Re-imagining the SCO’s Geopolitical Expansion: Would It Be a Next SAARC?

Date01 October 2021
AuthorBawa Singh,Sandeep Singh
Published date01 October 2021
Subject MatterResearch Articles
International Studies
58(4) 491 –512, 2022
© 2021 Jawaharlal Nehru University
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/00208817211056750
Research Article
Re-imagining the SCO’s
Geopolitical Expansion:
Would It Be a Next
Sandeep Singh1 and Bawa Singh1
The SCO is one of the biggest geopolitical groupings in the world. It has provided
a forum for its members, particularly, Russia and China, to cooperate on the set
goals of the Eurasian re-integration. In contrast, SAARC cannot be termed as
a successful organization, given the arch–rivalries between India and Pakistan.
However, optimists believe that the geopolitical expansion, having India and
Pakistan on board, the SCO would have the potential for economic and strategic
cooperation. On the other hand, the evolving Sino-Pak axis vis-à-vis India has
generated a view that China has offered an SCO platform to make its South
Asia Policy a reality. Hence, an attempt has been made to assess the evolving
speculations; will the geopolitical expansion of SCO unfold new opportunities or
merely make SCO as another SAARC?
Geopolitical expansion of SCO, dysfunctional SAARC, India and Pakistan rivalries,
China and India, SAARCization
The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) is an inter-governmental Eurasian
political, economic and geostrategic group. It was established as the ‘Shanghai
Five’ in 1996 and rechristened as SCO after the inclusion of Uzbekistan in 2001
(Chaturvedi, 2016, p. 396). The geopolitical expansion of the SCO with the entry
of India and Pakistan during the Astana Summit (2017) has been conceived as an
1 Department of South and Central Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Central University
of Punjab, Bathinda, India
Corresponding author:
Sandeep Singh, Department of South and central Asian Studies, School of International Studies,
Central University of Punjab, Bathinda 151401, India.
492 International Studies 58(4)
opportunity in terms of a lot of economic, security, energy and connectivity
potential cooperation. Though there is anticipation that terrorism, connectivity,
Kashmir and other bilateral issues are likely to haunt the SCO, it would leave
indelible geopolitical and geostrategic imprints on its performance.
As far as the rationale of the SCO is concerned, the regional and global
dynamics have played a significant role in its formation. Regionally, the Eurasian
countries are aware of the threat of terrorism, extremism, fundamentalism and
other issues like border and trade. In this backdrop, China sought the support of
Russia and Central Asian countries to extend their support to promote and protect
the stability, security and promotion of unity, integrity and sovereignty against the
non-traditional security threats, not only individually, rather through the regional
organization – SCO (Hill, 2001). Internationally, SCO was established, given the
aggressive foreign policy under President Bill Clinton (1993–2001) and President
George W Bush (2001–2009) towards Asia, in general, and China and Russia, in
particular. The airstrikes on Iraq without the approval of UNSC created panic for
the emerging powers like Russia and China. Apart from these steps, strategic steps
taken by the USA, such as economic sanctions, deployment of troops, quitting of
the Kyoto Treaty, knocking down of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, refusal of
talks with North Korea, etc., further pushed Russia and China to rethink about
bringing change in the existing world order (Singh, 2018). Therefore, the external
threat perception shared by both China and Russia in the Eurasian region brought
them together to share multi-strategic visions for greater regional cooperation.
The SCO has emerged as a stepping stone for the expansion of their dominance at
the global level. Also, it has started increasing its influence by expanding its
membership towards India and Pakistan in 2017. With this geopolitical expansion,
the SCO has become a cynosure for many international relations thinkers and
commentators to visualize how it will function in the future, given the Indo-Pak
arch rivalries.
India–Pakistan strained relations, given the Kashmir issue and terrorism, have
become critical bottlenecks for the failure of the South Asian Association for
Regional Cooperation (SAARC). As a result, effective coordination and economic
cooperation could not be realized. Over the Kashmir issue, both countries had
waged two wars (1948 and 1965), and a battle of Kargil (1998). Several times, the
armies of both countries stood eyeball-to-eyeball on both sides of the international
borders. As per the official line, Kashmir remains the unfinished agenda of
Pakistan’s foreign policy since 1947. Kumar (2005) has argued that, ‘Frozen
conflicts which also persist on our borders, threaten regional security and stability
… terrorism and state failure’.
How these new challenges would be addressed on the table, and how these
countries would uphold the ‘Shanghai Spirit’, making SCO a strong regional
organization, has largely been ignored in the existing literature? It argues that the
evolving Sino-Pak-[Russia] geopolitical axis vis-à-vis India, and New Delhi–
Islamabad rival relations are likely to remain on the geopolitical horizon of the
SCO. In this backdrop, the main focus of the article is to analyse the post-entry of
India and Pakistan, how SCO could manage the shadow of Indo-Pak bilateral

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