Home / Opinion / The Pivot to Asia and the SCO | Mehr Ispahani

The Pivot to Asia and the SCO | Mehr Ispahani

The world is changing from a uni-polar system to a multi-polar one

The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) has been a game changing organisation which was established in 2001 in Shanghai. Some people and analysts feel that the purpose of SCO was to counter balance NATO, by counterbalancing the activities of NATO in Central Asia and the US. The Beijing-based SCO currently has China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan as members. SCO is an emerging powerhouse imposing itself with gravitational pull. Within a decade, SCO seems to be progressing to generate focus and close follow up in various circles. The geo-strategic potential of SCO can hardly be ignored. It marks the largest regional organisation in terms of both land mass and population. The Sino-Russian relationship has steadily stabilised in the new century and has grown much closer, bound by their mutual distrust of the U.S. hegemony and their perceived need to promote a multi-polar world.

China in particular sees SCO as an important tool for this aim and has an interest in showing that it can build an international bloc independent of the West and organised on non-Western principles with new security concept and new model of regional cooperation. These days, respective concerns of Moscow and Beijing have tended to cover more and more. The Asia Pacific region is in world focus for its growing political importance and for its economic developments. The region has undergone fundamental changes in its regional organisation, security order and power structure. The focus has shifted from the Atlantic to the Asia Pacific since the end of the Cold War. A new web of power relations is emerging in Asia today inspired by China’s rise and the perceived decline of the US. Countries of the region are looking for mutual ties of relationships in which Asian countries are the main drivers. This developing web has provided an impetus to the US strategy by leveraging relationships among likeminded countries to share the burden with the US of managing China’s rise and preserving China power from expanding in the region. The current dynamics of the US – China – Japan triangle will continue to haunt the region.

Pakistan (while still a developing country) is a strong market in both energy and defence sector, and that, therefore, makes it one of the most vital markets for Russia. Although China’s major security interests do not always coincide with that of Russia, Central Asia may be an exception as both countries are concerned with the stability in Afghanistan and are interested in handling regional security. In addition, energy security is an issue where China’s economic interest and Russia’s military interest converge within the SCO.

India and Pakistan have much to gain and little to lose from assuming full membership in the SCO. On the security side, both countries hope to pursue their interests in Afghanistan and Central Asia. SCO might be able to play a facilitating role in dealing with the Kashmir dispute with India. The expansion of the SCO will help China fulfil its economic aspirations in both Central and South Asia though Russia fears that the expansion of the SCO could vault China into the driver’s seat in Central and South Asia. SCO is expanding its portfolio beyond border disputes and security cooperation to include a wide range of economic, political, and cultural issues. Adding India and Pakistan is an essential aspect of such an effort, For China, an expanded SCO advances both security and economic interests.

The addition of nuclear states India and Pakistan to the SCO will not only change the political map but will also influence the balance of power in the world system of political affairs. Current geopolitical realities tell us that a world is turning into a multi-polar system from a uni-polar one. Two blocs will be formed of regional alliances, Russia-China-Pakistan ‘Axis’, of course we are aware of Pakistan and China’s all weather relationship but Russia (which has been a time tested friend of India) getting close to Pakistan has raised serious concerns in India. Russia and China are both members of significant international organisations, in which they can shape global affairs by coordinating actions and strategies. More important is that China’s grand strategy basically aims to create alternatives to each single institution, organisation or structure of the so-called developed world in the long run, and Russia plays a central role too. China and Russia have settled their longstanding territorial disputes and have demarcated their common border. Thus, no territorial claims or border disputes would damage the bilateral relations. The China-Pakistan affiliation is well known and is the most formidable leg of the Russia-China-Pakistan triangle. China has always been a great support against its rival India in terms of military and economic assistance.

On the other hand, Asia-Pacific region is noticing the increasing convergence of economic and security interests of the United States, Japan and India, and their expanding trilateral cooperation. In many ways, the three countries are natural partners. They are linked together because of high populations, they’re three of the largest democracies, and they’re also three of the largest economies. They are connected because of the Indo-Pacific strategic construct that makes explicit the geographical connections. India is actively modernising its military, and the United States has rapidly become its top defence supplier.  United States, Japan and India are becoming increasingly central to their economic and security calculations.  At the same time Japan and India look at the United States as a potential energy supplier as the shale gas revolution turns the US into a major gas exporter. US and Japan have been updating their alliance.

While expansion may hinder the organisation’s ability to act decisively, it will give the SCO the opportunity to revolutionise itself into a more comprehensive institution capable of connecting and integrating a broad swath of Asia.

It is hoped that the SCO will become an important platform for the further alignment of states development strategies.


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