India’s SCO membership threatens West China security

By Xiao Bin Source:Global Times Published: 2017/7/23 19:03:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Since Indian troops illegally crossed the border with China in the Doklam area, China and India, both of which are members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), have been locked in a standoff, and as a result bilateral ties have plunged to a record low.

The SCO is an intergovernmental organization dedicated to safeguarding regional security. It has improved the security and external environment of western China and hence has won China more opportunities to develop since its founding in June 2001. However, India's accession to the SCO earlier this year is likely to hinder the organization's role of maintaining security in western China, because most of the SCO's initiatives will be impeded by strained Sino-Indian ties. When that happens, the SCO will come to a strategic standstill, which poses a challenge to the security of western China and consequently impacts China's growth.

Despite uncertainty about the global system in the future, China's peaceful rise constitutes a core issue in contemporary world politics. Among various attitudes toward China's rise in international academia, the most influential is the China threat theory proposed by John J. Mearsheimer, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago.

He believes China will emerge as a potential rival of similar strength to the US if its economy maintains rapid growth in the next 10 years. Against this backdrop, the US will ramp up efforts to prevent China from forging regional hegemony, and China's neighbors, including India, Japan, Singapore, South Korea and Vietnam, will join the US to contain China.

In fact, India's confrontation with China is, by and large, backed by America's China policy. India has not only sealed arms deals with the US, but also established strategic military bases along the China-India border. 

The China threat theory has a strong base of support in the Indian public. According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in September 2016, about 36 percent of the Indian public voiced an unfavorable opinion of China and 69 percent thought China's growing military power is a problem for India, including 46 percent who considered it a very serious issue.

Indian public opinion, to some extent, fuels the confrontational sentiment in its China policy. The Indian government has joined hands with countries that have territorial or maritime disputes with China, such as Japan and Vietnam, to counterbalance China. Given the tensions over China-India relations, India will bring its mentality of counterbalancing China to the SCO, and thwart initiatives favoring China.

India's membership at the SCO creates a structural quagmire for the organization. Soon after joining the SCO, India frequently caused friction over its border with China. For this reason, the SCO is likely to enter a strategic standstill.

India's participation in the SCO will do more harm than good in the short and medium term. The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region matters the most to the security of western China. Security cooperation among the SCO states has created a favorable environment for the stability and development of Xinjiang. At present, Xinjiang is at a critical stage in terms of stability and growth. In recent years, security coordination in the SCO has been largely related to Xinjiang. For example, infantry forces from member countries of the SCO held a joint training exercise in Korla, Xinjiang in November 2016.

However, China and India have disagreements on anti-terrorism. Due to a lack of evidence provided by India, China blocked India's bid to add Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar to the banned terrorists' list at the 1267 Sanctions Committee of the UN Security Council in June. Therefore, the possibility of India opposing China's position on terrorism using the same excuse cannot be ruled out. This will definitely affect the SCO's role of maintaining security in western China. 

Under such circumstances, China will beef up efforts to alleviate the negative influence posed by India and safeguard its territorial integrity. India's irrational actions along the border harm both its socio-economic growth and the security of western China. In the end, other countries will exploit benefits from China-India border tensions.

The author is deputy secretary-general of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Research Center affiliated to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.


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