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India hosts SCO Summit 2023; Iran Joins, Belarus to Follow Next Year

As SCO is expanding its Eurasian presence, Tuesday's summit revealed underlying strategic contradictions between the major powers within the grouping.

New Delhi, July 05: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hosted the virtual SCO Leaders Summit on Tuesday, bringing together leaders from eight member countries, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

As SCO is expanding its Eurasian presence, Iran officially joined this major non-Western bloc as the 9th member, while Belarus is set to be inducted next year. Saudi Arabia and Turkey are among a long list of aspirants to join the bloc.

The summit saw meaningful discussions on pressing global issues, with the situation in Afghanistan, the Ukraine war, counter-terrorism, and connectivity taking center stage.

The leaders signed the ‘New Delhi Declaration,’ a joint communique outlining the organization’s key priorities, including counter-terrorism, de-radicalization, connectivity, Afghanistan, energy, and the need for improvements in global governance architecture.

Most importantly, three major points were emphasized in the joint communique: Firstly, the SCO is not directed against any specific country and offers scope for cooperation. Secondly, the organization rejects an ideological or bloc-based approach, fostering a non-confrontational stance. Finally, consensus on refraining from militarizing outer space.

Formed in 2001, the SCO has emerged as a major Eurasian regional bloc, encompassing approximately 60% of Eurasia’s area and 40% of the world’s population. The combined GDP of its member countries accounts for around 20% of global GDP.

Underlying Strategic Contradictions within the SCO

However, Tuesday’s summit revealed underlying strategic contradictions between the major powers within the SCO.

Prime Minister Modi reiterated the SCO’s core objective of countering terrorism, emphasizing the need for a unified stance without double standards. He called out Pakistan and China, stating that the SCO “must not hesitate to criticize countries that support cross-border terrorism as part of state policy.”

Pakistan has long been involved in sponsoring cross-border terrorism in India, Afghanistan, and Iran, while China has been blocking attempts to designate certain groups as ‘global terrorists’ at the United Nations.

Chinese Premier Xi Jinping stressed the importance of safeguarding regional peace and warns against fomenting a new ‘Cold War.’ This was seen as a subtle message to India, which has been strengthening its strategic ties with the United States.

While regional connectivity had broad consensus during the summit, India did not support President Xi’s push for the Belt and Road Initiative.

Instead, India, along with Russia, has been actively working on the International North-South Transport Corridor to enhance Eurasian connectivity.

President Putin’s presence at the summit marked his first appearance in a multinational meeting following the Wagner mutiny, where he reassured the partners that “Russia is united as never before.”

As the SCO expands its reach, it is increasingly becoming a platform for strategic competition.

China seeks to dominate and control Central Asia, furthering its hegemony over Eurasia, while Russia and India collaborate to contain Chinese influence within the bloc and the region.

Russia considers Central Asia its traditional backyard and aims to maintain the status quo in its influence over the region.

Meanwhile, India competes with China for dominance over Central and West Asia, as it has successfully established a strong presence in under Prime Minister Modi’s leadership.

As the bloc continues to evolve, it remains to be seen how these strategic contradictions will shape the future of Eurasian geopolitics.

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