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Opinion
Worlds Apart
As the G7 falters, the SCO Qingdao Summit offers a new model of regional cooperation
By Jon Taylor | NO.26 JUNE 28, 2018
The China Railway Tunnel Group completes the Qamchiq Tunnel in Uzbekistan, the longest tunnel in Central Asia and part of the 169-km Angren-Pap railway line, on February 27, 2016 (XINHUA)

On June 9 and 10, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit was held in Qingdao in east China's Shandong Province. The leaders of the participating countries released a series of documents codifying their consensus, which was designed to further enhance both the solidarity and influence of the SCO. The group also agreed to continue pursuing the SCO 2025 Development Strategy by boosting cooperation in all areas. The SCO Summit's eventual outcome—the Qingdao Declaration—emphasized a reconfiguration of both the geopolitical landscape and a shift toward a multipolar world. The statement touched upon the membership's shared positions of cooperation, the peaceful settlement of disputes, and combating terrorism.

While the SCO Summit stressed diversity as a source of the group's strength, the Group of Seven (G7) Summit attempted unity but ended with discord and a nasty public dispute between U.S. President Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. In contrast to the tumultuous G7 Summit, which occurred almost concurrent to the SCO Summit, the SCO meeting invited comparisons which served to illustrate the differences between a multipolar SCO and a Western-driven G7. The SCO Summit's relatively smooth procedures underscored a growing gap in global leadership on trade and governance that is the result of Trump's unilateral and protectionist behavior.

Builders work on an expressway connecting Peshawar and Karachi in Pakistan as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor--a collection of infrastructure projects to deepen economic ties between the two neighbors--on February 14 (XINHUA)

An alternative order

President Xi Jinping, quoting Confucius by stating "what a joy to have friends coming from afar," noted that the SCO now enjoys "strong vitality and momentum of cooperation." Xi described democracy in international relations as "an unstoppable trend of the times." Additionally, Xi called upon the member states of the SCO to carry forward the Shanghai Spirit," which is comprised of mutual trust, shared benefits, equality, consultation, respect for the diversity of civilizations, and the pursuit of common development.

Xi's keynote speech at the SCO Summit provided a cool and composed contrast to Trump's blustery demeanor and behavior at the G7 Summit. The SCO Summit yet again demonstrated the crucial global leadership role that China is playing in trade, economic development, and global governance. In rightly condemning those who engage in selfish, short-sighted trade policies, Xi offered a subtle yet sharp rebuke of Trump's antiquated, anti-globalist, and protectionist approach to trade and tariffs by presenting a vision of the SCO as an organization that enjoys both consensus and cooperation by emphasizing that it is a win-win proposition to support multilateral trade and an open global economy. In this spirit, the SCO unanimously agreed to uphold WTO rules, support multilateral peace efforts on the Korean Peninsula through dialogue and consultation, and call on participants to observe their obligations under the Iran nuclear deal.

One of the most important things to come out of the SCO Summit was unsurprisingly missed by Western media focused on the tumult of the G7 Summit. Xi's five-point plan to expand the role of the SCO by encouraging mutual trust, shared security, common development, cultural exchanges and international cooperation offers a substantially different vision and role for the SCO going forward, one that creates a new model for regional cooperation and makes a substantial contribution to both peace and development in the SCO member states and beyond. Xi's call for the SCO to carry forward the Shanghai Spirit by promoting a new type of international relations will have long-term implications given China's role, the sheer size of the SCO and its membership.

An organization little known to most Westerners, the SCO arose from the Shanghai Five presidential summit meeting between China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan that took place in Shanghai in 1996. That meeting's intent was to settle lingering border disputes between China and its neighboring former Soviet states. But some, particularly China, believed that the group could become something more than just a venue to settle boundary disputes. After the group welcomed Uzbekistan in 2001, the Shanghai Five became the SCO, which signaled greater cooperation on trade, culture, military, and security affairs. Under China's leadership, particularly that of Xi, the organization was enlarged in 2017 to include India and Pakistan, and is being transformed into a forum for global political and economic dialogue.

This transformation stands in contrast to the imagery of dispute that emerged from the G7 Summit in Canada. While the West largely ignored the Qingdao Summit, much of the rest of the world was watching. Simply stated, Xi and the other SCO leaders may have begun the first steps toward the creation of an alternative order, one that has the potential to challenge the West's capacity to determine the future of world affairs.

Common ground

The activities of the SCO deserve to attract increased attention from the global community. The Qingdao statement stressed the importance of the "consecutive strengthening of an open, inclusive, transparent, non-discriminative and multilateral trade system," which underscored the role of both China and President Xi. Like the G7, the SCO faces both problems and challenges. Unlike the G7, the SCO pledged to deliver pragmatic solutions to these problems and challenges.

During the SCO Summit, Xi noted the strength of unity and mutual trust among the member states, respecting each other's chosen paths of development and accommodating each other's core interests and major concerns. He stressed that collaboration and dialogue are key to the deepening development of the SCO's economic components, which will take center stage in the years ahead. This is already evident with the SCO's intensified focus on regional economic initiatives such as the Belt and Road Initiative, the Eurasian Economic Union, and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Simply put, in the face of increasingly growing uncertainty the international community needs to seek common ground to cope with global challenges. The SCO offers that common ground.

The Qingdao Summit's Shanghai Spirit may have well set in motion the opportunity for the SCO to transform itself into a more comprehensive institution capable of connecting and integrating broad swathes of Asia and the world. By actively exerting its influence in international affairs, the SCO is becoming a key player in an evolving multipolar world that is characterized, irrespective of those opposed to economic globalization, by shared participation in the construction of international political and economic systems and global governance mechanisms.

The author is chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of St. Thomas in Houston and a professor of political science

Copyedited by Laurence Coulton

Comments to yulintao@bjreview.com

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