GP Insights # 412, 12 September 2020
On 9 and 10 September 2020, the meeting between the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation took place in Moscow under the chairmanship of the Russian Federation.
The meeting at Moscow saw an exchange of views on various regional and international issues. The SCO summit is scheduled in November via videoconference after delays caused due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The presidency of the SCO will then be passed over to Tajikistan.
From India, the meeting was attended by foreign minister Dr S Jaishankar, and it was the third time that India participated in the event as a full member of the SCO. This came just days after the meeting between Defence Ministers of the member states.
What is the background?
First, the regional issues. Foreign Minister Dr Jaishankar held bilateral talks with his counterparts from Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan on various bilateral and regional issues and reaffirmed belief in their strong partnerships. He also held an important meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that reflected India and Russia's Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership.
In the backdrop of the recent rise in border tensions, Foreign Minister Jaishankar held a bilateral meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi at the sidelines of the summit. Both the countries announced that they had reached a five-point consensus after a 'frank and constructive' discussion. The points included an agreement to quickly disengage, have dialogue and communication through the Special Representative mechanism on the India-China boundary question, conclude new confidence-building measures to maintain and enhance peace and tranquillity in the border areas, and prevent differences turning into disputes. However, there was no clear indication of de-escalation or restoration of status-quo ante. Wang Dehua, a South Asia expert at Shanghai Municipal Centre for International Studies appreciated the significance of the meeting and said that it might pave the way for a future meet between President Xi Jinping and PM Modi. As Russia pushed for a dialogue between the two countries during a RIC meeting, it explicitly stated that it doesn't want to be forced to take sides.
Second, international issues. Several transnational issues of illegal drug trafficking, international terrorism, organized crime and cybercrime were discussed in addition to developments in Afghanistan, Syria, the Middle East and North Africa. Also, the member states unanimously affirmed their commitment to the JCPOA.
The meeting also emphasized the necessity of the Programme of Multilateral Trade and Economic Cooperation until 2035 for creating more favourable conditions for trade and investment and for stabilizing the world economy.
Noting the 75th anniversary of the founding of the UN, Foreign Minister Wang Yi reiterated Chinese support to multilateralism and called the US the 'biggest destroyer' of international order often at the cost of other smaller country's rightful self-interest. He also affirmed support for the core position of the UN and warned against dragging the world back to the 'law of the jungle' while giving five suggestions for strengthening cooperation within the SCO.
What does it mean?
Firstly, while the SCO might not be a perfect platform to resolve bilateral disputes, it most certainly provides a space for addressing differences in national and strategic interests between various regional players. Secondly, given the economic uncertainties lying ahead in the aftermath of the global pandemic and with the disruption of international trade making smaller countries even more vulnerable, the SCO can show the way in regional economic cooperation. Lastly, for the SCO to truly emerge as a successful regional organization, it should adhere to the principles of equality and mutuality between its members and be capable of addressing security and economic challenges of the region.