China said on Thursday that it hoped the formal accession next week of India and Pakistan as full members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) security grouping at its annual summit on June 8 in Astana will help boost strained relations between the neighbours.
"We hope India and Pakistan strictly follow the SCO charter, the idea of good neighbourliness, uphold the SCO spirit, improve their relations and inject new impetus to the development of the SCO", Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told reporters at a regular press briefing.
The group has been processing India's entry since its 2015 summit in Ufa, with the formalisation set to be announced at the June 8 summit in Astana, Kazakhstan, which will be attended by Prime Minister Modi. Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will also be at the summit, although a meeting is, as of now, unlikely.
SCO WILL BACK OBOR
The SCO grouping, which largely focuses on security and counter-terrorism cooperation and is now looking to push Eurasian economic projects, is unlikely to want to grapple with India-Pakistan tensions despite Islamabad's continued efforts to internationalise disputes, observers said.
"Surely, hardly anyone within the SCO would like to see the Kashmir issue being brought to the table. But it is no secret that Pakistan has long been insisting on its internationalisation," Boris Volkhonsky, the former deputy head of the Centre for Asia and the Middle East at the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies, wrote in a May 31 article for Russia Beyond The Headlines.
"With China actively building the corridor via Gilgit-Baltistan [in PoK], the issue already may have become a trilateral one. Therefore, a unified approach of the SCO members is needed in order to prevent the issue from arising on the organisation's agenda and bring it back to the bilateral consideration of India and Pakistan," he added.
While the SCO has also said it would back China's One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative in principle, which India has expressed concerns about because of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor passing through PoK, the group's stand is of little significance or relevance to India as the primarily security-focused grouping neither has the mechanism nor mandate to endorse specific projects or involve itself in territorial disputes.
For Russian observers, India's entry is being seen as welcome in terms of making the grouping less China-dominated particularly as the security grouping begins to engage in economic initiatives. "The combined economies of Russia and India may not be as big as China's economy, but adding the political (and military) weight, the two may form a considerable counterweight to China's dominance," said Volkhonsky.
"So, even with the BRICS Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) already being in operational stage, a new SCO bank with the purposes of financing projects within the organization's domain without any bias and undue preferences may well become a good idea."