In a robust show of unity, leaders of eight SCO member states, including Russia and China, arrived for a get-together to talk security and trade, and hail expansion of the bloc – in sharp contrast with the calamitous G7 meeting.
This year, leaders of the eight-member Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) convened in the eastern Chinese city of Qingdao. Here are the most important takeaways from the summit that took place as the tight-lipped Group of Seven (G7) meeting in Quebec ended with a remarkable feud between US President Donald Trump and his six counterparts.
SCO now largest regional body after India & Pakistan joined in
Qingdao summit was the first meeting in which regional rivals India and Pakistan were in attendance as full SCO members. Their official accession to the alliance was approved at the 2017 SCO meeting in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana.
Chinese President Xi Jinping gave the leaders of Pakistan and India a “special welcome” to their first SCO summit, while Russian leader Vladimir Putin said the new members made the alliance look as it should be. “Regarding the enlargement [of the body], we agreed that the current structure is optimal,” Putin said, as cited by TASS, adding, “we must see how the organization will work in an enlarged mode.”
“If we calculate… per capita, the seven countries are wealthier, but the size of the SCO economies [combined] is larger. And the population is of course much bigger – half of the planet,” Putin stated.
The SCO initially included China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan when in was formed in 2001. After India and Pakistan joined the SCO, it has become the largest regional body in the world in terms of geographical coverage and population, spanning across Eurasian continent and embracing over 3 billion people. “Thanks to a joint effort by leaders of the member states, the biggest regional organization bearing global responsibility has appeared on the map,” said Rashid Alimov, the sitting SCO Secretary-General, according to RIA Novosti.
Tough on terror: SCO tackles regional & global threats
Regional security issues popped up in the summit’s agenda as terrorism – sometimes fueled by Islamist ideology – is the most severe challenge facing the SCO. In Qingdao, SCO leaders said they were concerned about chemical and biological weapons being obtained or used by terrorists, promising to support every international effort to tackle the issue.
Islamist fighters returning to their home countries is another threat facing the member states, the Qingdao summit’s declaration said, as cited by Interfax. Returnees “are finding shelter in third countries to carry on [acts of terror] in SCO area,” it stated, calling for better intelligence sharing and easier extradition procedures for terrorist suspects among the organization’s members.
Bringing peace to Syria & Afghanistan
Syria and Afghanistan are the hotspots burning in the immediate vicinity to SCO borders and the leaders’ talks were also focused on bringing lasting peace to the war-ravaged countries.
Political solution and national dialogue are key to put an end to the war in Syria, the declaration said, noting the peace process must respect Damascus’ sovereignty and territorial integrity. SCO members have praised efforts by Russia, Turkey, and Iran who brokered the so-called de-escalation zones where hostilities between government forces and rebels have been ceased.
In Afghanistan, peace should be ensured by the locals themselves and for the locals, SCO members said.
Trade & investment
The Qingdao summit wasn’t limited, of course, to terrorism and security challenges. SCO was founded to help its members improve trade ties and make way for mutual investments. Some SCO countries are feeling the impact of Trump’s protectionist ‘America First’ policy, accompanied by curbs on exports and imports. China, one of the leading SCO members, is locked in a standoff with the US over tariffs on goods, whereas Russia has been slapped with discriminatory sanctions imposed by Washington and its allies.
“We should reject selfish, short-sighted, narrow and closed-off policies. We must maintain the rules of the World Trade Organization, support the multilateral trade system and build an open global economy,” Chinese President Xi Jinping said.
A bit of History.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), or Shanghai Pact, is a Eurasian political, economic, and security organisation, the creation of which was announced on 15 June 2001 in Shanghai, China by the leaders of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan; the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Charter, formally establishing the organisation, was signed in June 2002 and entered into force on 19 September 2003. The original six nations, with the exception of Uzbekistan, were previously members of the Shanghai Five group, founded on 26 April 1996 in Shanghai. India and Pakistan joined SCO as full members on 9 June 2017 at a summit in Astana, Kazakhstan. The SCO is often dubbed as the “alliance of Asia”, due to its growing importance and centrality in the Asian continent. It is the largest regional organization in the world in terms of geographical coverage and population, covering three-fifths of the Eurasian continent and nearly half of the human population, and is one of the world’s most powerful and influential organizations.
