Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO)


Mains   > International relations   >   Regional groupings   >   International groupings


  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi will attend via video conference the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Heads of Government meeting being held in Dushanbe on September 16 and 17.


  • The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), or Shanghai Pact, is a permanent intergovernmental international organisation.
  • Currently the SCO comprises of:
    • Eight member states, namely India, Pakistan, China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.
    • Four observer states, namely Afghanistan, Iran, Belarus, and Mongolia.
    • Six dialogue partners, namely Azerbaijan, Armenia, Cambodia, Nepal, Turkey, and Sri Lanka.


  • Its creation was announced in 2001 in Shanghai by China, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. It was preceded by the Shanghai Five mechanism.
  • The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Charter was signed in June 2002, and entered into force on 19 September 2003.
  • In 2017, India and Pakistan were added as full-time members of the group.


  • Strengthening mutual trust and neighborliness among the member states.
  • Promoting effective cooperation in areas such as politics, trade, economy, research, technology, culture, education, energy, transport, tourism, environmental protection etc.  
  • Making joint efforts to maintain and ensure peace, security and stability in the region.
  • Moving towards the establishment of a democratic, fair and rational new international political and economic order.


  • Heads of State Council (HSC):
    • The Heads of State Council (HSC) is the supreme decision-making body in the SCO.
    • It meets once a year and adopts decisions and guidelines on all important matters of the organisation.
  • Heads of Government Council (HGC):
    • The HGC meets once a year to discuss the organisation's multilateral cooperation strategy and priority areas, resolve current important cooperation issues, and approve the organization’s annual budget.
    • The SCO's official languages are Russian and Chinese.
  • The organisation has two permanent bodies:
    • The SCO Secretariat based in Beijing
    • The Executive Committee of the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) based in Tashkent
  • There are also mechanisms of meetings at the level of heads of parliament, secretaries, ministers of foreign affairs, defence, heads of law enforcement agencies and supreme courts etc.


  • India was granted Observer status at the July 2005 Astana Summit, and subsequently participated in all SCO forums open to Observers. In June 2017, India was granted the status of full members.
  • India’s entry into SCO as a full member has been further activated with the establishment of the SCO Division in MEA and appointment of National Coordinator and Permanent Representative to SCO.
  • Since 2017, there has been regular participation by India in various SCO meetings.


  • Asian power bloc:
    • The group covers 42 % of the world population and 20 % of the GDP. This, along with the presence of 3 major global powers, makes the SCO a major power bloc.
  • Energy security:
    • Central Asia has large untapped reserves of energy sources such as natural gas, while China and India are frontrunners in photovoltaics and solar energy. Utilising this potential, the SCO nations could discuss the creation of an Asian energy grid.
  • Security cooperation:
    • To counter the threats from radicalism and terrorism, the members can work together in intelligence sharing, law enforcement developing technologies and sharing best practices.
  • Military and disaster relief:
    • Under the aegis of SCO, regular large-scale joint military and disaster relief exercises have been organized. For eg: Shanghai Cooperation Organization Joint Exercise on Urban Earthquake Search and Rescue (SCOJtEx-2019).
  • Potential expansion of cooperation:
    • There have been discussions of a number of other entities being created, like an SCO Bank, SCO University and various other forms of cooperation.


  • Foster a polycentric world:
    • The SCO shares India’s perspectives on several matters, such as an emphasis on multilateralism, creating a new economic structure for the world and counter terrorism.
  • Initiate institutional reforms:
    • Global reforms have become more relevant in the aftermath of the COVID pandemic. Support of SCO is vital in the efforts towards reforming the UN, WHO, WTO etc.
  • Resolve Afghan crisis:
    • The rise of Taliban in Afghan has increased security and strategic concerns for India. Since Russia, China and Pakistan are actively cooperating with the Taliban, India can utilize the platform to address these concerns and seek a greater role in rebuilding Afghanistan.
  • Access to Central Asia:
    • Central Asia and eastern Europe are largely underdeveloped markets, offering an entrée for Indian exporters and investors. Hence, developing trade and investment pacts through the SCO can be beneficial for India.
  • Diversify resource basket:
    • Central Asia has large reserves of minerals and energy, such as bauxite and natural gas. Investing in these reserves can help India expand its mineral basket, diversify its imports and promote Indian industries worldwide.
  • Address security concerns:
    • Security cooperation, such as RATS, is of value for India, as it can help in intelligence gathering and facilitate counter insurgency operations.
  • Resolve bilateral disputes:
    • SCO can act as a mediating platform for India, Pakistan and China to discuss their long-standing issues.


