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SCO under India: What to Expect

As India takes up the responsibility of heading the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in 2023, here's a snapshot of what to look out for.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the SCO summit in Samarkand in 2022.

The annual Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit at Samarkand, Uzbekistan came to an end on the 16th of September, 2022. The multilateral platform brought together key strategic players in South and Central Asia to focus on issues of regional security and economic cooperation. Amidst the high-level strategic issues at the focus of discussion at the summit, India’s engagement with the member states has been noteworthy for a number of reasons. As India takes up the rotating SCO presidency from Uzbekistan for the year 2023, here’s a look at what to expect in the coming year based on the developments of the latest summit.

SCO Summit 2023

As the presiding state of the SCO, one of the major responsibilities of India would be to host the next summit. This is a significant development for India not only because it is a country which once had merely 'observer' status at the organisation but also because the SCO has always seen as a forum dominated by China. It is also a forum that India shares with its key strategic rivals, China and Pakistan. Hosting the summit next year in India would also contribute to providing a central space to the country in steering the multilateral dialogues. It would add greater importance to the regional security concerns and the economic engagement plans that have been at the forefront of Indian foreign policy.

Strategic Partnerships With Key States

The SCO Summit saw the Indian Prime Minister holding significant bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the event with the heads of states of Russia, Turkey and Iran. The bilateral talks dealt with diplomatic relations of India with these respective countries and created spaces for possible areas of economic and regional security cooperation. Now, with India at the president’s seat, there are greater avenues to improve its strategic position in Central Asia, South Asia as well as the Middle East. The bilateral talks with Iran are important in this regard as they discussed the developments of regional connectivity through the Shaheed Behasti Terminal and Chabahar Port. With Iran now assuming the role of a permanent member of the SCO, it opens more avenues for India to enhance partnerships with the Middle East. Moreover, the role of the president is another step forward in India’s engagement with the Central Asian republics while navigating through the diplomatic ties with the other major players in the region, i.e. Russia and China. China’s positive response to India’s presidency might add to the efforts of diplomatic peace and cooperation between the two nations at this strategic platform. Therefore, it would be interesting to note how these events unfold ahead of next year’s summit and how it impacts the bilateral relations between India and China as well.

Deeper Economic Cooperation

At the SCO Summit of 2022 in Uzbekistan, the Indian delegation headed by Prime Minister Modi added emphasis to the need for improved economic engagement through enhancing the global supply chains. India called for multilateral cooperation in the small and medium enterprises in agriculture, energy, pharmaceuticals and information-technology sector. This is a significant development ahead of India’s presidency and it provides India a chance to lead multilateral cooperation in economic engagement for the improvement of the industries that are central to the Indian economic development as well.

The Indian proposal to develop a working group for startups and innovation could be a major driver towards youth engagement and new economic initiatives within the cooperative framework of central and South Asia. In this coming year, this could mean a richer space for Central Asian republics along with the other member states to provide tangible economic support and investment to startups. Another important aspect that could see a boost during the Indian presidency is multilateral trade. At the SCO Summit 2022, the need for establishing food security within the region was highlighted and with India being the chair next year, one could expect a greater role of agricultural trade and investment.

Cultural Exchange

Even though SCO is established as an organisation of regional security and economic cooperation, cultural engagement proves to be a major confidence-building measure to drive the agenda of security and partnership among the concerned states. Hosting the annual summits within different member countries is also an attempt to familiarise the states with the cultural uniqueness of each other while also finding possible areas of cooperation and cultural exchange. In this context, the Indian presidency of the SCO can be a major tool to drive home the agenda of regional cooperation and bring the member states to collaborate on cultural exchanges in order to build confidence. As the member states come to India next year for the summit, it could prove to be a major opportunity for cooperation on cultural grounds as well.

This year was significant for India as an emerging global player as it assumed the rotating presidency of the United Nations Security Council as well in August 2022. India will also hold the presiding chair at the G20 for the next year and will hold significant meetings in this capacity. It is important to look at the SCO development in this context as it provides us a picture of how significant a role India is going to play in the coming year for multilateral cooperation and diplomacy. This is also certainly going to reflect on the bilateral relations of India with the major strategic players within and outside the region.


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