Geopolitical Challenges at the SCO Meeting

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) stands at a critical juncture, facing significant internal and external challenges as it aims to achieve its strategic objectives. Founded in 2001, the SCO is a political, economic, and security alliance that includes China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Its mission is to foster regional cooperation and stability. However, the most pressing issue within the SCO today is India’s strained relations with Pakistan and its increasingly bitter relations with China. Until these tensions are resolved, the SCO will likely encounter numerous complications in reaching its goals.

The longstanding issues between India and Pakistan are well-documented and continue to pose a substantial challenge for the SCO. The conflict has escalated to the point where Pakistan accuses India of invading its territory and targeting its citizens. This ongoing hostility disrupts the unity and cooperative spirit essential for the SCO’s success. The historical enmity between these two nuclear-armed neighbors is rooted in decades of territorial disputes and political rivalries, which have resulted in numerous military confrontations and a persistent state of animosity.

Relations between India and China have been particularly strained since the military clash at Galwan in 2020. This conflict, which resulted in casualties on both sides, has not only soured bilateral relations but also impacted regional stability. The Galwan incident was a stark reminder of the volatile and disputed Himalayan border between the two countries. Since then, numerous diplomatic and military-level talks have failed to restore normalcy. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to abstain from participating in the current SCO meeting underscores the severity of the situation. This absence is interpreted as a pointed message to China, reflecting India’s dissatisfaction and ongoing tension.

Adding to the complexities, the United States Congress recently passed the Resolve Tibet Act. This act urges China to negotiate with the Tibetan leadership, including the Dalai Lama, rejects China’s territorial claims over Tibet, and calls for funds to counter China’s assertions. This is the third significant legislative action by the US concerning Tibet, following the Tibet Policy Act of 2002 and the Tibet Policy and Support Act of 2020. The US’s renewed focus on Tibet underscores its strategic interest in countering China’s influence in the region. Last month, a high-profile visit to India by former US Speaker Nancy Pelosi and a congressional delegation further agitated China. During their visit, they met with the Dalai Lama and exiled Tibetans in Dharamshala, sending a clear message of support from India to the Tibetan cause.

In addition to these diplomatic moves, India has imposed new restrictions on issuing visas to Chinese citizens, exacerbating the tension. The issue of direct flights between India and China remains unresolved, further complicating bilateral relations. These measures reflect India’s broader strategy to decouple from Chinese influence economically and diplomatically. This strategic decoupling, however, adds another layer of complexity to the SCO’s efforts to foster regional cooperation and economic integration.

Despite these challenges, the current SCO meeting is focused on critical issues such as counter-terrorism and the development of Eurasian trade corridors. The SCO’s counter-terrorism structure aims to address the persistent threat of extremism and terrorism in the region. Coordinated efforts in intelligence sharing, joint military exercises, and capacity-building initiatives are central to these objectives. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) plays a crucial role in this context, representing a significant investment in infrastructure and economic development that could transform the region’s economic landscape.

Additionally, the Chabahar Port and the 7,200-kilometer International North-South Transport Corridor, which involves numerous countries including India, Iran, Russia, and Turkey, are vital topics of discussion. These projects are designed to enhance connectivity and trade across Eurasia, reducing transportation costs and fostering economic integration. However, the geopolitical rivalries and regional conflicts pose significant obstacles to the seamless implementation of these initiatives.

The ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine also poses a significant challenge, adding another layer of complexity to the SCO’s agenda. The conflict has disrupted global supply chains, heightened geopolitical tensions, and created a humanitarian crisis. For the SCO, finding a balanced approach that addresses the concerns of member states while maintaining its focus on regional stability is a delicate task.

The SCO’s biggest challenge remains India’s current attitude and its strained relations with both Pakistan and China. If India adopts a more responsible and cooperative stance, it could unlock substantial benefits for the organization. India’s role in the SCO is pivotal, given its economic and strategic significance in the region. A more collaborative approach could enhance the SCO’s effectiveness in addressing common challenges such as terrorism, economic development, and regional stability.

As the SCO continues to navigate these turbulent waters, its focus on counter-terrorism and trade development remains paramount. The potential for economic integration and cooperation through projects like CPEC and the International North-South Transport Corridor offers significant opportunities for member states. However, achieving these goals requires a concerted effort to resolve internal conflicts and foster a spirit of cooperation.

With persistent efforts and strategic diplomacy, the SCO can potentially strengthen its role in fostering regional stability and economic growth. The organization’s ability to address the underlying geopolitical tensions and promote a cooperative environment will determine its success in achieving its long-term objectives. The current SCO meeting, despite the challenges, represents an opportunity to renew commitments, address pressing issues, and chart a path towards a more integrated and stable region.

Sahibzada Usman
Sahibzada Usman

The writer holds a PhD in geopolitics and is the author of ‘Different Approaches on Central Asia: Economic, Security, and Energy’ with Lexington, USA.

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