SCO Under the Chairmanship of India

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The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is an Asia-based organization established to deepen political, economic, and defense cooperation and relations among member states. In addition to Central Asian countries and members such as Russia, the SCO is a very important organization as it brings together actors such as China, India, and Pakistan, which are engaged in regional competition. With the theme of the SCO Chairmanship-in-Office being “Security”, India pays special attention to the SCO in promoting partnerships in various fields in the region.

The attitude of the New Delhi administration in the SCO meetings hosted by the SCO also demonstrates this interest. As a matter of fact, the SCO Defense Ministers’ Meeting was held in New Delhi on 28 April 2023. The meeting was attended by Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu and his Russian counterpart Sergey Shoygu, Colonel General Sherali Mirzo from Tajikistan, Colonel General Ruslan Zhaksylykov from Kazakhstan, Bahadir Kurbanov from Uzbekistan and Major General Taalaibek Omuraliev from Kyrgyzstan.[1]  Representatives of Belarus and Iran also took part in the meeting as observers.

It is known that Pakistan Defence Minister Khawaja Asif attended the meeting online. This attitude of Asif is a reflection of the India-Pakistan tension. The rivalry and regional struggle between the two countries continue within the SCO. However, both countries attach importance to the SCO partnership in the fight against regional threats, terrorism, and extremism. This is an essential factor that brings the parties together.

At the same time, the SCO brings the parties together on common ground in terms of combating regional threats and cooperation against terrorism. In this context, it can be said that the SCO started to pay more attention to defense partnerships after 2021. Since that period, the new regional realities that emerged with the outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian War and the withdrawal of the United States of America (USA) from Afghanistan have significantly affected security and defense policies. Therefore, it is possible to say that new initiatives at the institutional level have also gained importance. As a matter of fact, it is known that the main focus of the aforementioned meeting was regional security, along with the developments in Afghanistan.

Increasing the coordination among the SCO member states in effectively combating terrorism and extremism is one of the priority issues. This issue has already been emphasized at the meeting. Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh underlined the regional security threats and emphasised the importance of acting collectively. He also emphasised India’s international role and made the following statements:[2]

“If we want to make the SCO a stronger and more credible international grouping, our top priority must be to effectively combat terrorism… India is working to strengthen trust and cooperation among the SCO members.”

On the one hand, India emphasises cooperation and partnerships, and on the other hand, it endeavours to use the SCO leadership process as effectively as possible and to seize opportunities. New Delhi has a number of advantages in terms of setting the agenda, guiding member states, reinforcing its international image, deepening bilateral relations within the scope of the fight against terrorism and deepening its relations with Central Asian countries. Afghanistan-centered developments constitute the basis of these advantages. The activities of local radical groups and the activities of terrorist groups, especially the terrorist organization State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), lead the countries to act together.

On the other hand, the Defense Ministers’ Meeting is also crucial as it provides space for bilateral talks on military cooperation and defense. The Defense Ministers’ Meeting was preceded by a meeting between the Defense Ministers of China and India, which act together within the SCO framework but are in regional competition.

As it is known, there are border problems between Beijing and New Delhi. There is also regional rivalry between the parties. In this sense, the meeting between the Defense Ministers and the establishment of a moderate dialogue may have a positive impact on border tensions. During the bilateral meeting, Shangfu and Singh exchanged views on India-China relations. Singh also stated that the development of relations between New Delhi and Beijing depends on peace and tranquility at the borders. [3]

However, the visit of the Chinese Defense Minister to India is also important as it is the first visit after the confrontations between the two countries in 2020. Therefore, it is likely that steps will be taken to improve military and diplomatic channels within the framework of bilateral talks and the SCO meeting. Indeed, it was stated that the parties had a friendly and sincere exchange of views and agreed to maintain close contact and dialogue. In a press release issued by the Chinese Ministry of Defense, it was stated that the bilateral meeting will accelerate the resolution of related issues in the western part of the China-India border and continue to maintain peace and tranquility in the border areas. [4]

Singh also held bilateral meetings with the ministers of other member states. The strategic nature of these meetings gives them the potential to open the door to processes aimed at strengthening defense ties between India and each member state.

It is likely that there will be other developments that will add value to India’s position in the SCO in the upcoming processes. At the same time, it is possible that various cooperation processes may also come to the agenda. India will host the Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on 4-5 May 2023 and the SCO Summit on 3-4 July 2023. It is not yet clear which leaders will attend the meetings and how. However, it can be said that the course of relations with India and international developments will have an impact on the attitude of the leaders.

Following the Defence Ministers’ meeting, where military cooperation and counter-terrorism issues were discussed, both meetings are expected to focus on India’s extensive foreign trade as well as inclusive connectivity initiatives, including the North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC).[5]  At the same time, active initiatives on the Afghan conflict and regional stabilization issues are likely to continue. India’s role in such initiatives is undoubtedly increasing. In this sense, it is possible to talk about a New Delhi administration that aims to stand out at the regional and global levels.

As can be seen, the SCO Chairmanship gives India an advantage in developing bilateral relations and increasing its influence in international affairs. At the same time, there are also some opportunities to reduce the regional tensions. The fact that the talks with the Chinese Defence Minister, who visited India for the first time after the border problems, took place in a positive atmosphere is an example of this.

In conclusion, it can be stated that despite some disputes with Islamabad, New Delhi has a positive momentum in bilateral relations on the occasion of the SCO Foreign Ministers’ Meeting and the Summit planned for July 2023.

[1] “SCO Defence Ministers’ Meet Live: We Should Unitedly Fight Terrorism, Says Rajnath Singh”, Wio News,, (Date of Accession: 28.04.2023).

[2] “India Striving to Bolster Trust and Cooperation Among SCO Members: Rajnath Singh at SCO Defence Ministers’ Meet”, Devdiscourse,, (Date of Accession: 28.04.2023).

[3] “SCO Defence Ministers’…”, op.cit.

[4] “Chinese Defense Minister Attends SCO Meeting in India to Enhance Security Cooperation”, Global Times,, (Date of Accession: 28.04.2023).

[5] “India to Host SCO Summit on July 3-4 in New Delhi”, Economic Times,, (Date of Accession: 28.04.2023).

Şeyma KIZILAY, 2016 yılında Erciyes Üniversitesi İktisadi ve İdari Bilimler Fakültesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nden mezun olmuştur. Yüksek lisans derecesini, 2019 yılında Kırşehir Ahi Evran Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Uluslararası İlişkiler Anabilim Dalı’nda sunduğu ‘’Uluslararası İlişkilerde Ulus İnşası Bağlamında Irak Örneği” başlıklı teziyle almıştır. Doktora eğitimine Uludağ Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Anabilim Dalı’nda devam eden Kızılay, tez aşamasındadır. Başlıca çalışma alanları; güvenlik, terörizm, Afganistan ve Pakistan’dır. Kızılay, iyi derecede İngilizce ve orta seviyede Arapça bilmektedir.