The Shanghai Spirit is the main principle and founding values of the SCO, defining that all member states are equal and committed to forging good neighborliness and sincere partnership with each other. It features mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality, consultation, respect for cultural diversity and pursuit of common development. All decisions of the SCO are made through discussions and dialogues. The SCO regularly conducts various events, seminars and meetings where the representatives of the law enforcement agencies share their best practices and work out a common plan of action, applying maximum efforts to prevent unfavorable situations or consequences, and strengthen communications and cooperation.
With the growing power and enlargement of the organization, its scope of unity and cooperation has expanded to many other areas, including education, science, technology, healthcare, environmental protection, tourism, media, sports, and culture. The organization has also expanded its principle to include global governance and fostering of international relationships, in relation to its growing influence on the global stage. It has been a major ally of ASEAN, with both of the organizations establishing cooperation model in the field of security, economy, finance, tourism, culture, environmental protection, development and sustainability.
The Shanghai Five grouping was created 26 April 1996 with the signing of the Treaty on Deepening Military Trust in Border Regions in Shanghai, China by the heads of states of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan.
On 24 April 1997, the same countries signed the Treaty on Reduction of Military Forces in Border Regions in a meeting in Moscow, Russia. On 20 May 1997, President of Russia Boris Yeltsin and prime minister of China Jiang Zemin signed a declaration on a “multipolar world”.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Chinese President Jiang Zemin, Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev, and Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, at one time the leaders of the Shanghai Five.
Subsequent annual summits of the Shanghai Five group occurred in Almaty, Kazakhstan in 1998, in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan in 1999, and in Dushanbe, Tajikistan in 2000. At the Dushanbe summit, members agreed to “oppose intervention in other countries’ internal affairs on the pretexts of ‘humanitarianism’ and ‘protecting human rights;’ and support the efforts of one another in safeguarding the five countries’ national independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity, and social stability.”
In 2001, the annual summit returned to Shanghai. There the five member nations first admitted Uzbekistan in the Shanghai Five mechanism (thus transforming it into the Shanghai Six). Then all six heads of state signed on 15 June 2001 the Declaration of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, praising the role played thus far by the Shanghai Five mechanism and aiming to transform it to a higher level of cooperation.
In June 2002, the heads of the SCO member states met in Saint Petersburg, Russia. There they signed the SCO Charter which expounded on the organization’s purposes, principles, structures and forms of operation and established it in international law.
In July 2005, at the summit in Astana, Kazakhstan, with representatives of India, Iran, Mongolia and Pakistan attending a SCO summit for the first time, the president of the host country, Nursultan Nazarbayev, greeted the guests in words that had never been used before in any context: “The leaders of the states sitting at this negotiation table are representatives of half of humanity”.
By 2007 the SCO had initiated over twenty large-scale projects related to transportation, energy and telecommunications and held regular meetings of security, military, defense, foreign affairs, economic, cultural, banking and other officials from its member states.
In July 2015 in Ufa, Russia, the SCO decided to admit India and Pakistan as full members. Both signed the memorandum of obligations in June 2016 in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, thereby starting the formal process of joining the SCO as full members. On 9 June 2017, at a summit in Astana, India and Pakistan officially joined SCO as full-fledged members.
The SCO has established relations with the United Nations in 2004 (where it is an observer in the General Assembly), Commonwealth of Independent States in 2005, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2005, the Collective Security Treaty Organization in 2007, the Economic Cooperation Organization in 2007, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in 2011, the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA) in 2014, and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific in 2015.
In 2017, SCO’s eight full members account for approximately half of the world’s population, a quarter of the world’s GDP, and about 80% of Eurasia’s landmass.