At SCO, India will work with global powers in creating secure, stable, prosperous world

Building a community of shared future for mankind is not only Xi Jinping's vision or China's vision, but also the vision of India and all the civilized nations in the world.

Editor's Note:

Sudheendra Kulkarni was an aide to India’s former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the Prime Minister’s Office. He has now founded a new organisation called Forum for a New South Asia-China Partnership, which popularizes the vision of peace, prosperity and progress in the South Asian subcontinent through, mainly, India-China-Pakistan cooperation.

On the eve of the 18th Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit to be held June 9-10 in Qingdao, Shandong Province, he answered some questions prepared by Shanghai Daily reporter Wan Lixin.

Sudheendra Kulkarni

Q: What are some of the considerations leading India to join the SCO as a full member a year ago?

A: India’s foreign policy rests on four pillars. One, India desires friendly and cooperative bilateral relations with all countries in the world, and views this as a precondition for world peace, stability and common progress of mankind. Two, neighborhood policy is at the heart of its foreign policy. India wants to have good-neighborly relations with all its neighbors. In particular, India wishes to normalize its relations with Pakistan and comprehensively improve its relations with China.

Three, India pays special attention to having stable, strategic and cooperative relations with major powers in the world. Hence, again, China as one of the most important global powers becomes important for India for the purpose of creating a stable, secure and prosperous future for Asia and the rest of the world.

Lastly, in addition to bilateral relations, India attaches great importance to becoming an important player in many multilateral platforms, both regional and global. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization is one such powerful multilateral platform guiding the future of Asia and beyond.

India joining the SCO has been guided by the above considerations.

Q: How is this decision perceived domestically?

A: The decision has been perceived very positively within India. There is support for it both among the people and across all political parties. The process of India joining the SCO was started by the previous government headed by Dr Manmohan Singh. During the tenure of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India has become a full member.

Q: Will India’s member state status affect its attitude toward the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)?

A: To answer this question, we should view India’s full membership of the SCO within the larger context of the steadily improving India-China relations. The informal summit between Prime Minister Modi and President Xi in Wuhan in April has imparted new vigor and momentum to our bilateral relations. There is no greater strategic mutual trust and also understanding between the two leaders.

Significantly, the two leaders have agreed to initiate India-China cooperation in many connectivity projects in the region. The Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) has been specifically mentioned. I therefore feel optimistic that India will join the Belt and Road Initiative in the near future. China can facilitate this by renaming, and expanding the footprint of, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), so that India becomes an important and equal partner in this ambitious BRI project.

India-China cooperation on an equal basis within the framework of BRI will contribute to the realization of President Xi Jinping’s vision of building a community of shared future for mankind. This is not only Xi Jinping’s vision or China’s vision, but also the vision of India and all the civilized nations in the world.

At their Wuhan summit, Prime Minister Modi and President Xi agreed that as two major, and neighbouring, nations of Asia, both India and China have a responsibility to ensure that they have the civilizational wisdom and maturity to manage their bilateral problems peacefully through negotiations.

India and China are together in G-20, BRICS, CICA and also AIIB. Therefore, their partnership can have a positive impact globally.

Mutual cooperation between the two countries will bring enormous benefits to them as well as to the whole of Asia and the world.

In Wuhan, the two leaders gave many indications of their resolve to develop mutual trust, understanding and cooperation between the two countries. In this sense, the “Wuhan Spirit” was certainly in conformity with the “Shanghai Spirit” that is sought to be developed by the SCO.

Q: With the membership, how does India stand to gain economically?

A: India will benefit from joining BRI economically in two ways. One, India is the leading nation in South Asia — and, increasingly, in Asia and the world as a whole. Connectivity and economic integration are absolutely necessary for the prosperity of South Asia and for the wellbeing of the nearly 1.7 billion people living in the region. Renamed and expanded CPEC on the one hand, and BCIM on the other, can achieve this goal. There are also other attractive connectivity projects such as the China-Nepal-India Corridor.

Secondly, India joining BRI will open a big door for strengthening India-China economic cooperation, which will benefit both countries. This will also act as a powerful engine for the growth of the global economy.

Q: What are some of the issues of concern for India in the Qingdao summit? And how is India working to have these issues addressed?

A: Terrorism and religious extremism are major concerns for not only India, but also for all the countries in the SCO. The Qingdao summit should take a zero-compromise approach on this issue.

The other most important issue is the need to build a common and shared understanding among SCO members on security matters. Security demands trust. Trust, in turn, rests on mutual understanding and cooperation.

Security issues are also complicated by the interference of external powers, especially the United States in the Asia. Increasingly, there should be a strong understanding among SCO members that Asia’s security should be the responsibility of Asians themselves, and outsiders should have a minimum role.

As far as India is concerned, the Modi Government should resist the pressures to create an anti-China military alliance called the Quadrilateral, involving the US, Japan, Australia and India. Similarly, China, as the leading nation in the SCO, should reassure all the countries in Asia that it abides by a transparent, rule-based and universally applicable security regime.

The Qingdao summit of the SCO should firmly reject the claim of any nation anywhere in the world to have its own “exclusive spheres of interest or domination.” Countries in Asia and the world must move toward a system of global governance based on the principles of peace, equality, justice, inclusiveness and common prosperity and progress of the entire mankind. A reformed and rejuvenated United Nations should be at the core of this new system of global governance.

Q: Could inclusion of both India and Pakistan as SCO members hopefully lead to some positive changes in India-Pakistan relations?

A: Most certainly. One of the strongest rays of hope sent out by the SCO is that, at its summit in Astana last year, the organization admitted both India and Pakistan as full members. This will certainly place an obligation on the leaders of the two countries to resolve their disputes and differences in peaceful ways. The prolonged hostility between India and Pakistan has been a big hurdle for South Asia to become a region of peace, prosperity and progress through comprehensive cooperation. This hostility can be ended by both India and Pakistan embracing the “Shanghai Spirit.”

What is the “Shanghai Spirit?” President Xi described it convincingly when he met with foreign ministers from Russia, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan in Beijing in April. Under the new circumstances in Asia and the world, Xi said, “All the member countries need to remain true to their original aspirations and firmly advocate the ‘Shanghai Spirit’ of the SCO, give play to its advantages, fully release the potential of the SCO expansion, and forge ahead with all-round cooperation. The ‘Shanghai Spirit’ features mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality, consultation, respect for cultural diversity and pursuit of common development.”

In a separate meeting with defense ministers and senior diplomats in Beijing last month, President Xi elaborated on this by saying, “The SCO has set a model for a new type of international relations with the characteristics of mutual respect, justice and win-win cooperation.”

Thus, the SCO’s basic conceptual framework and goals have been well articulated once again by China for the summit in Qingdao. Now, the task before all its member countries, including India and Pakistan, is to take practical and result-oriented steps to realize the “Shanghai Spirit” in action.

In this context, the decision taken by Modi and Xi in Wuhan to undertake a joint India-China development project in Afghanistan is most heartening. It is precisely this kind of constructive partnership between New Delhi and Beijing that the smaller countries in South Asia are looking for. They get worried when India-China relations are strained. And they feel relieved when India and China work together and walk together.

In particular, India, China and Pakistan should cooperate (along with Russia) to help end the conflict in Afghanistan, which is the longest-burning “hot spot” in Asia. In his speech at Astana last year, Prime Minister Modi had said, “In regional perspective, Afghanistan can also benefit greatly from SCO’s efforts in reinstating peace and stability in the country.”

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