India’s commitment to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) underscores its desire to strengthen its cooperation in Eurasia. The regional grouping offers opportunities for India to fulfil its aspirations to connect India to the region of Central Asia in the absence of land connectivity and in turn, push for economic and energy partnerships. Hence, India’s External Affairs Minister, Dr S. Jaishankar’s visit to Moscow to attend the 10th Meeting of the SCO Council of Foreign Ministers came at a time of uncertain international economic and trade challenges as countries grapple with the spread of COVID-19 pandemic and the tension in Ladakh. India is scheduled to host the SCO Heads of Government on 29 & 30 November 2020 for the first time.
India plans to utilise its historic linkages and synergies with the region, for finding solutions to common security challenges of the region. The SCO compliments these objectives as a regional platform for engagement to push for initiatives such as the International North-South Transport Corridor. It also enables India to converge its Connect Central Asia policy to SCO regional cooperation. Thus, multi-modal transport and energy projects becomes the pulse of India’s extension to the neighbourhood. Moreover, as the security situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated, it has not only affected the region, but also South Asian security. In this regard, active participation through the SCO Regional Anti-Terrorism Structure (RATS) not only allows India to access data bases on terrorist activities but also in conducting anti-terrorism exercises with member countries.
As the pandemic has affects scores of countries, India pushed for new avenues for economic and political cooperation. In the absence of a global push for countering COVID-19; regional groupings appear to be a suitable and an alternative choice, where member countries can pool resources to fight the pandemic. For instance, India has already shown considerable interest in Russia’s ‘Sputnik V’ vaccine. India is currently deliberating on the phase-3 trials and manufacture of the vaccine. The Russian side had already shown such interest when the Secretary General of SCO Vladimir Norov acknowledged India’s role in participating in the vaccine research and development during his visit to India in January 2020.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had proposed strengthening HEALTH (H-Healthcare cooperation, E-Economic cooperation, A-Alternative energy sources, L-Literature and culture, T-Terrorism free society, H-Humanitarian cooperation) format for cooperation at the 2019 Bishkek Summit in Kyrgyzstan. Incidentally, the stress on healthcare cooperation as the foremost sector in Mr. Modi’s proposal, makes it timelier than ever.
Apart from regional security issues and economic and trade challenges, India’s participation in the Council of Foreign Ministers took place in the backdrop of the tense military situation in Ladakh and the need to de-escalate hostilities.
On the side-lines of the SCO meeting, Dr. Jaishankar met Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to find ways to reduce border tensions. There were expectations that both countries could come to an agreement on the stand-off. Both Ministers had a frank and constructive discussion on the developments in the India-China border areas as well as on India-China relations.
The two Ministers agreed that both sides should take guidance from the series of consensus of the leaders on developing India-China relations, including not allowing differences to become disputes. The two sides agreed that the current situation in the border areas is not in the interest of either side. They agreed therefore, that the border troops of both sides should continue their dialogue, quickly disengage, maintain proper distance and ease tensions.
It was agreed that both sides shall abide by all the existing agreements and protocols on China-India boundary affairs, maintain peace and tranquility in the border areas and avoid any action that could escalate matters. New Delhi and Beijing also agreed to continue having dialogue and communication through the ‘Special Representative’ mechanism on the India-China boundary question. They also agreed in this context that the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India-China border affairs (WMCC), should also continue its meetings.
Both Ministers agreed that as the situation eases, the two sides should expedite work to conclude new Confidence Building Measures to maintain and enhance peace and tranquility in the border areas.
Script: Dr. M S Prathibha, Strategic Analyst on China