The Future of the SCO: A Ghost Organisation?
List of speakers

On November 26, within the framework of our Think Tank project, the Valdai Club co-hosted a webinar with the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), titled The future of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.

In his opening remarks, the moderator, Nandan Unnikrishnan, Distiguished Research Fellow of the ORF Foundation, said that the webinar is being held at an opportune moment - between the SCO summit and the meeting of the heads of government. Against this background, he said it would be extremely interesting and timely to compare the views of Russia and India on the SCO and its prospects.

Outlining the strategic aspects of the SCO development from the Russian point of view, Timofei Bordachev, Programme Director of the Valdai Discussion Club, noted that for Russia, this organisation was originally a tool for stabilising international politics in the eastern part of Eurasia and this required the inclusion of not only Russia's traditional partners in the region, but also China. In fact, he noted, the SCO was created as a platform to prevent the escalation of interstate contradictions into conflicts, but then the question arose of how it should develop further. Traditional international cooperation involves expanding the spheres of interaction and deepening integration. However, there is a second way: pursuing the original idea of ​​Eurasia as a round table, within which there is no dominant grouping of forces. This required the expansion of the SCO, even if the entry into the organisation of India - a great power - and Pakistan, slowed down its development along a traditional path. Bordachev does not see a big tragedy here: if the participating states cannot discuss key issues of international politics in a multilateral format, they are unlikely to be able to develop the SCO as a bureaucratic institution. “The main thing is to discuss political issues, and institutional development will follow,” he stressed.

Introducing the Indian point of view, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Asoke Kumar Mukherjee discussed a number of issues which are of specific interest to India. He paid special attention to the role of the SCO as a regional anti-terrorist structure, since terrorism is a problem faced by all members of the organisation. He also expressed hope that SCO membership would be a catalyst for the conclusion of an agreement on border issues between China and India. He also considers economic cooperation between the members of the organisation importat, especially in areas of transport connectivity and digital cooperation, and cooperation in the fight against pandemics and natural disasters.

Alexey Kupriyanov, Senior Researcher at IMEMO RAN, spoke about the differences within the SCO and the future of the organisation. Russia, according to him, first of all needed calmness and the absence of conflicts in Eurasia, while China sought to turn the SCO into an economic structure for the implementation of Chinese infrastructure projects. The accession of India and Pakistan to the SCO made it difficult for the organisation to work precisely in the strengthening of stability and security - in connection with the contradictions existing between India and China. As a result, the SCO's traditional approach, which presupposes that confidence-building measures should precede the settlement of territorial claims, has been called into question. All this has put the organisation on the brink of a crisis, and if the “Shanghai spirit” of mutual trust cannot be preserved, the SCO may turn into a powerless structure, a ghost organisation.

Sriparna Pathak, Deputy Dean at the Jindal School of International Affairs at O.P. Jindal Global University, spoke about the Indian view of the interaction between India and China within the SCO. In her opinion, China plays a central role in the SCO and actively uses the organisation to protect its interests, often to the detriment of Indian interests - and this causes some Indian scepticism towards the SCO. Nevertheless, she sees a number of promising areas for cooperation in ensuring peace and stability, as well as combating terrorism - and in particular, in matters related to the Afghan conflict. At the same time, there are differences between India and China in approaches to these problems, which greatly complicate the situation. In general, the Indian-Chinese and Indian-Russian differences cast doubt on the effectiveness of the SCO, although the organisation is still important for the participants and they will look for new forms of cooperation within its framework, the expert said.

Vasily Kashin, Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies at the Higher School of Economics, analysed the Chinese approach to the SCO. He stressed that China is interested in the SCO and this can be used by other members of the organisation to defend their interests. Although Beijing is finding other ways to expand its influence in the region, the SCO remains an important institution for ensuring the security of the PRC, in particular against the background of difficult relations with the United States. In turn, the consensus-based nature of decision-making in the SCO often allows its relatively weak members to effectively defend their interests. Thus, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation can turn into a platform for searching for compromises in the field of regional security, which is especially important in light of the deteriorating military-political situation in Asia.