In a surprise move, India has decided to host the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit virtually in the first week of July – raising the question as to why New Delhi is avoiding hosting regional leaders in person. India is the current president of SCO, which comprises Russia, China, Pakistan and key central Asian states. The Indian external affairs ministry said in a statement that the summit would be held virtually on July 4.
No reason was given for the decision but it is being said that there may be multiple factors. One reason could be China. It was not clear whether Chinese President Xi Jinping was to travel to New Delhi in July. Both the Chinese and Russian presidents are set to attend the G20 summit in India in September too. The other factor could be that India does not give the same importance to SCO given it is dominated by China and Russia. Nevertheless, its decision to host the summit virtually raised many eyebrows. India assumed the rotating chairmanship of the SCO at the Samarkand Summit on September 16, 2022.
The SCO is an influential economic and security bloc and has emerged as one of the largest transregional international organisations. The SCO was founded at a summit in Shanghai in 2001 by the presidents of Russia, China, the Kyrgyz Republic, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. India and Pakistan became its permanent members in 2017.
India and China are currently locked in a military standoff on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) that has entered its fourth year, taking relations to an all-time low. Ties between India and Pakistan are also not healthy at the moment. Interestingly, before the surprising decision of Indian government to hold the summit virtually, Indian Foreign secretary Vinay Kwatra visited the Rashtrapati Bhavan Cultural Centre, a large hall within the complex of the presidential palace, and inspected the facilities there on April 20 as it was being looked at as a possible venue for the SCO Summit.
India’s decision to hold SCO summit virtually has triggered another debate in strategic circles that weather New Delhi’s pivot towards the block is decreasing due to Western pressure as it is dominated by China and Russia. Western states and US views both China and Russia a threat to their territorial integrity and undermining global economy. It is pertinent to mention that Indian foreign policy dynamics under premier Modi have been changed. The Modi government is undertaking its foreign policy by keeping in mind its Hindutva objectives.
There are various factors that tells the story why India is going closer to Western nations. The debate is also going on that West and US both are trying to make India member of NATO plus, a move that will have serious repercussions for Indian foreign policy and its alliance with Russia.
The inclusion of India in the NATO Plus would strengthen global security and deter the Chinese aggression, according to The House Select Committee on the Strategic Competition between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
The NATO Plus is a grouping of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and five countries, including Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Israel, and South Korea. It is aimed at boosting global defence cooperation. The Congressional panel, called in short the China Committee, recommends that India should be the sixth member
Likewise, India’s tilt towards the West, particularly in terms of its foreign policy and strategic alliances, can be attributed to several factors. The West, including countries like US, UK and EU, represents significant economic opportunities for India. These countries have strong economies, advanced technology, and established markets, making them attractive destinations for trade, investment, and technology partnerships. India seeks to enhance its economic growth and development by engaging with these Western nations.
India has forged strategic alliances with Western powers to promote regional stability and security. The country has developed close ties with US through various agreements, including defense and counterterrorism cooperation. These partnerships are aimed at addressing shared concerns such as terrorism, maritime security, and the rise of China’s influence in the region.
India, as the world’s largest democracy, shares common values with many Western countries, such as a commitment to democracy, human rights, rule of law, and individual freedoms. This shared values-based approach fosters closer diplomatic ties and cooperation on global issues. Western countries are leaders in technological advancements, research and development, and innovation. India seeks to benefit from these advancements and collaborates with the West in areas such as space exploration, information technology, artificial intelligence, and renewable energy. Cooperation in these fields helps India in its pursuit of technological progress and economic growth.
The writer is an Islamabad based expert of strategic affairs.