Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO)

The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) is a permanent intergovernmental international organisation, the creation of which was announced on 15 June 2001  in Shanghai (China) by the Republic of Kazakhstan, the People's Republic of China,  the Kyrgyz Republic, the Russian Federation, the Republic of Tajikistan, and the  Republic of Uzbekistan. It was preceded by the Shanghai Five mechanism. 

  • The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Charter was signed during the  St.Petersburg SCO Heads of State meeting in June 2002 and entered into force on 19 September 2003. This is the fundamental statutory document which outlines the organisation's goals and principles, as well as its structure and core activities. 
  • The Forum aims to strengthen the exchange and cooperation in the field of mass media amongst SCO countries. 
  • It offers a unique platform for active work through mass media to create an objective vision of the organization and strengthen its positive image in the global information space. 
  • The representative of state bodies supervising mass media of the SCO  countries (the Member States, Observer Countries, Dialogue Partners);  representatives of leading mass media of the SCO countries and representatives of the SCO Secretariat are participating in the Forum. 

Membership 

  • Kazakhstan 
  • China 
  • Kyrgyzstan 
  • Russia 
  • Tajikistan 
  • Uzbekistan 
  • India
  • Pakistan 

Observer states 

  • Afghanistan 
  • Belarus 
  • Iran 
  • Mongolia 

Dialogue Partner 

  • Azerbaijan 
  • Armenia 
  • Cambodia 
  • Nepal 
  • Turkey 
  • Sri Lanka

Objectives 

  • Strengthening mutual trust and neighbourliness among the member states. 
  • Promoting effective cooperation in -politics, trade & economy, research & technology and culture. 
  • Enhancing ties in education, energy, transport, tourism, environmental protection, etc. 
  • Maintain and ensure peace, security and stability in the region. 
  • Establishment of a democratic, fair and rational new international political & economic order. 

Guiding Principle – Based on Shanghai Spirit 

  • Internal policy based on the principles of mutual trust, mutual benefit,  equality, mutual consultations, respect for cultural diversity, and a desire for common development. 
  • External policy in accordance with the principles of non-alignment, non targeting any third country, and openness. 

Structure of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation 

  • Heads of State Council – The supreme SCO body which decides its internal functioning and its interaction with other States & international organisations, and considers international issues. 
  • Heads of Government Council – Approves the budget, considers and decides upon issues related 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. 
  • SCO Secretariat – Based in Beijing to provide informational, analytical & organisational support. 

Operations 

  • Initially, the SCO focused on mutual intraregional efforts to curb terrorism, separatism and extremism in Central Asia. 
  • In 2006, SCO’s agenda widened to include combatting international drug trafficking as a source of financing global.
  • In 2008, SCO actively participated in bringing back stability in Afghanistan. 
  • At the same time, the SCO took up a variety of economic activities:  

o In 2003, SCO member states signed a 20-year Programme of Multilateral Trade and Economic Cooperation for the establishment of a free trade zone within the territory under the SCO member states. 

Strengths of SCO 

  • The SCO covers 40%of the global population, nearly 20% of the global GDP  and 22% of the world’s landmass. 
  • The SCO has a strategically important role in Asia due to its geographical significance - this enables it to control Central Asia and limit the  American influence in the region. 
  • SCO is seen as a counterweight to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. 

Challenges for SCO 

  • The SCO security challenges include combating terrorism, extremism and separatism; drug and weapons trafficking, illegal immigration, etc. 
  • Despite being geographically close, the rich diversity in member’s history, backgrounds, language, national interests and form of government, wealth and culture makes the SCO decision making challenging. 

Importance for India 

▪ India’s membership of SCO can help in achieving regional integration,  promote connectivity and stability across borders. 

Security 

  • India through RATS can improve its counterterrorism abilities by working toward intelligence sharing, law enforcement and developing best practices and technologies. 
  • Through the SCO, India can also work on anti-drug trafficking and small arms proliferation. 
  • Cooperation on common challenges of terrorism and radicalisation. 

Energy

  • India being an energy deficient country with increasing demands for energy, SCO provides it with an opportunity to meet its energy requirements through regional diplomacy.  

o Talks on the construction of stalled pipelines like the TAPI  (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) pipeline; IPI (Iran Pakistan-India) pipeline can get a much-needed push through the  SCO. 

Trade 

  • SCO provides direct access to Central Asia – overcoming the main hindrance in the flourishing of trade between India and Central Asia. 
  • SCO acts as an alternative route to Central Asia. 
  • Economic Ties - Central Asian countries provide India with a market for its  IT, telecommunications, banking, finance and pharmaceutical industries. 

Geopolitical 

  • Central Asia is a part of India's Extended Neighbourhood – SCO provides India with an opportunity to pursue the “Connect Central Asian Policy”. 
  • Helps India fulfil its aspiration of playing an active role in its extended neighbourhood as well as checking the ever-growing influence of China in  Eurasia. 
  • A platform for India to simultaneously engage with its traditional friend Russia as well as its rivals, China and Pakistan. 

Challenges of SCO Membership for India 

  • Pakistan’s inclusion in SCO poses potential difficulties for India. 
  • India’s ability to assert itself would be limited and it may have to play second fiddle since China and Russia are co-founders of SCO and its dominant powers. 
  • India may also have to either dilute its growing partnership with the West or engage in a delicate balancing act - as SCO has traditionally adopted an anti-Western posture. 

India at SCO 2019:

  • For the year 2019, our PM came up with another innovative acronym called HEALTH which brings together the Indian experience in development, and India’s experience in engagement with other countries. 
  • Indian PM also specifically spoke about radicalization as well. In the acronym that the PM gave, called, “HEALTH”, the alphabet “T” stands for countries that stand against terrorism. 
  • It is important to note that radicalization is an issue that bedevils the Central  Asian Region in a very big way. India also called for an international conference on terrorism, the SCO can take a lead in that. 
  • Also in his ‘HEALTH’ acronym, the alphabet ‘A’ refers to alternative energy.  It is here that he speaks about India’s experience in terms of focusing on renewable energy. Prime Minister also touched upon regional cooperation and spoke about how India is willing to share its expertise in all these areas. 
  • Focus on Afghanistan (as a matter of fact, this is very significant), even though Afghanistan is not a member of the SCO, but India has a contact group on Afghanistan, and the Prime Minister underlined what India’s fundamental position on Afghanistan is. 
  • Finally, it is important to note that the SCO provides an opportunity for the  Indian leadership to connect with the leadership of the Central Asian countries.

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Blog Post written by:
Anurag Trivedi
UPSC Mentor