They passed a ‘Resolution Friday’ on starting the procedures of granting India and Pakistan full membership at the 15th
Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit in Ufa, Russia, July 10, 2015. Pakistan applied for a full membership in 2006 and India in 2014 as New Delhi was always sceptical about the Chinese move. That was not really the case with Pakistan. To Pakistan China is what Soviet Union was to India in the yester years. As for SCO, it was a humble and innocuous beginning. For all practical purposes it no longer looks so. With ever growing economic and military clout of China SCO too is gaining momentum and developing, as many would like to believe it, as a counter-weight to America, albeit the Chinese never say they would strive for hegemonic domination.
Founded in 2001, the SCO now has China, Russia, Kazakhastan, Kyrgystan, Tajikstan and Uzbekistan as its full members (i.e. before granting full membership to India and Pakistan), with Afghanistan, Belarus, India, Iran, Mongolia and Pakistan as observers, and Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Turkey as dialogue partners. Incidentally, during the Soviet era, Afghanistan’s ruling People’s Democratic Party had observer status at International Communist Summit.
The geo-political vacuum created after the collapse of Soviet Union, is now being filled up with a number of regional and semi-regional initiatives. And China-Russia led SCO seems to be the most promising one.
Once Soviet Russia tried to create and expand its exclusive sphere of influence through Warsaw Pact and COMECON. With the Soviet Union gone and Moscow’s old allies in Eastern Europe switching over their allegiance to NATO, Russia being a second rate economic and military power today, has no option but to team up with China, both in strategic and economic fields, to gain what they have lost—superpower ‘respectability’. While Turkey’s presence in the Shanghai Club is somewhat anachronistic, Myanmar’s absence is equally intriguing.
The point at issue is how India and Pakistan will reconcile themselves in the SCO that upholds, as stated in their statement, the Shanghai Spirit of ‘mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality, consultation, respect for cultural diversity and pursuit of common development’ in a bid to create a community of shared destiny. As per China’s perception the ‘Shanghai Spirit’ in reality reflects the direction of contemporary international relations but their views are not shared by all.
Whether Russia can succeed to keep at least some of its erstwhile Soviet republics in its fold through the SCO is an altogether different matter. But the SCO’s long-term development plan until 2025 suits China’s strategic interests well. After all they never accepted the West’s unilateral declaration of unipolar world revolving around the sole superpower America. They have been nursing the idea of multi-polarity since the demise of Soviet Union. Now BRICS, being another China-Russia sponsored union of five major powers in all likelihood, will add some extra muscle to the ‘Shanghai Spirit’. With the BRICS, launching a bank of its own, in the line of Asian Development Bank, again at the major initiative of China, Beijing is all set to re-define bi-polarity, not multi-polarity, not in the distant future.
The basic political action programme of SCO is to fight jointly ‘three evil forces’—terrorism, separatism and extremism. Of the 8-member group (after inclusion of India and Pakistan), India is seriously plagued by all the three evils. The rest are affected with varying degrees though Pakistan, of late, is reaping bitter harvest of terrorism of its own creation.
Whether the emerging new bloc in the shape of SCO under the dual guardianship of China and Russia can play a vital role in international affairs anytime soon is open to question. But it is precisely the objective of the Shanghai platform as Putin would like to cherish the idea that the expanded SCO would become a vehicle to solve international issues. No doubt the expansion shows the inclusiveness of the Shanghai grouping and proves that the bloc is increasingly strengthening its abilities in new fields and toward new directions. As for the SCO’s resolve, rather general policy statement, to build a fair, open and equal world order to ensure security and sustainable development of world is understandable. But what they say about an agreement on strengthening border defence in the Ufa declaration is anything but misleading. How could India and Pakistan strengthen border defence without exchanging fire almost daily across the border is anybody’s guess. Making pledge at summit to fight jointly three evils of terrorism, separatism and extremism is one thing and in practice encouraging cross-border terrorism as a covert state policy, as it is the case with Pakistan, is quite contradictory to the ‘Shanghai Spirit’.
What deserves attention is the SCO’s desire to participate in China’s grandiose scheme of Silk Road Economic Belt. Perhaps this is one of the main reasons for accommodating Afghanistan in the rising elite club of the east—Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. The Chinese understand trade and commerce well and these days all their efforts are channelled in improving bilateral or multi-lateral trade relations.
For one thing ‘Shanghai Spirit’ reflects in many ways aura of old Soviet days. As per the Ufa declaration China will invite 200 young people from the SCO member states every year to participate in a youth exchange camp programme which will be held in China from 2016 to 2021. The plan echoes the Moscow initiated youth festival of Soviet regime.
Both China and Russia hope to lift SCO grouping to new high, perhaps in another 15 years as they have managed to survive many an odd over the past 15 years since the launching of SCO. Maybe, the world is leading towards another bi-polar political and strategic orientation, this time with a difference.
Vol. 48, No. 6, Aug 16 - 22, 2015