Asia's nuclear-armed rival neighbors Pakistan and India will start the process of joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) as full members later this week, a senior Chinese diplomat said on Monday.
The SCO, a security and economic bloc led by China and Russia, was created in 2001 and includes the former Soviet republics of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. India, Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan and Mongolia have observer status in the organisation.
"As the influence of the SCO's development has expanded, more and more countries in the region have brought up joining the SCO," Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Cheng Guoping told a news briefing, quoted by Reuters.
"...India and Pakistan's admission to the SCO will play an important role in the SCO's development. It will play a constructive role in pushing for the improvement of their bilateral relations."
Russia’s relations with the West soured soon after it annexed the Crimean Peninsula and allegedly gave military aid to pro-Russian rebels fighting in eastern Ukraine. Following this, Russia augmented its military and security ties with China, which has also been criticised by the West and countries in Southeast Asia for its aggressive territorial claims over the South China Sea.
A security partnership between Moscow and Beijing was strengthened when the two governments signed an agreement promising greater military cooperation by SCO states in the wider Eurasia region.
India and Pakistan joining the SCO as full members would be the first expansion of the group.
The two countries have fought three wars since 1947, two of which were over the divided Muslim-majority region of Kashmir which they both claim in full but rule in part. Pakistan has also accused India of supporting separatist militants in its resource-rich Baluchistan province.