SCO Focus: Yang Xiaoping talks about the summit

Interview of Yang Xiaoping, Executive researcher of The National Institute of International Strategy under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
by Li Zhuoxi

Why does the world need the SCO?

Today, the SCO stands out for two reasons. For one, since Donald Trump took office, all of international society has been stunned by his obsession with unilateralism. So the SCO, especially after India and Pakistan became full members, has played a critical role in maintaining stability in the region. It also presents a new solution for global governance aside from the U.S. approach. The other reason is related to efforts to make the entire world safe. The SCO was built around the concept that today no single country can solve such a complex problem. All countries must join hands to solve this problem. The SCO has a different solution. That is what we are practicing, and what we are doing is consistent with the interests and values of most countries. These two points are extremely important.


What are the benefits and challenges for new member India?

For India, this is a new channel, a new platform to amplify its voice. As an emerging country, India is playing a key role in the world. This new arrangement presents immediate opportunities. In addition to the intangible benefits are more practical ones. India is growing fast and has huge demand for energy. Now it primarily relies on sea routes to reach the Middle East and Indonesia for energy. Oil transported from Middle Asia across land routes matters for India in terms of energy security. The challenges are obvious too. First, energy transported from Central Asia can’t avoid Afghanistan. As for the security issue in Afghanistan, the U.S. can’t handle it, nor can Russia and China. Is India capable? I doubt it, personally. The second challenge is that although India has become a strong country on the global stage, it remains more of a regional power and has not become a global player yet, from the perspective of Pakistan and other South Asian countries. We have not seen indicators that the grudge between India and Pakistan will evaporate. This is another unavoidable challenge.


How will Indias entry impact India-China relations?

The impact will come from many directions. Obviously, China has shown a positive attitude by encouraging India to become a full member of the SCO, which has dispelled worries that the U.S. is pulling India closer to gang up against China or that any other country is positioning India as China’s rival. This signifies that the two countries are willing to manage and control differences over strategy, which is a major breakthrough. China and India are neighbors, but they don’t know each other well. The SCO offers more channels for mutual understanding. By sitting at different tables in different roles, two countries may express themselves more clearly and in more ingenious and smarter ways. This is another benefit of the SCO.


Can the SCO bring India and Pakistan closer?

When India and Pakistan became full members of the SCO together last year, I noticed a lot of optimism. As a neighbor of both India and Pakistan, China hopes the two countries can reconcile and pursue common development. I have no doubt about this. But reality is less hopeful. We can find historically India and Pakistan could achieve sorts of balance of power in South Asia, but since 2000, India’s development has far exceeded that of Pakistan. One reason is that Pakistan is still searching for its direction. The other is that its campaign against terrorism is quite costly for the country. So from a security perspective, the weaker side naturally feels less safe. At the same time, India, despite rising as the strongest power in South Asia, hasn’t been able to offer a feasible solution for reconciliation. It prefers to respond to specific issues with fluid action. So, many reserve doubts about what reconciliation between India and Pakistan would really mean. For the public, people-to-people exchange is already smooth between the two countries. In terms of trade, smuggling is extensive. But chilly official relations and discrepancies in ideology continue to persist. India mostly acts as a secular nation whereas Pakistan is an Islamic state. These are visible barriers. Drawing conclusions from the situation would be complicated, and currently I am not very bullish about it.


What key topics are you looking to be discussed?

People used to say that India has turned its back on the Belt and Road Initiative. But if you talk to Indian academics, they don’t express any opposition to the Initiative, but only cite that part of the project passes through controversial Kashmir. So I expect China, India and Pakistan or other related countries to find a creative way to solve the problem. In fact, the Belt and Road Initiative does not clash with the Indian development strategy. And I have heard from some Indian scholars that it is not impossible to tackle the problem technically. So I think we should reach consensus on macro development strategy and then utilize creativity. If the two countries want to further their interests and are willing to negotiate, we should sit down and have a good discussion about it.