Shanghai Cooperation Organization: The quest for multilateralism
India has been at the forefront of vigorously engaging with numerous world powers, multilateral institutions as well as regional groupings
Many of the economic and political issues challenging economies across the world are essentially both global and regional. The forces of globalization and regionalization are unceasingly restructuring the contours of the prevailing international economic order.
In this context, multilateralism provides the most holistic structure for political and economic relations in the world. For example, international problems, especially sustaining rules for trade and investment, inherently involve numerous countries concurrently. These international problems cannot be dealt with effectively within the national domain or even bilaterally. The problems are frequently so profuse and extraordinary that domestic goals cannot be accomplished without coordinated multilateral action. In the past seven decades, there have been abundant developments on multilateral action to create fair, just and lasting solutions to critical matters of peace and political, economic and social security.
Shanghai Cooperation Organization: The setting
What started off as the “Shanghai 5” in 1996 for security and border peace between Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, China, Russia and Tajikistan has metamorphosed into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which today has an ambitious regional and global vision, coupled with a strong economic mandate. The expansion of SCO last year to include India and Pakistan now makes this a powerful and strategic regional grouping, accounting for 40% of the world’s population, almost 20% of its gross domestic product (GDP) and 22% of the world’s land mass.
As I write, we are moving closer to the SCO Summit in Qingdao, China, where SCO heads of state and government will meet. This is the first time that India will participate as a full member of this grouping. In his acceptance speech at the summit in 2017, where India was inducted as a full member, Prime Minister Narendra Modi recalled India’s historic ties with the grouping as an observer over the past 12 years: “We may have gotten the membership now but our relations with this group are long, around 12 years long. The relationship we share with the members of SCO are historical. We will continue to work together.”
For India, membership of this grouping will strengthen its relations with Central Asian republics and provide a new opportunity to pursue the “Connect Central Asian Policy”. The SCO would also be a new channel to enhance bilateral ties with China and Russia in addition to robust engagement through Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and bilateral mechanisms.
Among the key goals of the SCO are strengthening mutual trust and neighbourliness; promoting effective cooperation in politics, trade, the economy, research, technology and culture, as well as education, energy, transport, tourism, and environmental protection; making joint efforts to maintain and ensure peace, security and stability in the region; and moving towards the establishment of a democratic, fair and rational new international political and economic order.
All the key goals of the SCO prove that the sustenance and celebration of an effective multilateral organization will significantly benefit the consolidation and expansion of these bilateral relationships. To summarize, the sum of their multilateral interactions will be greater than the sum of their bilateral interactions and engagements. In this sense, the SCO platform provides new meaning for its member countries.
India and Shahghai Cooperation Organization
India has been at the forefront of vigorously engaging with numerous world powers, multilateral institutions as well as regional groupings. India’s aptitude to endure and confidently influence multilateral processes will have an unswerving bearing on its emergence as a great power.
In this context, it is essential to take note of the developments and way forward for India at SCO. In line with the foreign policy priorities of India on SCO countries, the aim should be to further enhance connectivity, given the existing strong cooperation bilaterally with existing member countries. For example, connectivity through Chabahar will help India’s trade and economic relations with Central Asian republics. Other sectors, such as education, tourism and even medical tourism, can be focused upon to further strengthen the SCO platform. Economic cooperation, energy, connectivity, education, tourism, agriculture, trade and investment, amongst other security and anti-terrorism concerns, are expected to be on the summit agenda.
India’s interest in seeking membership of this multilateral grouping shows that foreign policy will no longer be driven by political necessities alone, but also by economic diplomacy. Indian industry has the responsibility of guiding the country’s engagement with SCO member countries to deepen the ecosystem with this multilateral grouping. Strong engagements with the Brics business council; robust institutional relationships in the region: and the foundation of bilateral relations with SCO member countries would be a starting point on this journey to forge meaningful economic partnerships and a strong regional synergy for inclusive development, stability and prosperity in the region.
Rashesh Shah is president, FICCI.
FICCI has been designated business secretariat for the SCO in India.
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