The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s latest joint declaration is a level-headed take on challenges facing the world
India has successfully chaired the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit despite many diplomatic challenges, including having to hold a virtual summit due to the prevailing circumstances.
Relations between SCO member states have their share of bilateral difficulties and tensions. SCO members have had to address them, either to set them aside or find bridging formulations so that broad understandings are reached on regional and international issues of common interest. The New Delhi Declaration, adopted following the summit, addresses this challenge as best as possible.
It is a compromise document, because being members of an organization does not mean agreement on all issues before it, or the same interpretation of issues even if an agreed-upon text gives an appearance of consensus. Even when there is broad agreement in principle, in practice, the member states pursue the logic of their national interest or regional geopolitical considerations.
For example, the SCO members reaffirm their strong commitment to fighting terrorism, separatism, and extremism, and express their determination to disrupt terrorism financing channels, suppress recruitment activities and cross-border movement of terrorists, etc. But in actual practice, within the SCO space, cross-border terrorism continues, terrorist organizations are surviving, radicalization is taking place, safe havens are being provided, and UN listing of known terrorists is being repeatedly blocked. The New Delhi Declaration, regrettably, hedges the last issue by stating that “subject to their national laws and on the basis of consensus, the Member States will seek to develop common principles and approaches to form a unified list of terrorists, separatist and extremist organizations whose activities are prohibited on the territories of the SCO Member States.”
The New Delhi Declaration rightly acknowledges that the world is undergoing unprecedented transformations which require an increase in the effectiveness of global institutions, stronger multi-polarity, increased interconnectedness, interdependence, and an accelerated pace of digitization. It expressly confirms the commitment of member states to building a more representative, democratic, just, and multipolar world order based on international law, multilateralism, equal, joint, indivisible, comprehensive and sustainable security, cultural and civilizational diversity, with a central coordinating role of the UN.
The document expresses concern about the state of the global economy, continued turbulence in global financial markets, global reduction in investment flows, instability of supply chains, increased protectionist measures, food and energy security issues, the growing technological and digital divide, and calls for a more equitable and effective international cooperation.
Concerns in the West that the SCO is essentially anti-West in conception and seeks to build alternative political, security and economic structures is rejected in the Declaration which reaffirms that the SCO is not directed against other states and international organizations. What it rejects are bloc, ideological and confrontational approaches.
This sends the message that the SCO seeks a reformed international system, not an alternative one, that it still believes in interdependence but in a multipolar format and not one dominated by the historically pre-eminent powers. But then, the issue of reform of the UN and the expansion of the UN Security Council to make it more representative is not mentioned (China and Pakistan oppose India’s bid for permanent membership of the UN Security Council although Russia and Central Asian states support it). This contrasts with the call in the document for greater effectiveness and inclusive reform of the World Trade Organization (WTO).
With the West raising issues of democracies versus autocracies, the Declaration advocates respect for the right of peoples to an independent and democratic choice of the paths of their political and socio-economic development. But its emphasis on the principles of mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of states, non-interference in internal affairs and non-use of force or threats to use force being the basis of international relations is at variance with the actual practice of some SCO member states. This applies also to the reaffirmation in the Declaration of the commitment of SCO member states to peaceful settlement of disagreements and disputes between countries through dialogue and consultations.
The issue of the governance of the Internet is a contentious one, as it has many implications – political, economic, security, social etc.The Declaration considers it important to ensure equal rights for all countries to regulate the Internet and the sovereign right of states to manage it in their national segment. The actual practice in SCO states on national control over the Internet varies.
India, not being a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), did not, as before, subscribe to the Declaration’s paragraphs on proliferation issues. Similarly, India excluded itself from the support expressed for China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) by the other SCO members who also spoke in favor of implementing the roadmap for gradual increases in the share of national currencies in mutual settlements by the interested member states. This is a rather muted reference to a switch away from the US dollar.
Russia’s concerns, to which others, including India, subscribe, are addressed in paragraphs on the unilateral and unlimited expansion of global missile defense systems by certain countries or groups of countries which has a negative impact on international security and stability. Also, there is a call for full compliance with the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction (CWC) and bridging divisions within the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to ensure its integrity and operational effectiveness (Russia has issues with the functioning of the OPCW).
China’s pet mantra for cooperation in the building of a new type of international relations as well as formation of a common vision of creating a community for the common destiny of humanity, is accommodated in the Declaration. The reference to reliable, resilient, and diversified supply chains is also an issue that India flags in various international forums as a result of the experience during the Covid-19 crisis and the concentration of critical raw materials and supply chains in a single geography.
A quick settlement of the situation in Afghanistan is viewed as one of the most important factors of preservation and strengthening of safety and stability within the SCO region. The Declaration considers it essential to establish an inclusive government in Afghanistan with the participation of representatives of all ethnic, religious, and political groups in Afghan society. The issue of the formal recognition of the Taliban regime is not addressed.
The Declaration rightly stresses that unilateral application of economic sanctions other than those approved by the UN Security Council is incompatible with the principles of international law and have a negative impact on the third countries and international economic relations.
All in all, the New Delhi Declaration is a carefully balanced, pragmatic, non-rhetorical document which spells out the challenges the world is facing and how they need to be approached in principle and practice.