New members bring challenges for Eurasian bloc

By Luo Yingjie Source:Global Times Published: 2017/6/8 20:48:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

India and Pakistan's admission to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) will be formalized at the group's summit on June 8-9 in Kazakhstan. The SCO will have eight member states thereafter. Foreign media outlets, especially those of the member states, have reported extensively on the event and Russian media has even claimed that the Eurasian continent is building an alternative to the G8.

Although the SCO cannot be compared with the G8, with India and Pakistan's admission, the SCO will become a cross-continent regional organization that covers the largest population and widest area in the world, with a collective GDP approximating $33 trillion and a population accounting for 43 percent of the world's total, and can thus be expected to exert significant influence on Eurasian geopolitics. Opinions vary greatly as to the first enlargement of the SCO since its establishment. Moscow Carnegie Centre Director Dmitry Trenin holds that the admission of India and Pakistan has presented challenges to China, Russia and other member states of the SCO. This viewpoint is shared by many, and the concern of potential problems is not unreasonable.

First and foremost, it is not easy to coordinate the tense relations between India and Pakistan in view of their complex histories. Due to the issues of Kashmir, the Ganges River and East Pakistan (Bangladesh today), India and Pakistan have witnessed ceaseless controversies and conflicts ever since the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947. The Kashmir issue is the most serious and prominent one. 

Despite cooling regional tensions in the post-Cold War era, stressful relations have not seen an ease between India and Pakistan. Armed conflicts over trivial matters between the two have also flared up from time to time.

If India and Pakistan are unable to realize mutual understanding on their disputes, including the Kashmir issue, the possibility of conflict remains high between both nations. Under those circumstances, it would represent the largest challenge to the SCO, and China and Russia must make more diplomatic effort to alleviate and improve India-Pakistan relations. Furthermore, the pressure from nontraditional security threats involving India and Pakistan will increase the difficulty in combating terrorism by the SCO. Pakistan is seen by the US as a major anti-terrorism partner as its northern areas are frequented by the Taliban. The ever-tense counter-terrorism situation in the region can be seen by the Mumbai terror attacks in 2008 and suicide bombings at a Pakistani shrine in February of this year.  

Although India and Pakistan's admission as full members into the SCO will bring about convenience in information-sharing and mechanism advantages, ensuing pressure and difficulties in fighting against terrorism will also be increased.

Since the signing of the Shanghai Convention on Combating Terrorism, Separatism and Extremism in June 2001, SCO member states have strengthened the crackdown on the "three forces." However, it is only restricted to China, Russia, and member states of Central Asia. At present, anti-terrorism actions have been expanded to South Asia, especially in India and Pakistan where the situation is relatively grave. Their inclusion will present a major test to the present anti-terrorism mechanisms of the SCO.

Finally, the inclusion of India and Pakistan into the SCO will examine the cohesiveness of the organization. Generally speaking, the cohesiveness among member states during the founding period of regional organizations tends to be strong, especially when there are realistic and pressing problems to be tackled. For instance, the founding of the European Community initially aimed at eliminating the possibility of wars between France and Germany. The European Community had since enjoyed a smooth period of development benefiting from their consistent opinions and interests. With the admission of more member states, problems began to be more visible.

Since its establishment, the SCO has adhered to the principles of equality, mutual benefits and openness and respected for the rights of members to choose their own path of development. This constitutes a valuable property of the SCO. However, from a realistic point of view, the addition of new member states will inevitably bring more problems to the organization. China and Russia have controlled the development of the SCO in the past, the admission of two major powers in South Asia will require increasing efforts on their parts to continue exerting influence over it.

The author is a professor with the University of International Relations. Follow us on Twitter @GTopinion


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