28 September 2020

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization and BRICS – disturbed by the conflicts between India, China and Pakistan

Cristian Eremia

(SCO) summits, to be held online, at the end of October, respectively November. Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, which affected almost the 2020 agendas of the two organizations, the big political-military challenges developed on the background of serious escalations of the tensions between the three states – India, China and Pakistan.

Image source: profimedia

The Indian-Chinese crisis is the main issue hereof Russia wanted to start some negotiations using the platform Russia-India-China Trilateral Group (RIC), one of the main engines of BRICS.  But before the negotiations, the Indian newspaper “The Hindustan Times” was claiming that the parts are transferring new troops at the borders – “China mobilized 50 thousands of military, tanks, artillery and air defense missile systems in Ladakh… The Indian armed forces are responding in the same way”. Other newspapers were saying that India dislocated troops at the border with Pakistan, after some information regarding the possible Indian-Pakistani conflicts, if Pakistan uses China to distract India from the military maneuvers from Ladakh.

Obviously, the SCO multilateral businesses are affected by the increasingly negative context generated by the regional military confrontations of the three states. The paradox is that New Delhi, Beijing and Islamabad are somehow forced to talk within SCO (or RIC, or BRICS), meanwhile at home they have opposed positions and act completely different, which is increasing the regional tensions and, generally, creates a complicated situation.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization developments

The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that Russia’s rotating presidency will organize, in November, through a video-conference, the summit of chiefs of state from the SCO members. The SCO and BRICS summits were planned to take place in Sankt Petersburg, in July, which was impossible due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Then, these were postponed for September.

The SCO organization was built in 2001 by China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kirgizstan and Uzbekistan. In 2017, India and Pakistan have joined SCO as well.  Then, the priorities of the Russian presidency included:

-Strengthen SCO’s leadership in ensuring security and stability and expand the array of tools for countering terrorism, extremism and drug trafficking, including by upgrading and enhancing the functional capability of the SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS);

- Consolidate SCO Member States and promote stronger foreign policy coordination with a view to devising common positions on the key international and regional matters and developing joint initiatives;

-Step up substantive cooperation between the SCO and ASEAN, the CSTO, CIS and ECO, including for exchanging experience and devising joint projects and initiatives. Promote contacts with the EAEU;

- Promote synergy among the national development strategies and multilateral integration projects in order to establish the SCO as one of the foundations for building an inclusive, equal and open Eurasian space for cooperation in the interests of ensuring high security and sustainable development in line with the concept of the Greater Eurasian Partnership;

-SCO participation to world’s economy, developing economic and cultural ties. They wanted to create the 2035 Multilateral Program of SCO Economic and Commercial Cooperation, increase the cooperation between the small and medium enterprises in the field of innovation, science and technologies.

Given the well-known developments and the premises for the year to come, as well as the reactivation of older conflicts by China, India and Pakistan – which are eroding the mutual trust between the SCO members, the above mentioned priorities have slowly stopped being priorities. On certain topics of the bilateral relations between the SCO members, some of the above mentioned matters were extremely difficult to deal with, and other bilateral aspects – like the general SCO 2020 agenda – were basically absorbed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

BRICS

The BRICS summit will be held online, at the end of October. Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa set the foundation of BRICS in 2006, hoping to create an association of emerging powers, able to produce a geo-economic counterweight for the Western liberal democracies. The “Achilles heel” of that construction is still the large heterogeneity of the bloc, which includes two big authority powers and three controversial democracies, with different economic power. An example for the lack of cohesion is represented also by the previous critics against China, brought by the Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro.

President Putin promised, a year ago, an intense activation to all levels, but the Covid-19 pandemic ruined all the projects. The BRICS agenda became increasingly modest, under the unconvincing catchphrase of the Russian presidency – “Partnership for Global Stability, Shared Security and Innovative Growth”. Firstly, it wanted expand the special coordination of the foreign policies of the Five “on key international platforms, mainly the UN”.  It did not happen, on the contrary, India and China have created a serious strategic communication and cooperation, even in some problems – like the transnational criminal fight, one might talk about convergent visions. This makes solidarity and cohesion for votes on major resolutions almost impossible.

As for the Russian desideratum for BRICS to ‘promote a positive international agenda… to solve the key global and regional problems”, it is obvious that the global political environment created this year did not allow such thing to happen, not even for the Security Council of the unreformed UN council. Kremlin insisted also for the Five to come up with “international standards to prevent terrorism and fight against terrorist ideology, including through Internet”, to be assumed by the UN. No concrete results were registered to that end so far.

Russia wanted for BRICS to become a strong political organization, but the lack of consensus made the BRICS’s orientation to be mostly directed towards the construction of financial mechanism that favor China and Russia – the New Development Bank, the BRICS Fund of conventional currency reserves, the future development of a macro-economic intelligence exchange and other initiatives for the cooperation between fiscal, custom and anti-hegemony authorities. Moscow insists also on a issue that is considers important, which is the development of a BRICS platform of cooperation and research in the energy security field.

For now, there is no reason to think that 2020 will be marked by a remarkable progress in accomplishing the established objectives. This draws the attention on the fact that among members of the organization there are deep divergences, starting exactly from the national interests and values. Therefore, BRICS can offer at best a useful platform to launch challenges on the Western powers, but not to modify the essence of West’s global approaches’ policies and interests.

The non-functional Russia-India-China Trilateral Group

India announced (August 30) that it will join the most important military exercises organized in this period by Russia, "Caucasus-2020", with the participation of SCO members. Diplomatically, New Delhi has motivated difficulties associated with the pandemic, but Indian interest circles - and not only, shows that India has refused to deploy troops to Russian military applications solely because of the participation of Chinese troops - it is known that since May, India and China are in armed confrontation in East Ladakh.

