Leaders participating in the 16th Meeting of the Council of SCO Heads of Government pose for a group photo in Sochi, Russia, on December 1 (XINHUA)
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) held its 16th meeting of the Council of Heads of Government in the Russian resort city of Sochi from November 30
to December 1. It was the first meeting of its kind since the regional bloc expanded its membership in June to include India and Pakistan. The SCO now has China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, India and Pakistan as its full members.
The participants not only discussed the current international and regional security situations, but also focused on the potential for economic cooperation and cultural exchanges under the SCO framework.
In a joint communiqué issued after the meeting, all member countries promised to actively carry out the agreement reached during the 17th SCO Meeting of Heads of State, held in Kazakhstan's capital Astana in June. They also stressed the need to take coordinated action and improve the international monetary and financial system, and called for efforts to tap new potential from the accession of India and Pakistan to the organization and forge a community with a shared future.
With the expansion of the SCO membership and the diversification of SCO collaboration, pragmatic cooperation within the regional bloc is entering a new stage.
Security cooperation has been a priority since the founding of the SCO. Founded in Shanghai in 2001, the SCO was originally formed as a confidence-building forum to demilitarize borders, but its agenda has since broadened to include military and counter-terrorism collaboration and intelligence sharing along with the evolution of international circumstances.
With the accession of India and Pakistan, the SCO now covers three fifths of Eurasia. The expansion of the SCO is believed to improve its potential for cooperation and representation and to boost international security and stability.
In their joint communiqué, the SCO members pledged to reinforce efforts in the fight against the "three evil forces," namely terrorism, extremism and separatism, which have been major security threats in the region for decades.
Data from the SCO's anti-terrorism agency show that since the beginning of this year, the SCO member countries have thwarted more than 50 terrorism plots and arrested around 400 sponsors of terrorist groups.
Terrorism has been one of the major headaches of the international community in recent years. Terrorist attacks have hit European countries time and again, while extremist forces have been causing turbulence in the Middle East for decades. And the new SCO members, India and Pakistan, also face exacting anti-terrorism tasks. In this context, the SCO's anti-terrorism efforts are conducive to not only the stability of the region, but also the peace of the world.
When addressing the recent meeting in Sochi, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said security cooperation should be carried out to make the region safe and stable. He urged all member countries to ratify the SCO Convention on Countering Extremism as soon as possible in order to enhance the mechanisms for law enforcement cooperation, such as in crackdowns on drug dealing and cross-border crimes.
The anti-extremism treaty was signed by the SCO member countries during the Astana Summit in June, but it still needs ratification by all of its signatories to become effective.
Li called on the SCO member states to step up institution building on security and law enforcement cooperation, deepen collaboration on intelligence sharing, training and security for major events, and work together to prevent terrorist threats. He also suggested establishing a regional center to address security challenges and threats and augment concerted efforts in drug control and fighting cross-border crimes.
The leaders also agreed at their Sochi meeting to support the efforts of Afghanistan in improving its domestic situation via political consultations and dialogue to restore peace, stability and prosperity in the country.
According to the joint communiqué of the Sochi meeting, the SCO makes improving people's livelihoods its prime task. To that end, the document called on all member countries to carry out equality-based cooperation to attain robust, sustainable, balanced and inclusive growth.
The members reiterated their advocacy of an open, inclusive, transparent, nondiscriminatory and rule-based multilateral trading system and their call to prevent fragmentation of international trade relations and to resist trade protectionism. The communiqué also underlined the importance of cooperation in the fields of trade, industrial capacity, energy, transportation, railway, investment, finance, agriculture, customs and telecommunications, in addition to pledging support for technological innovation and affirming a commitment to exchanging experience in making national economic plans, promoting economic growth and facilitating commerce.
Home to around 40 percent of the world's population and over 20 percent of global GDP, the SCO holds significant market capacity and huge potential for collaboration in key fields such as trade, investment, transportation and energy, said Sun Zhuangzhi, Secretary General of the SCO Research Center affiliated to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. He added that all member countries should seize the opportunity to enjoy the dividend of SCO expansion and accumulate energy for the future development of the bloc through joint efforts.
Han Yichen, an assistant researcher with China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative has brought new driving force for the pragmatic cooperation among the SCO member countries. The initiative, consisting of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road, aims to build a trade and infrastructure network connecting Asia with Europe and Africa along and beyond the ancient Silk Road trade routes.
During the Sochi meeting, most members of the SCO reiterated their support for the Belt and Road Initiative and the synergy of regional development strategies, such as the alignment of the Belt and Road Initiative with the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), a free trade bloc that includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia.
Premier Li emphasized that all SCO members are major nations in China's neighborhood and along the Belt and Road routes. China will continue to build friendships and partnerships with its neighbors and to work with fellow SCO members to build a community with a shared future in the region, he added.
"By synergizing our development strategies, we will be able to better leverage our comparative advantages in resources, technology, talents and capital to generate a multiplying effect on development," said the Chinese premier, noting that SCO members are all at a crucial stage of national development and have each formulated development strategies suited to their respective national conditions.
According to Han, at present, strategic alignments between China and other SCO members has come to a new stage. For example, negotiations for an economic and trade cooperation agreement have been principally concluded between China and the EAEU.
India is the only nation within the SCO that has reservations about the Belt and Road Initiative, worrying that it may undermine its influence in the South Asian region. Some observers say that India's accession to the SCO is helpful for it to better understand the Belt and Road Initiative.
Zhang Yifeng, a researcher with the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, said India's attitude toward the China-proposed regional development initiative is not unchangeable. He believes that along with the deepening of cooperation under the SCO framework, it is possible that India will soften its stance toward the Belt and Road Initiative.
In Sun's view, as India is an important emerging economy situated along the historical Silk routes, its accession to the SCO can help expand regional interconnectivity, as the Belt and Road Initiative advocates.
Copyedited by Chris Surtees
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