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The Shanghai Cooperation Organization: What’s of Note So Far?


By Saniya Kulkarni

The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Foreign Ministers Meet is currently underway in Goa, India, a week after the Defence Ministers Meet concluded in New Delhi. It is a busy summitry season for India, which is presiding over the SCO as well as the G20 this year. Here is a brief look at a few things of note during these meetings, that will make this SCO presidency particularly interesting.

I.  First bilateral talk between the Defence Ministers of India and China since the 2020 Galwan Valley clash.

India-China relations suffered a massive hit after the border skirmish in 2020, which resulted in the death of 20 Indian and at least 4 Chinese troops. The Defence Minister of India Rajnath Singh met with his Chinese counterpart Li Shangfu on April 28 for a bilateral discussion, but the absence of a joint statement is an indicator of little to no progress having been made.

This is especially interesting after the two neighbors seemed to have converging views at the G20 Energy Transitions Working Group last month, speaking to the larger theme of the institutional context being an important factor in determining how the two interact.

II. Russia-India defense ties to be strengthened.

At the last SCO summit in Samarkand, Indian PM Modi expressed discomfort with Russian aggression in Ukraine, and addressing Russian President Putin directly, also alluded to bilateral talks where India pushed for the diplomatic and peaceful resolution of the conflict. This was the first time India criticized Russia’s actions in public, after famously abstaining from the UN Resolution condemning the war in March 2022.

However, trade between the two has increased since the war in terms of both volume and value, is largely dominated by Indian imports of Russian oil, and is currently at a record high. At the sidelines of the SCO Defence Ministers’ meeting on April 28, the two agreed to boost defence ties and strengthen their “unique, long-lasting, and time-tested relationship.”

III.China and Russia posturing against the Quad and AUKUS.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu accused the US of weaponizing its alliances against China, and using the Quad and AUKUS to expand the influence of NATO into the Indo-Pacific region. In his address, he also accused the US and its allies of having “severely eroded the global security architecture”.

These comments, although unsurprising, are still interesting, especially considering Russia’s need to maintain a steady relationship with India, one of the four members of the Quad. This puts India in a lonely corner in what has been called a largely anti-West organization, despite the members’ attempts to distance themselves from any such narrative. 

IV.  Pakistan, China, and the neighborhood.

Pakistan was absent from SCO Defence Ministers meeting last week, but Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has arrived in Goa for the May 4 Foreign Ministers meeting. When asked about the SCO, he stated that his visit to India should not be taken to mean that the relationship between the two sworn rivals is improving. Bilateral ties between the two have been at an all-time low since the 2019 Pulwama attacks, and this is the first visit from a Pakistani foreign minister to India in over a decade.

Even though its ties with the host are not in the best shape, Pakistan has a strong ally in the organization. Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang is sandwiching the SCO visit in New Delhi between a trip to Myanmar and one to Islamabad after, although the official announcement about his visit to Pakistan was made separately. Official visits to India or Pakistan are usually not followed by the other, and this move is one of many signs that relations in the South Asian neighborhood remain icy.

Today is the final day of the Foreign Ministers meeting, and it will be interesting to see if and how the conclusion is different from that of the Defense Ministers meeting in April. Qin Gang’s visit to Pakistan will be his first to the long-standing ally, during which he will also participate in three-way talks with senior Pakistani officials and a Taliban representative. Security in this region is of great importance to most if not all members of the SCO, especially the host, and how this ties into the larger theme of the summit, will be something to look out for.

Saniya Kulkarni is a project coordinator at LSE IDEAS.

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