20th Summit of SCO Council of Heads of State – The Big Picture – RSTV IAS UPSC

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  • December 26, 2020
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20th Summit of SCO Council of Heads of State


Topic: General Studies 2:

  • Important International institutions, agencies and fora- their structure, mandate. 
  • Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests.

In news: The SCO Summit adopted 16 documents including key ones on countering spread of extremist ideologies and promoting digital economy. 

  • The leaders discussed the current state and priority goals of SCO activities in the context of the dominant global political and economic processes. 
  • While speaking at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit on Tuesday, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi emphasised on the importance of countries respecting each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. 
  • PM Narendra Modi, during his virtual speech, also pointed out the attempts being made to hinder with the SCO’s agenda. 
  • The prime minister was virtually addressing the 20th summit of the SCO Council of Heads of State, and it was the first time that PM Modi and Xi Jinping were coming face to face after the India-China border conflict.

Chaired by: The President of the Russian Federation Mr. Vladimir Putin

This was the first SCO Summit held in Virtual Format and third meeting that India participated after becoming a full member in 2017.

Key takeaways

Anti-epidemic cooperation: a united front

  • Need to bolster each other’s containment efforts, and to refocus future security concerns on the growth and protection of the people.
  • China’s proposal to constitute “hotline contacts … between SCO members’ centers for disease control (CDCs)” serves as a viable blueprint for preventing cross-border transmission of communicable diseases, and helps strengthen SCO’s long-standing resistance to any politically motivated crisis response.

Transformative headway on peaceful coexistence

  • In terms of economic considerations, the elimination of trade barriers, simplified customs procedures and external market stimulus through win-win cooperation can generate patterns of interconnectivity, which in turn can have a lasting impact on how healthcare interventions are distributed and whether their access is inherently multilateral.
  • Similarly, SCO members that have cultivated a sense of “sovereign, united, peaceful and democratic” statehood in their immediate neighborhoods, strengthen the organization’s collective spirit of state-to-state capacity building, both within and outside its borders.

Conflict resolution: a borderless prerogative

  • SCO members contextualized prevailing geopolitical tensions by standing firmly committed to an international order based on the supremacy of international law. All parties remained invariably cognizant of the perils of World War II – 75 years on – and the coordinating role played by the United Nations in offsetting a recourse to unilateralism.

Prime Minister Modi – 

On multilateralism

  • Highlighted the imperative of a reformed multilateralism to meet the expectation of a world suffering from the social and financial after-effects of the pandemic. 
  • India, as a non-permanent member of the UNSC, beginning from 1 January 2021, will focus on the theme of ‘reformed multilateralism’ to bring about desirable changes in global governance.

Regional Peace and Security

  • India believes that to enhance connectivity, it is important that we move forward while respecting one another’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
  • Reiterated India’s firm belief in regional peace, security and prosperity and raising voice against terrorism, smuggling of illegal weapons, drugs and money-laundering. 
  • India’s brave soldiers participated in about 50 UN peacekeeping missions
  • India’s Pharma industry supplying essential medicines to more than 150 countries during the pandemic.

Strong cultural ties

  • Underlined India’s strong cultural and historical connect with the SCO region and reiterated India’s firm commitment towards strengthening connectivity in the region with initiatives like International North-South Transport Corridor, Chabahar Port and Ashgabat Agreement. 
  • Extended full support to observing the 20th anniversary of SCO in 2021 as the “SCO Year of Culture” and spoke of India’s own initiatives to hold the first SCO exhibition on Shared Buddhist Heritage to be organized by National Museum of India, SCO Food Festival in India next year and the translation of Ten regional language literary works into Russian and Chinese.

India, as the next host

  • Expressed India’s readiness to host the next regular Meeting of SCO Council of Heads of Government on November 30, 2020 in virtual format. 
  • India has also proposed to set up a Special Working Group on Innovation and Startups and a Sub Group on Traditional Medicine within SCO. 
  • Elaborated on India’s vision of a “Aatma Nirbhar Bharat” (Self-reliant India) in the post-pandemic world that could prove to be a force multiplier for the global economy and the economic progress of the SCO region.

Important Value Additions

What was SCO founded and what is its historical background?

  • Built on Shanghai Five: Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan (Kyrgyz Republic) and Tajikistan popularly known as Shanghai Five had come together in the post-Soviet era in 1996, in order to work on regional security, reduction of border troops, and terrorism.
  • Initial Success in resolving Boundary Disputes: The 1996 meeting of the Shanghai Five resulted in an ‘Agreement on Confidence-Building in the Military Field Along the Border Areas’ between China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, which led to an agreement on the mutual reduction of military forces on their common borders in 1997. 
  • Inclusion of Uzbekistan: Subsequently, Shanghai Five helped resolve disputes between Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan on border issues and the Ferghana Valley enclaves.
  • Institutionalisation: Subsequently a permanent intergovernmental international organisation called SCO was founded in June 2001. It is Eurasian political, economic, and security alliance of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.
  • Expansion: Its membership was expanded to include India and Pakistan in 2017.
  • Observer States: The SCO also has four observer states — Afghanistan, Iran, Belarus and Mongolia — which may be inducted at a later date.

