Foreign Policy Watch: India-SCO

PM Modi to host SCO 2023 summit today: What’s on the table?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: SCO

Mains level: Significance of SCO, challenges within and way forward

Central idea

  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s virtual summit with the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) holds immense significance. With the participation of key leaders such as Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping, and Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, the meeting is poised to address crucial regional issues.

Relevance of the topic

  • India’s strained relations with neighbouring countries and the ongoing war in Europe.
  • Negotiations and meetings of SCO hold significance for India specifically related to the India-china relations and border standoff

Significance of the Meeting for India

  • Regional Engagement: As the host of the SCO meeting, India has the opportunity to actively engage with key regional players, including Russia, China, and Central Asian countries. This engagement allows India to strengthen its relations with neighboring nations and enhance regional cooperation on various fronts.
  • Showcase of Strategic Autonomy: India’s successful visit to the United States prior to the SCO summit highlights its ability to maintain positive relations with global powers while actively participating in regional groupings like the SCO. This demonstrates India’s strategic autonomy and self-assuredness, reinforcing its position as a reliable and influential player in global affairs.
  • Voice of Reason: PM Modi’s previous statement to President Putin, emphasizing that this is not the era of war, showcased India’s capacity to express its views to influential leaders. It highlighted India’s commitment to peaceful resolution and diplomacy, enhancing its international standing.
  • Strengthening Central Asian Ties: India’s participation in the SCO provides a valuable platform to strengthen and expand its relations with Central Asian countries. By actively engaging with them through the SCO, India can foster stronger bilateral ties and explore opportunities for trade, investment, and cooperation in various sectors.
  • Countering Cross-Border Terrorism: The SCO’s focus on combating terrorism and cross-border issues aligns with India’s priorities. Through participation in SCO initiatives and discussions, India can emphasize the importance of concerted efforts to address terrorism and promote regional stability.

Changing Dynamics in Central Asia

  • Decline of Russian Influence: Central Asia, which was traditionally considered Russia’s backyard, has seen a decline in Russia’s influence in recent years. This decline is partly due to the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war and Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian territories. Central Asian countries, such as Kazakhstan, have openly expressed their non-support for Russia’s actions, signaling a shift in their perspective.
  • Growing Chinese Presence: China has been expanding its presence in Central Asia through initiatives like the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Chinese investments in infrastructure projects, such as building pipelines, transmission lines, and other connectivity projects, have increased.
  • Common People’s Concerns: The common people in Central Asian countries have concerns about potential economic exploitation and loss of national assets. There have been demonstrations against China’s increasing influence, highlighting the need for careful consideration of the long-term implications of Chinese involvement.
  • Search for Diverse Partnerships: Central Asian countries are looking beyond Russia and China for partnerships. They aim to avoid becoming excessively dependent on a single power and seek relationships with multiple countries. India, Turkey, Iran, the United States, and Europe are among the nations interested in engaging with Central Asian countries and offering alternative opportunities for economic cooperation, security, and development.
  • Strengthening Relations with India: India has historical, cultural, and civilizational links with Central Asia. Prime Minister Modi’s visits to all five Central Asian countries in 2015 demonstrated India’s commitment to deepening ties.
  • Multi-Actor Engagement: Besides India, other countries such as Turkey, Iran, the United States, and Europe are also recognizing the opportunities in Central Asia. They are actively seeking to enhance their relations with the region, understanding the need for a multi-actor approach to regional engagement.

India’s progress and expectations

  • Strengthening regional relations: India’s active participation in the SCO has strengthened ties with Central Asian countries and expanded cooperation in various sectors.
  • Counterterrorism and security cooperation: India’s engagement in the SCO highlights its commitment to combating terrorism and promoting regional security.
  • Economic cooperation and trade opportunities: India seeks to enhance economic ties with Central Asian nations through trade and investment improvements.
  • Regional connectivity and infrastructure development: India advocates for improved regional connectivity, including projects like the International North-South Transport Corridor and the Chabahar Port, to facilitate trade and economic cooperation.
  • Cultural and people-to-people exchanges: India focuses on fostering cultural and educational exchanges to deepen mutual understanding and strengthen ties between India and Central Asia.
  • Expanding influence: Active participation in the SCO allows India to expand its influence in the region and project itself as a reliable and responsible partner in international affairs.

Challenges within the SCO framework

  • Divergent Interests: The SCO consists of member states with diverse geopolitical interests, historical disputes, and economic priorities. These divergences can sometimes make it difficult to achieve consensus and coordinated action on important issues.
  • Bilateral Disputes: Some SCO member states have ongoing bilateral disputes, such as the border disputes between India and China, and Pakistan and India. These disputes can create tensions within the organization and hinder collective decision-making.
  • Power Dynamics: The SCO includes major powers like China and Russia, which may wield more influence and have their own priorities within the organization. Balancing power dynamics and ensuring equitable representation among member states can be a challenge.
  • Security Concerns: The SCO’s primary focus is on regional security, counterterrorism, and combating extremism. However, member states may have varying security concerns, differing threat perceptions, and divergent approaches to addressing security challenges.
  • Economic Disparities: The SCO encompasses countries with varying levels of economic development and differing priorities for economic cooperation. Achieving comprehensive economic integration among member states can be challenging due to disparities in economic systems, infrastructure connectivity, and trade barriers.

Way forward

  • Strengthening Trust and Confidence: Member states should work towards building trust and confidence among themselves through increased dialogue, transparency, and shared understanding of each other’s perspectives and concerns. Regular high-level exchanges, bilateral meetings, and people-to-people interactions can contribute to enhancing trust and cooperation.
  • Consensus-Building and Decision-Making: The SCO should prioritize consensus-building among member states on key issues. Ensuring that decision-making processes are inclusive, transparent, and representative will help in addressing divergent interests and maintaining unity within the organization.
  • Resolving Bilateral Disputes: Member states should make efforts to resolve their bilateral disputes through peaceful means and dialogue. Encouraging direct negotiations, promoting confidence-building measures, and seeking third-party mediation when necessary can contribute to reducing tensions and enhancing cooperation within the SCO.
  • Enhanced Economic Cooperation: The SCO should focus on deepening economic cooperation among member states. This can be achieved through the promotion of trade, investment, infrastructure connectivity, and technology sharing.
  • Regional Security Cooperation: Member states should collaborate closely to address common security challenges, including terrorism, extremism, and drug trafficking. Strengthening intelligence sharing, joint exercises, and capacity-building initiatives can enhance the effectiveness of the SCO in maintaining regional security and stability.
  • Engaging with External Partners: The SCO should engage with external partners, including observer states and dialogue partners, to explore areas of mutual interest and cooperation. This can help leverage external expertise, resources, and networks to support the organization’s objectives while ensuring that the SCO remains independent and maintains its autonomy.


  • While the SCO meeting may not directly resolve border standoffs or ongoing wars, it serves as a platform to strengthen regional relations, address cross-border terrorism, and explore avenues for cooperation. By actively engaging with Central Asian countries and leveraging its strengths, India can enhance its influence and contribute to the region’s progress

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