Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)


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Prelims: Current events of national and international importance

Mains: Bilateral, Regional and Global Groupings and Agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests


Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and Its Key Objectives

SCO stands for "Shanghai Cooperation Organization". It is an intergovernmental political, economic, and security alliance founded in 2001 by Kazakhstan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. The first summit was held in Shanghai, China, in 2001.

  • The SCO aims to promote cooperation and mutual support in areas such as trade, investment, energy, transportation, and security. 
  • The Shanghai Spirit is the core value of the SCO. It is about mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality, consultation, respect for cultural diversity, and the pursuit of common development among the SCO members.
  • The official working language of the SCO Secretariat is Russian and Chinese.
  • The main objectives of SCO are:
    • Strengthen relations among member states.
    • Promote cooperation in political affairs, economics, and trade, scientific-technical, cultural, and educational spheres as well as in energy, transportation, tourism, and environmental protection.
    • Safeguard regional peace, security, and stability.
    • Create a democratic, equitable international political and economic order.


What is the composition of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)?

The membership of SCO has expanded since 2001, and it currently has eight member states.

  • 1996: ‘Shanghai Five’ established by Kazakhstan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan.
  • 2001: After adding Uzbekistan in 2001, the Shanghai Five was renamed the SCO.
  • 2015: At Ufa, Russia, the SCO decided to admit India and Pakistan as full members. 
  • 2016: India and Pakistan signed the memorandum of obligations in Tashkent (Uzbekistan), thereby starting the formal process of joining the SCO as full members.
  • 2017: At Astana, India and Pakistan officially joined SCO as full members
  • 2021: It was announced that Iran would become a full member of the SCO.



China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Iran, and Uzbekistan


Afghanistan, Belarus, and Mongolia

Dialogue Partners

Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Egypt, Nepal, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia




What is the organizational structure of SCO?

The SCO consists of several internal organizations:

The Council of Heads of State

  • This is the highest decision-making body of the SCO and comprises the heads of state of all member countries. 
  • It meets annually to set the overall strategic direction for the organization.

The Council of Heads of Government

  • Second-highest council in the organization. 
  • Holds annual summits, at which time members discuss issues of multilateral cooperation.

The Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs

  • Comprises the foreign ministers of all member countries and is responsible for coordinating the organization's foreign policy.

The Сouncil of National Coordinators

  • Key body coordinating and managing the SCO's current activities. 
  • Conducts the necessary preparations for the meetings of the Council of Heads of State, the Council of Heads of Government, and the Council of Foreign Ministers.

The Secretariat

  • It is the administrative arm of the SCO, responsible for coordinating and implementing the decisions of the organization. 
  • Based in Beijing, it is the main permanent executive body.
  • The Secretariat is headed by the Secretary-General and he is nominated by the Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs and approved by the Heads of State Council.

The Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS)

  • RATS is responsible for coordinating efforts among member countries to combat terrorism, separatism, and extremism.
  • RATS is headquartered in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

The SCO Business Council

  • Comprises representatives from the business communities of all member countries and is responsible for promoting economic cooperation and investment among member countries.

The SCO Interbank Consortium

  • Comprises the central banks of all member countries and is responsible for promoting financial cooperation among member countries.



What is the significance of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)?

  • Areas of Cooperation: The SCO has mainly focused on regional security issues, its fight against regional terrorism, ethnic separatism, and religious extremism, and promoted regional development.
  • Accommodating large population and world GDP: It covers 40%of the global population, nearly 20% of the global GDP and 22% of the world’s land mass.
  • Strategic significance: The SCO has the potential to act as a catalyst for achieving regional integration among Asian countries and promoting stability across borders. Additionally, the SCO's efforts can foster improved connectivity throughout its area.
  • Bulwark against terrorism and drug trafficking: It has focused not only on counter-terrorism but also on drug trafficking, military cooperation, and economic collaboration.
  • Comparison with QUAD: SCO has displayed a much greater capacity to advance shared military and security goals through its range of initiatives such as “Peace Mission” drills that involve all members than the reformed Quad has been able to do thus far.