What is the Organisational Structure of SCO?

  • The organisation has two permanent bodies — the SCO Secretariat based in Beijing and the Executive Committee of the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) based in Tashkent. 
  • The SCO Secretary-General and the Director of the Executive Committee of the SCO RATS are appointed by the Council of Heads of State for a term of three years. 
  • However, the venue of the SCO council meetings moves between the eight members 
  • Current Members: China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, India and Pakistan
  • Headquarters: Beijing, China

Why does it stand out?

It can be considered as the first in the history of building an equal partnership of unbalanced, multi-scale states with different economic and political potential, cultural and civilizational features via

  • Voluntary membership
  • Equality of participants
  • A consensus model of decision-making

The SCO’s driving philosophy — emphasises harmony, working by consensus, respect for other cultures, non-interference in the internal affairs of others, and non-alignment.

A Bearing Structure for Future World Order

The current global trends, the heightening of geopolitical tensions, the complex nature of threats and challenges, in fact, require collective efforts to create a more fair and polycentric model of the global structure. And SCO is becoming a bearing structure for future world order.

Fight against ‘three evils’: Against terrorism, separatism, and extremism

First of all, practical work is being conducted on the basis of the SCO Regional Antiterrorist Structure (RATS), which demonstrates significant results in countering terrorism, separatism and extremism.

  • In order to improve practical skills, joint anti-terrorism exercises are conducted through law enforcement agencies and the armed forces.
  • A significant place in the activities of the SCO is the problem of information security. Over the past years, in the framework of countering the use of the Internet for terrorism and extremism purposes, the RATS SCO has limited access to 80,000 Internet resources containing 500,000 materials and stopped the activities of 360 participants in Internet communities related to terrorism and religious extremism.

Contribute to global anti-drug efforts: Over the past five years, the competent authorities of the SCO member states have seized about 40 percent of the total amount of heroin and marijuana confiscated throughout Eurasia

Restore peace in Afghanistan: Among the topical issues on the international agenda of the SCO is to restore peace and stability in Afghanistan. In 2018, meetings of the SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group were held in Moscow and Beijing, which made an important contribution to common efforts at the inter-regional and international levels. In addition to facilitating the negotiation process, member states provide substantial material and technical assistance to Afghanistan, especially with regard to infrastructure and railway construction. Besides, hundreds of Afghan students go to universities in member states.

Explore the economic potential: As the key goals and objectives of the SCO economic agenda, the SCO Charter provides for the promotion of comprehensive and balanced economic growth, social and cultural development in the region.

  • In recent years, transport, energy, e-commerce, information and communication technologies, tourism, agriculture, banking and finance are considered as priority areas for the organization, with the prospect of expanding the use of national currencies in trade and investment activities.
  • Taking into account the unfavorable situation in the world market and growing protectionism on a global scale, it becomes clear how necessary it is to work together in the framework of the SCO.

How does West perceive SCO?

  • The SCO describes one of its main goals as moving towards the establishment of a democratic, fair and rational new international political and economic order.
  • In 2005, the Astana declaration called for SCO countries to work on a “joint SCO response to situations that threaten peace, security and stability in the region”, indicating the group’s strategic ambitions
  • As a result, the SCO was eyed with some misgivings by the U.S. and Europe. It was even dubbed the “Anti-NATO” for proposing military cooperation. 
  • Western and NATO concerns were heightened when they placed heavy sanctions against Russia for its actions in Crimea, but China came to Russia’s aid, signing a 30-year, $400 billion gas pipeline framework agreement.


SCO’s Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS): RATS is a permanent organ of the SCO which serves to promote cooperation of member states against terrorism, separatism, and extremism and is headquartered in Tashkent.

SCO Startup Forum to be launched: The forum will lay the foundation for multilateral cooperation and engagement among the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Member States.

  • Objective: To develop and improve startup ecosystems collectively.
  • The Forum shall identify areas of cooperation by launching multiple entrepreneurial activities like startup showcases through a dedicated virtual platform, mobilizing capital for startups, sharing of best practices, procuring social innovations etc.
  • Also, Innovation and Startups will be the key focus area of SCO Heads of Government meeting on 30th November 2020 to be hosted by India.

SECURE: PM Modi’s mantra that is applicable to SCO

‘S’ for security of citizens,

‘E’ for economic development,

‘C’ for connectivity in the region,

‘U’ for unity,

‘R’ for respect of sovereignty and integrity, and

‘E’ for environmental protection

Connecting the Dots:

  1. The SCO summit gives India an opportunity to showcase the kind of power it wants to be. Do you agree? Explain.
  2. What are India’s stakes in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO)? What benefits would accrue from India’s membership of the grouping? Discuss. 

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