Security trumps rivalry as India, Pakistan to join China-led regional bloc

The two countries will ‘add to the influence of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’, China says, but their rivalry could test the group’s internal cohesion

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 June, 2017, 1:55pm
UPDATED : Monday, 05 June, 2017, 11:06pm

India and Pakistan are set to become new members of the Beijing-backed security grouping, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, despite lingering concerns over regional rivalry between China and India.

The accession of India and Pakistan as full members of the body will be formally announced during its annual summit on June 8 and 9 in Astana, Kazakhstan, which will be attended by President Xi Jinping.

The inclusion of the two countries, who previously held observer status, will “add to the potential and the global influence of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation”, China’s assistant foreign minister, Li Huilai, said on Monday.

The SCO, seen by some as a counterweight to the US- and European-led North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), is a political and security organisation that facilitates counter-terrorism cooperation. Its members are China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.

The inclusion of India and Pakistan is expected test the group’s internal cohesion. China will assume the rotating chairmanship of the group next year, and will now face the challenge of managing bitter relations between Pakistan and India, as well as its own rivalry with New Delhi.

“I want to stress that China and India are important neighbours,” Li told reporters on Monday, “Developing China-India relations does not only fit the interests of the two countries, but also the interests of the region and the world.”

The two Asian giants have long viewed each other with suspicion. China’s opposition to India joining another security organisation, the Nuclear Suppliers Group, has further strained bilateral ties.

Li said the question of India’s bid to join the NSG is “more complicated than imagined”, but added that China would support an eventual solution through consultations among the group’s members.

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New Delhi is sceptical of China’s infrastructure projects in Pakistan and Sri Lanka, fearing they might be used for military purposes and as an attempt to encircle India. New Delhi skipped a summit in Beijing last month on China’s “Belt and Road Initiative”, an ambitious plan to promote global trade.

This year’s SCO meeting would also explore the possibility of Iran joining the group, a move that China would welcome, Li said. Iran is an observer state at the group.

“China welcomes and supports Iran’s wish to become a formal member of the SCO,” Li said.