “no place for double standards on such serious matters”.
  • New Delhi has repeatedly flagged Islamabad’s use of terrorist groups as instruments of “state policy”, and Beijing’s blocking the listing of Pakistan-based terrorists at the UN Security Council.
  • Modi also took on Beijing and Islamabad on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), saying it is essential, while executing connectivity projects, to “respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity” of SCO member countries.

Pakistan, China

  • In response to India’s statement, Pakistan’s Shehbaz Sharif said “the hydra-headed monster of terrorism and extremism, whether performed by individuals, or societies and states must be fought with our full might,” and “any temptation to use it as a cudgel for diplomatic point scoring must be eschewed.”
  • Xi said countries should “bridge differences through dialogue, and replace competition with cooperation”, and “should truly respect each other’s core interests and major concerns”.
  • In a clear reference to the US, the Chinese President said: “We must be highly vigilant against external attempts to foment a new Cold War or camp-based confrontation in our region.” Xi also called for a rejection of “interference in our internal affairs” and the instigation of “colour revolutions”, a reference to the popular uprisings in several East European, Central Asian, and Middle Eastern countries over the past couple of decades.

What Putin said

  • Speaking days after the failed mutiny by the mercenary Wagner group, the Russian President thanked SCO leaders for “expressing their support for the Russian leadership in defending the constitutional order, lives, and security of its citizens”.
  • Putin had spoken to Modi by phone days before the summit, and the Kremlin had claimed that the PM had “expressed understanding and support” for the Russian leadership. There was no mention of this in the statement that India issued.
  • Putin accused “external forces” of “implementing a project near our borders to create from our neighbour, Ukraine, a de facto hostile state, an ‘anti-Russia’”. They had armed Ukraine, condoned its “aggression” in the Donbas, and “indulged in planting neo-Nazi ideology”, Putin claimed.

Summit statement

  • In the New Delhi Declaration issued at the end of the leaders’ summit, India refused to sign off on the paragraph supporting Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). India had refused to sign on a similar formulation in the Samarkand Declaration of 2022 as well.
  • India has always opposed the BRI, because the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which is part of the Initiative, violates India’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.
  • India also did not sign off on the SCO Economic Development Strategy, which had Beijing’s imprint.
  • On terrorism, the New Delhi Declaration used language similar to that of the Samarkand Declaration, with a single word, “ultranationalism”, replaced with “chauvinism”.
  • Thus, the New Delhi Declaration said it was important to “build up joint coordinated efforts by the international community” against terrorist groups, “paying special attention to preventing the spread of religious intolerance, aggressive nationalism, ethnic and racial discrimination, xenophobia, ideas of fascism and chauvinism”.
  • Like in Samarkand, there was no mention of the Ukraine war.

Conclusion- India’s hosting of the SCO summit is seen as a sign of its strategic autonomy, which New Delhi guards zealously. The fact that the SCO summit took place so soon after the PM’s visit to the US, is seen as a key marker of New Delhi’s diplomatic position in the context of the Ukraine war and the US-China polarization.

Syllabus- GS-2; International Relations

Source- Indian Express