The virtual Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit hosted by India earlier this week culminated in the adoption of the ‘New Delhi Declaration’, a document that analysts said was steeped in diplomatic nuance that unveils a delicate geopolitical balancing act, especially between India and China.
The Declaration emphasized on de-radicalization as a pathway to combat separatism, extremism, and terrorism. Beyond security, the Declaration has broader aspirations – seeking to deepen cooperation among member states for sustainable socio-economic development, with the ultimate aim of enhancing the quality of life in the SCO region.
While security and cooperation are not new themes, what makes the Declaration noteworthy are the undertones, said foreign policy experts. The delicate craftsmanship of the Declaration is evident, as it seemingly bridges the geopolitical aspirations and concerns of powerful member states, including Russia, China, and India.
Russian President Vladimir Putin attended the Summit on 4 July, marking his first international appearance post the failed mutiny attempt by the Wagner group. Putin’s presence and support for the Declaration sends a strong signal – that Russia is keen to consolidate and strengthen its ties within the SCO framework.
On the economic front, the Declaration highlighted support from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan for China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). India did not sign off on the paragraph supporting the BRI, which is Chinese President Xi Jinping’s pet project.
India perceives the BRI, particularly the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, as an infringement upon its territorial integrity.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched what could be perceived as a veiled critique of the BRI in the Declaration. Emphasizing the significance of connectivity projects, he underscored the importance of respecting each country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Jayadeva Ranade, a member of the National Security Advisory Board, said the Declaration was careful in not worsening the disparities among member states.
“Overlooking the discord between the member states of SCO, Chinese media reports praised Chinese President Xi Jinping’s speech highlighting his five points as a success without mentioning India’s opposition to BRI that intrudes through Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), where India has a territorial claim,” Ranade, who is also president of the Centre for China Analysis and Strategy, said.
Prime Minister Modi addressed member states with a call to action against terrorism, and raised concerns regarding countries that engage in cross-border terrorism.
This gains relevance as China has previously scuttled India’s efforts to blacklist certain terrorists through the United Nations Security Council.
Srikanth Kondapalli, dean of the School of International Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, shed light on another intriguing element of Prime Minister Modi’s address – the emphasis on civil society interactions.
“While the Declaration talked about democratic choices and respect for people’s rights, Modi suggested engaging the civil societies, an area that can be sensitive for some member states,” Kondapalli added.
The SCO, meanwhile, welcomed Iran as its latest permanent member, acknowledging its strategic position and the role it can play in regional development.
The inclusion of Iran may also have implications for the geopolitical balance in the region. Given Iran’s complex relations with the West, its full membership in the SCO could potentially foster closer ties with other member states, such as China and Russia, which may alter regional dynamics, analysts said.