Samarkand SCO Summit: New Delhi Sees Opportunity but Sino-Russia Axis Is to Be Watched

The 22nd Summit of SCO is scheduled to take place in Samarkand, Uzbekistan on Sept. 15-16, 2022. This will be the first in person summit as the previous two were virtual summits and hence, it holds significance to observe the summit this time. For New Delhi its an opportunity to enhance ties with SCO members thereby giving further push to its Eurasian interests and connect with Central Asia policy. However, the no limit partnership between Russia and China and China carefully expanding footprints in Central Asia through BRI initiative are some set of challenges for New Delhi for making a comfortable entry into the Central Asian region. 

Scanning The Geopolitical Environment and Sino-Russian Axis

The present geopolitical environment in the backdrop of SCO Meet is bit complicated. The Russian intervention has already impacted Central Asia and the Caucasus. A sense of apprehension prevails in the region for they are aware that Russia has the ability to create unrest in their countries. Further President Putin would not like Russia to be considered as ‘Junior Partner of China in the region. 

The Sino Russia relationship is likely to dominate the developments in the regional affairs and groupings like the SCO. Whether the partnership is long term or merely tactical in nature needs to be watched. However, it will certainly impact Eurasia in the near to medium term. China is also carefully approaching Eurasia where Beijing’s balancing act in the region concerns energy supplies. On one hand, China has invested billions of dollars in Central Asian oil and Gas projects especially with Uzbekistan on the other, China has been careful not to create the impression that it is doing so to lessen its dependence on Russian resources especially hydrocarbons. if Russia had greater financial resources at its disposal, it may have been able to prevent the China dominance in Central Asia’ foreign trade. In coming time, it is expected that Russian economy will continue to lag China’s economy. While Russia’s attractiveness as military ally means that CSTO’s Central Asian members will not seek to join a security alliance with China. Therefore, there is little Moscow can do to compete with China economically in the region. As the Sino-Russian relationship moves forward, Moscow has to carefully play cards and not let its sphere of influence affected because of geoeconomic game of China. Although, ‘No limits partnership’ is on the deck, it would be interesting to see that how Sino-Russian relationship will flourish, will it become cooperative or competitive in foreseeable future that’s something the time will tell. Whatever may be the case, a more cooperative Sino Russian axis may create hurdles for India’s Eurasian rise. Perhaps, that’s why the National Security Advisor Ajit Doval made an unannounced visit to Russia to share concerns to the Russian counterparts. 

Impact on SCO

The SCO being located between these two areas of conflict (Eurasia and Asia Pacific) and hence, there is need to keep channels of communication and cooperation open within SCO to be able to manage differences. There is certain resentment/hesitation in Central Asian circles that they are called upon to express views that do not directly concern them, especially those which tend to antagonise the west. This has been brought to the fore by Ukraine crises.  The Afghanistan issue complimented with terror crisscrossing is another issue which concerns the SCO members and the central Asian region as whole. The Iran’s inclusion is another matter to watch, Iran’s enlarged economic interests in the backdrop of nuclear deal might get some economic-political gains. 

US, a Keen Watcher of SCO?

SCO is physically massive organization and interest play in this elephant size organisation was always something to watch for especially the military excercises. With inclusion of Iran and Belarus complimented by Sino-Russian closeness. Many argue that with inclusion of Iran and China-Russia dominant play might reflect SCO as an Anti-West organization and make US more concerned and watch developments of SCO more closely. 

Where New Delhi Stands?

Eurasia is an important geopolitical region for India’s aspirations of becoming a major economic center. It is due to its strategic peninsular geographic location connecting various sub-regions of Asia and West Asia. This could well be facilitated by recent initiatives such as the Make in India, Skill India and Digital India. It could well serve as a mechanism to harness India’s demographic dividend as well if India economically integrates with other parts of Asia. The strategic reason is to expand the sphere of influence in the central Asian markets and decrease its dependencies on the resources especially on Russia. New Delhi made an attempt to move more closer to Central Asian countries by calling them as guest in Republic day. Keeping the same gameplan in mind, India can capitalize the opportunity of using SCO  as a diplomatic springboard or gateway to cultivate and strengthen its interests in Central Asian region. This would further compliment when India assumes SCO presidency next year. However, as said, the growing China factor is an irritant in this case. India has to adopt more assertive and multifaceted diplomacy to keep check on China factor. 

[Photo by Prime Minister’s Office (GODL-India), via Wikimedia Commons]

*Srijan Sharma is currently working as a Research Assistant at the United Service Institution of India (USI) – India’s oldest and one of the prestigious strategic affairs think tank. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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