The problem itself suggests that India has decided to take measures to distance itself politically and militarily from China, even by undermining the cooperation with the OCS, BRICS or RIC. In fact, some American political circles have always wondered why India has accessed those formats, although they are moving to deepen more comfortable strategic relations with the US and allied powers in the Indo-Pacific. And all the more so as India was aware that the association with China entails more costs than benefits in the long run.

Looking back, Evgheni Primakov, Yeltsin's second foreign minister, explained for the first time in New Delhi, in 1998, the concept of the RIC Trilateral Groupin, which was to become a functional group to neutralize Western influences and power, primarily in the United States. The offer was attractive to India in those years, but the RIC could only be used for a time, as the “political core of the BRICS” - an aggregate association precisely to force a transformation of established multilateral institutions or to build other alternative multilateral institutions of the Western world. Subsequently, Kremlin's "non-Western" strategy for multilateralism easily overlapped with China's desire for a global emergency, creating a Russia-China tandem that actually affirmed the OCS, BRICS and RIC.

India had and is likely to play a role in balancing power relations within the RIC and the other two organizations, given China's growing international power. Out of strategic prudence, due to a disparity in terms of power and due to unresolved issues on the bilateral relationship with China, Moscow is having a hard time adjusting to China's new aggressive profile. But, for the moment, it can't even intervene head-on to directly mediate relations within China. So, from now on, the question is to what extent is RIC still functional.

India – a billion dollars loyal client of the Russian armament industry is noticing some roughness in expanding the Russian-Chinese relation and has managed to convince Russia to accept the Indo-Pacific concept instead of the Asia-Pacific one, to theoretically push China out of the region’s power discussions. Now, it wants for the moment when Moscow will dissociate from Beijing to position Russia, supported by New Delhi, as an Asian power.

SCO cannot turn into a military bloc alike NATO

The meeting of the security council’s secretaries of SCO’s member states (by videoconference) took place recently under the Russian presidency, ahead of organization's summit. The parties assessed how to ensure security and stability in the organization's space and agreed to continue cooperation in combating terrorist ideologies via the Internet, recruiting citizens from terrorist groups, and planning terrorist acts. It was agreed to accelerate work on the establishment of the SCO Universal Center for Combating Security Challenges and Threats, based on RATS (a Russian initiative).

The defense ministers agreed to expand cooperation in the fight against terrorism, the first military application that includes an exercise along these lines being "Caucasus 2020". However, India withdrew from these large-scale military exercises carried out by the OTSC, CIS and OCS states. At the same time, the strategic stability has deteriorated, with US primarily blaming the international legal framework and the "uncontrolled" deployment of the global missile defense system as a source of destabilization of security and international order and generating of a new proliferation of missile weapons in the world”.

However, OCS Secretary-General, Vladimir Norov, recently said, in an interview with the Russian agency TASS, that he "does not believe that the OCS can turn into a military bloc like NATO" - as many "unfounded suggestions" show, because there has never been such a goal.

Concerns have also been raised about the intensification of migration processes around the world, a real threat in the context of the pandemic and the general economic downturn. It was proposed that SCOs explore closer cooperation between law enforcement agencies in the field of illegal migration, to jointly counter threats associated with biological and toxic weapons, or to spread infections that are dangerous to collective health and prosperity. Of course, special attention was paid to the evolving Covid-19 pandemic.

The 2020 SCO summit – missed due to the India-China confrontations?

Serious tensions between India and China will not be reduced any time soon. 20 Indian soldiers and an unknown number of Chinese soldiers were killed in June's military clashes along the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh. Since then, repeated dialogues have taken place between senior diplomats and military officials of the two nations, in order to avoid further escalations. No concrete results. Diplomats in New Delhi and Beijing discussed - through video conferences, to eliminate the "unresolved issues" and about utual withdrawal of troops from the borders. Indian officials allege the dishonesty of the Chinese side because the People's Liberation Army (PLA) has refused to pursue actions already agreed and planned.

India's defense chief of staff, General B. Rawat, recently said that, if forced, India could exercise military power to prevent Chinese forces from intruding on the LAC. The Armed Forces will "always be prepared for military action if all peaceful efforts to restore the status quo along the LAC are unsuccessful," the Indian military official said.

China's Ministry of Defense declaratively was in favor of a peaceful political solution, which should be identified in the light of the overall picture of bilateral relations with India. "India and China must avoid misjudgments, prevent differences from escalating into disputes and take steps to restore bilateral relations on the right path to normal development," the Chinese ministry said.

Although Indian diplomacy has ruled that the military must leave the dialogue to diplomats, Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh has called on Moscow for support and mediation, hoping that the upcoming 2020 OCS summit under Russia's presidency could provide an appropriate platform for India and China to engage in positive political discussions in order to reverse the serious trend of military turmoil in the bilateral relationship.

In the end, out of all SCO and BRICS states, Moscow has the biggest legitimacy accepted by China and India in order to manage a real negotiations process for a tenable peace in the two organizations. For now, however, there are no real sign towards a possible direct commitment from Moscow in mediating some peace negotiations.

Kremlin would not want to get involved in this military crisis between the two Asian powers and is majorly circumspect when it comes to directly interfering. That’s because a failure from Moscow in ending the Chinese-Indian military confrontations would also mean the abandonment of any real diplomatic tools by Beijing and New Delhi and the commitment as a military solution.

And, obviously, the “solution of war” will determine India to distance itself from China and, why not, from the Organizations that both states are part of. Following these perspectives, the success of the future summits within the SCO and BRICS are, thus, raising big questions.

Translated by Andreea Soare