Foreign Policy Watch: India-SCO

Iran Joins Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO)


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: SCO

Mains level: Not Much

Central Idea

  • Prime Minister Modi welcomed Iran as the newest member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) during the virtual summit of the grouping.
  • Iran’s membership has been discussed for years, and recent geopolitical shifts have made it more relevant.

About SCO

  • The SCO, formed in 2001, aims to enhance regional cooperation in combating terrorism, separatism, and extremism in Central Asia.

Expansion of the SCO

  • Previous membership: The SCO consisted of eight member countries, including China, Russia, India, Pakistan, and the Central Asian nations of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.
  • Observer and Dialogue Partner status: Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran, and Mongolia have Observer status, while Azerbaijan, Armenia, Cambodia, Nepal, Turkey, and Sri Lanka hold Dialogue Partner status.

Importance of Iran’s Membership

  • Nuclear deal context: After signing the nuclear deal (JCPOA) in 2015, Iran’s path to SCO membership was facilitated.
  • Changing geopolitical landscape: The US withdrawal from Afghanistan has created opportunities for increased Chinese influence in the region.
  • Expanding alliances: Iran has sought to establish closer ties beyond its traditional ally Russia, including reaching out to Saudi Arabia and opening a border market with Pakistan.

Geopolitical Implications

  • China’s interests: Iran’s energy resources and cooperation in areas like oil are beneficial to China as it seeks to counter the US.
  • Russia’s alliances: Russia aims to strengthen its position by building alliances within the SCO, including potential full membership for Belarus.
  • US-India relations: India’s growing partnership with the US and their shared democratic values contrast with Chinese authoritarianism, creating a delicate balancing act for India.

India’s Balancing Act

  • Maintaining partnerships: India has strengthened ties with the US through significant technology and defence agreements, emphasizing shared democratic values.
  • Historical ties with Iran: India has had traditional commercial ties with Iran, primarily in the import of crude oil.
  • Challenges in balancing: India’s shifting alliances with the US and historical ties with Iran pose challenges as the dynamics of the SCO evolve.


  • Iran’s membership in the SCO signifies the changing geopolitical landscape and the increasing influence of China and Russia in the region.
  • India faces the challenge of balancing its partnerships with the US and historical ties with Iran while navigating the evolving dynamics within the SCO.


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