  • China’s hegemony:
    • China has strong connections with the SCO members. For eg: India’s bilateral trade with Central Asia stands at about USD 2 billion while China’s trade with Central Asia stands at over USD 50 billion. This limits India’s scope of strengthening engagements with the SCO.
  • Lack of physical connectivity:
    • There are obstructions of physical connectivity due to Pakistan’s hostility and Afghan’s instability. This hampers development of close ties between the Central Asian region and India.
  • Internal conflicts:
    • India-China: Belt & Road project and China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, recurring border disputes, support for Pakistan and expanded its military and economic presence in the Indian Ocean have resulted in a strained relationship between India and China.
    • India-Pak: There have been attempts to push for bilateral talks to sort out differences between India and Pakistan by other powers. This goes directly against India’s stand that all issues with Pakistan should be resolved bilaterally.
  • India-US relations:
    • China and Russia do not have cordial relations with USA, while India is seeking closer ties through logistics agreements and Quad. This is complicating the dynamics within the group.
  • Intelligence sharing:
    • The India-Pak-China conflict raise the question of intelligence sharing within the SCO’s anti-terrorist structures, as it could lead to India sharing critical data with Pakistan and China.
  • COVID-19 Pandemic:
    • The COVID-19 pandemic has aggravated antagonisms. The weakening of the liberal world order, confrontations with China as well as the pandemic as a whole, have eroded the overall multilateralism of international politics.
  • Linguistic barrier:
    • Despite admitting India and Pakistan as members, the SCO Secretariat maintains its exclusive reliance on Russian and Chinese languages.


Indian soft power already has considerable influence in Central Asia, far more than China. For instance, Bollywood movies are much enjoyed, compared with Chinese entertainment. However, India has to make further inroads into the region. This can be done via:

  • Take up a stronger role:
    • India can seek to capitalize on Russian and Central Asian states’ concerns about China exercising disproportionate influence in Central Asia. But in order to succeed, India should improve its own standing in the region.
    • India-Russia relations:
  • Strengthen presence in the region:
    • The opening of Chabahar port and entry into Ashgabat agreement should be utilized for a stronger presence in Eurasia and progressing the talks on International North–South Transport Corridor (INSTC).
  • Greater cooperation on Afghan issue:
    • In order not to get isolated on the Afghan issue, India should find greater understanding with Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan (KUT), and Russia. The KUT can form a more reliable partner for India within the SCO.
  • Expand cooperation:
    • Startups: According to NITI Aayog, India is now “the third-largest tech start-up globally”, with 38,756 officially recognised start-ups. These companies should be encouraged to lead the charge for creating new linkages.
    • MSMEs: India can encourage cooperation in the micro, small and medium enterprises sector in agriculture, energy, education, pharmaceuticals and information communication technology.
    • Cultural: Given the salience of Buddhist connections, priority should be accorded to tourism. The SCO Heads of State have already expressed their admiration for India’s joint digital exhibition on Shared Buddhist Heritage.
    • ‘Health’ vision: Addressing the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in 2019, PM Modi gave a template, ‘HEALTH’, for strengthening cooperation.


Given the withering away of the international order and the general weakening of multilateralism due to COVID-19, associations like SCO will play an increasingly important role as a bulwark of a new post-Western and polycentric world order, where multilateralism and global governance will no longer be associated with the Western institutions alone.


Q. Recent geopolitical developments call for greater cooperation of India with the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). Discuss?