American defense analyst Derek Grossman, who works at the RAND Corporation, believes that in the future China may regret that it once allowed India to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (China Will Regret India’s Entry Into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization).

With India and Pakistan as new members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, or SCO, China, accustomed to uncompromising power and joint discussions, is likely to face a growing number of disagreements in the regional economy and the organization in the field of security. According to D. Grossman, India’s entry may primarily interfere with Beijing’s plans, due to the geopolitical competition between the two Asian giants and different approaches to anti-terrorist activities.

The analyst believes that Beijing may not have wanted India to join the SCO. Russia was the first to offer India as a member, on the one hand, to complement bilateral economic cooperation and ensure security, and on the other, to limit China’s growing influence on the organization.

Russia is increasingly concerned that post-Soviet SCO members such as Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are moving too far into China’s geostrategic orbit. For example, it is well known that Moscow has long postponed the implementation of Chinese initiatives that would allow Beijing to get more benefits from regional trade, including the creation of a regional trade agreement and the SCO bank.

According to D. Grossman, since China is gaining more influence in Central Asia, Moscow, for its part, can support New Delhi in order to temporarily strengthen Russia’s position in slowing down or opposing Chinese initiatives.

Indeed, during a recent visit to Moscow, Modi said: “India and Russia have always been on the same side on international issues.” In the future, this strategy is likely to bring big dividends. New Delhi has a lot of concern related to the activities of its main competitor Pakistan, sponsored by Beijing at the SCO summit-2015 to balance Moscow’s support in India, and is still extremely critical of China’s so-called “all-weather friendship” with Islamabad. In May 2017, New Delhi refused to send a delegation to the widely publicized “One Belt and One Road” summit in Beijing, which was aimed at expanding trade and infrastructure ties between China and Eurasian countries.

D. Grossman recalls that according to the official statement of India, the flagship project “One Belt and One Road” – the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor-was not carried out “in such a way as to respect sovereignty and territorial integrity”.

The Indian opposition is resisting a plan to build a corridor through the disputed region in Kashmir and link it to the strategically located Pakistani port of Gwadar, prompting Prime Minister Narendra Modi to raise the issue again during his opening speech at the SCO summit last month.

New Delhi is likely to continue to criticize the corridor in the context of the SCO, since, as a full member, India has the right to protest against events that do not meet the interests of all SCO members. The SCO also offers another public stage for India, which constantly questions the intention of exceptionally close relations between China and Pakistan.

India-Pakistan tensions have been strained at times, and Beijing may support both sides to use the SCO as a platform to criticize the other. In the absence of a major incident, Beijing has perfectly handled the delicacy of this situation. When the question was raised in early June whether membership in the SCO would have a positive impact on relations between India and Pakistan.

Chinese representative Hua Chunying replied: “I see that a journalist from Pakistan is sitting here, and journalists from India are sitting there. Maybe someday you will be able to sit closer to each other.” In addition, the unofficial press organ of the Chinese military, The Global Times, published an article stating that the SCO membership in India and Pakistan will lead to positive bilateral development.

D. Grossman thinks that even if this is too optimistic, it would set the right tone as the organization moves forward. But the chances of achieving the desired result by China are small.

According to the analyst, in a good way, Beijing should not look further than South Asia. In this region, India and Pakistan are members of a multilateral grouping known as the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation. New Delhi, along with Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Bhutan, boycotted last year’s summit in Islamabad, because they believed that Pakistan was behind the terrorist attack on the Indian army base.

Even with an official ban on discussing bilateral issues during its proceedings, SAARC is constantly plagued by an invasion of complaints between India and Pakistan. Beijing can probably keep its close ally Islamabad in the SCO, but in relation to New Delhi, this will most likely not happen.

The security of Afghanistan, D. Grossman notes, is another serious problem that the SCO faces. An integral component of the organization is the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure aimed at China’s fight against the “three evils” – terrorism, extremism and separatism.

Despite this, India is likely to thoroughly and reasonably highlight the contradictions between the anti-terrorist goals set by China and the realities of its policy. In particular, Beijing has consistently looked the other way, as the Pakistani intelligence services continue to support terrorist groups in Afghanistan, including the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani group.

Moreover, since India is particularly close to the Afghan government, it may try to help Afghanistan move from observer status to the status of a full member of the SCO. This would give India even greater strength in the group and would help strengthen Russia’s position.

Protracted border disputes and acute geostrategic competition in South Asia between China and India are likely to soften any cooperation that Beijing can achieve with New Delhi within the framework of the SCO. The unfolding Doklam dispute, in which Chinese and Indian troops are in a standoff, is just the latest example of tense relations at several points along their land border.

Mutual distrust persists in the maritime territories, and the Indian government recently strengthened its position in the strategically important Andaman and Nicobar island chain to counter the alleged Chinese strategy – “string of pearls”, which aims to seize access to naval ports throughout the Indian Ocean, which can be a military advantage during a conflict. Most likely, such mutual distrust will affect the negotiations in the SCO, possibly in unpredictable ways.

Although India may be an undesirable addition and an irritant for Beijing in the SCO, according to D. Grossman, China does not need the SCO so much to achieve its regional goals. Since its founding in 2001, the SCO has provided Beijing with a productive way to interact with its neighbors, where Moscow still dominates.

But today, China’s economic and military power makes it more formidable in itself – whose influence is only increasing, while Russian influence is simultaneously retreating. For example, even if India rejected joining Beijing’s “One Belt and One Road” program, China will remain India’s leading trading partner and an important market for all Central and South Asian countries, leaving them with several attractive options.

According to the American expert, India’s entry into the SCO, at the same time, may put Beijing in an awkward position in ensuring an important role in the organization, in organizing work within the organization or outside it. A complete failure in the SCO would be unacceptable for China, because of its leading role in organizing the forum.
In conclusion, D. Grossman makes a forecast that regardless of the bickering between the countries that may break out, Beijing can expect another manifestation of the importance of the SCO with all the pomp and circumstance at the next summit in June 2018. China, as the host country, will make this result even more likely.


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