What is the importance and relevance of SCO for India?

  • Counter-terrorism: The SCO focuses on counter-terrorism and security cooperation, which is a key concern for India, given its long-standing conflict with Pakistan and the increasing threat of terrorism in the region.
  • Regional stability: As a member of the SCO, India has the opportunity to contribute to the maintenance of regional stability and security in Central Asia and beyond.
  • Connectivity: The SCO has emphasized connectivity and infrastructure development, which aligns with India's own priorities of enhancing connectivity with its neighbors and improving its own infrastructure.
  • Economic cooperation: The SCO will help India to enhance economic cooperation with member countries, which could potentially lead to greater access to markets, technology, and investment opportunities.
  • Multilateral diplomacy: The SCO provides India with a platform to engage in multilateral diplomacy and deepen its engagement with member countries.
  • Boosting relations with Central Asia: SCO is a potential platform to advance India’s Connect Central Asia policy.


What are the challenges for India in SCO?

Some of the challenges India faces in the SCO are

  • Balancing ties with China and Russia: India being part of Quad, its participation in the SCO requires it to balance its relations with two major powers, China and Russia, who have different regional and global priorities. 
  • Addressing regional security concerns: India's participation in the SCO will face the challenge of addressing the security issues such as terrorism, separatism, and extremism in collaboration with other member states.
  • Managing relations with Pakistan: India and Pakistan have a complex history of animosity, and therefore, managing the relationship with Pakistan will be a significant challenge for India.
  • Ensuring economic benefits: India's economic integration with the SCO would need to address various issues, such as market access, infrastructure, and connectivity.
  • Maintaining India's strategic autonomy: Being a leader of the policy of non-alignment, India would need to balance its strategic autonomy in its foreign policy along with its commitments to the SCO.
  • Issue of sovereignty: While India has made its opposition to the Belt and Road Initiative clear, all other SCO members have embraced the Chinese project.
  • Low bilateral trade with SCO countries: India’s bilateral trade with Central Asia and Russia is very low compared to China’s trade with Russia and Central Asia.


How can India play an effective role in SCO?

  • Opportunity in the 2023 summit: In a win for the country, India will take over the rotating presidency of the SCO and host the 2023 summit. India is carefully moving its way up the global leadership ladder strategically and diplomatically.
  • Preferring national currencies in trade settlement: India should push for more bilateral trade and settlement in national currencies to reduce dependence on the US Dollar and reduce price volatility.
  • Towards the Asian century:  SCO holds potential for improving India’s trade relations in the region, especially since East Asia is poised to become the new center of development of the world economy.
  • Following the process of dialogue: The best way to address tensions or disagreements with other countries is to communicate diplomatically and openly rather than isolate oneself or other countries.
  • Asian NATO: Regardless of the differences, the Indian government has consistently maintained the importance of the SCO grouping, referred to as the “Asian NATO”, although it does not mandate security alliances.
  • Fight against terrorism: Close cooperation with SCO will strengthen the fight against terrorism, extremism, drug trafficking, and organized crime, among others.
  • Tourism: Increasing awareness of our shared cultures can help boost tourism. 


Previous Year Questions(PYQs)



Q) Critically examine the aims and objectives of SCO. What importance does it hold for India? (2021)




Q) Consider the following: (2022)

  1. Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank
  2. Missile Technology Control Regime
  3. Shanghai Cooperation Organisation

India is a member of which of the above?

(a) 1 and 2 only

(b) 3 only 

(c) 2 and 3 only 

(d) 1, 2 and 3


Frequently Asked Questions(FAQs)


Q) Who is the current secretary general of the SCO?

China's senior diplomat Zhang Ming is the current Secretary-General of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). He assumed office on Jan 1, 2022 and he will be in the office for three years.


Q) Which Central Asian country is not a member of SCO?

Turkmenistan is not part of SCO. Due to its policy of 'positive neutrality', Turkmenistan did not join the SCO. However, its head of state has several times participated as a special guest in the SCO summit meetings.