The Indian way for a secure earth
Economics Times, March 04, 2023

By Pradeep S. Mehta and Purushendra Singh,

Hopefully, India would be forming many headlines around the globe this year, as it hosts two of the major summits; the G20 (Group of twenty largest economies inclusive of the European Union) and SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation), a Eurasian political, economic and security forum. Both these groupings are of prime significance.

The world grapples with looming global stagflation, and India is among the handful of few who have the potential of thriving in this situation. This year further presses on geo-political, technological, economic and climate-related challenges. If India can overcome these challenges with a way forward for the world, then the prediction “this century belongs to Asia, and this year belongs to India” would certainly come true. For good work, India has been presented with two opportunities as platforms.

Hopefully, India would be forming many headlines around the globe this year, as it hosts two of the major summits; the G20 (Group of twenty largest economies inclusive of the European Union) and SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation), a Eurasian political, economic and security forum. Both these groupings are of prime significance and hold key relevance for India to host them and churn the geo-economic and geo-political scenarios globally.

The G20 events are lined-up, taking shape and have attracted much fanfare. At the same time, the SCO seems to have been dealing with significant challenges faced by its members. This is the reason for this forum not garnering due attention. India’s presidency of the SCO summit this year should be an opportune platform to address the challenges and aim towards achieving larger goals and paving the way forward towards a rules-based peaceful global order.

A good start would be taking measures to stop the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine which has inflicted huge losses. Not just in the erstwhile Soviet nations but has affected the world, especially in terms of energy, and food security. This war has to come to an end.

This year’s SCO summit would be an ideal platform to nudge Russia to solve the issues through dialogue and come to a mutually agreed ceasefire immediately. The SCO has Russian-backed sympathisers and countries which have abstained from voting in the UNGA against Russia. Hence, the message of ‘this era is not an era of war’ could serve as a piece of friendly advice by its sympathisers without making Russia feel like a pariah.

The Inception of Hybrid Warfare
Another emerging challenge in this war is the usage of hybrid warfare or the use of new-age fire powers. Air drones, loiter munitions, cyber phishing and new-age bio-chemical weapons have all become a plebeian sight. This new style of warfare on the battlefield was first widely witnessed in the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Both these nations are dialogue partners of the SCO, and they hold the key to the future prosperity of this region and the forum.

The battle of Nagorno-Karabakh in 2020 and the ongoing Ukraine-Russia war has put technology at the heart of geo-politics. This new style of warfare could be lethal for mankind if goes unregulated.

To deal with it, the SCO has a mechanism in place. The Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) was established at the SCO summit of 2004 to mitigate the “Three evils” of terrorism, separatism and extremism. This permanent organ could be further enlarged by bringing under its ambit the critical and emerging warfare technologies, including cyber and space domains.

This would keep the nation-states secure from non-state extremism and lone wolf actors. Additionally, this would formulate a collective framework for regulating the usage and transfer of modern technology weapons in times to come.

Climate Catastrophes and Natural Disasters
Another challenge and opportunity is the mitigation of natural disasters and the damages which follow the calamities. 2022-23 has seen numerous natural catastrophes in the Central Asian region, in particular. The recent earthquakes and tremors in Central Asia and the Middle East have left deep trenches in the dwindling economies, and the loss of human resources and capital is alarming.

Türkiye, a dialogue member of this forum as the epicentre of more recent earthquakes has suffered the most. The WMO (World Meteorological Organization) predicts many more disasters to erupt this year, with the rubbles and after-effects of the disasters to be felt in almost all the member states of the SCO.

In 2022, there were drought in China, floods in India, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan and also in the observer member state, Afghanistan. They all have been grappling with the consequences of natural disasters. The SCO summit could be a good platform for building a joint disaster management task force for this group, mitigating climate change-related catastrophes, all under the ambit of quick succour. Environment protection could form a positive consensual base, which needs extra resources.

In terms of financing climate action, the COP27 came out with a declaration of establishing a Loss and Damage Fund. However, modalities of the same are yet to be worked out. Clearly, raising financial resources will be a big challenge. To do this we are suggesting a universal Financial Transaction Tax to be collected nationally and deposited in an independent international fund to be administered by the United Nations to ensure its effective and fair implementation. The SCO summit should look into this proposal and endorse it.

Economic Crisis & Security for Citizens
That said, two more dialogue partners of the SCO, Sri Lanka and Nepal have come under economic stress in the past year. Sri Lanka, which has been reeling from an economic crisis since 2019, has been the worse affected. This has been its worst economic crisis since independence. Pakistan, a full member of SCO, admitted into this forum with India at the Asthana summit in 2017, is also facing scorching high inflation and is in a deep economic crisis. This is partly because of the pandemic, and partly because of natural disasters and major floods last year. The latter affected almost a third of Pakistan’s territory. Added to this is the political instability with bad governance which has further added to the ongoing economic onslaught. Iran, incoming as the ninth full member state is also grappling with inflation and inequality. Reeling under economic sanctions put in place by the US and the growing intolerance, inequality and violation of women's rights have further aggravated the growing stagflation. “S” in this year’s theme, ‘For a SECURE SCO’ stands for ‘Security for Citizens’. This was floated by PM Modi at the SCO summit in China, in 2018. This principle is core to the formation of this forum and should be dealt with aptly at the upcoming summit.

Wolf Warrior Diplomacy
China known for its grey zone tactics and wolf warrior diplomacy is increasingly becoming a major challenge and difficult force to reckon with. Be it the Chinese misadventures in the Indo-Pacific region, or the land-boundary aggression in the region with India, Bhutan, Nepal or Mongolia, the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) is not shying away from using force to gain extra territories and challenging its neighbours’ sovereignty.

Its debt trap policy is another tool of the larger wolf warrior diplomacy. Nations as far as Latin America and Africa are the prey of this economic trap, like rats in the mouse traps. Many nations have sacrificed their political and economic sovereignty to the Chinese Communist Party. Additionally, reviving the erstwhile silk route and rechristening it to BRI or Belt Road Initiative has also gained a lot of attraction and many states have fallen to this trick as well. With good hindsight, India decided to stay away from BRI.

There has also been growing intolerance towards minority communities residing in mainland China. For instance, human rights violations in Xinjiang province of China where a large faction of Uyghur Muslims are detained in concentration camps and are subjected to torture. The Tibetan Buddhists with their monasteries’ architecture being revamped into the orthodox Han style design is another instance of minority subjugation. Similarly, cultural crackdowns have taken place in neighbouring Mongolia and Kazakhstan. In Mongolia, the educational systems and curricula have been revised to glorify Chinese history. On a similar note, cultural clashes have surfaced between the Kazakh population and Chinese origin Dungan (also Muslims), who claim to be a superior race.

Taiwan and Hong Kong have also expressed their displeasure and concern about Chinese advances. The crackdowns on popular pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong led by students and concerns over navigation and accessibility rights in the Taiwan Strait have been part of its brutal lashing. The people of these two smaller regions, both part of the “One Country, Two Systems” policy see China as a bully and a serial violator.

The SCO summit this year provides another opportunity for the incumbent Foreign Minister of China, Qin Gang to hold dialogues with his other counterparts, first at the G20 summit and then at the SCO summit. These would be opportune platforms to raise a collective voice against the Chines advancements. Also, the upcoming summit could bring the heads of states together to find ways to resolving disputes amicably. Hence, the SCO summit this year could pave a way forward for a secure Earth.
(The authors work for CUTS International, a 40 year old global public policy research and advocacy group which includes six overseas Centres, including in the US.)

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