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UPDATED: June 11, 2012 NO. 24 JUNE 14, 2012
New Decade, Great Expectations

When bidding farewell after their annual summit in Beijing in early June, the leaders of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) had reason to feel proud of what they had achieved. By any measure, the summit was a remarkable success. It will go down in history as a milestone event for the organization, which groups China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

As the first meeting of SCO heads of state in the second decade since the organization was established in 2001, the Beijing summit offered the leaders a timely opportunity to ponder the future, mindful of pressing challenges in the region and beyond. Global recovery remains fragile given persistent structural problems in Western economies, as evidenced by the worsening European sovereign debt crisis. Political turmoil in West Asia and North Africa threatens regional stability. As U.S.-led NATO forces are set to pull out of Afghanistan by 2014, terrorism may spread from the war-torn country to Central Asia. Against this backdrop, the SCO cannot but work in concert more closely and effectively in the years to come.

For the first time, the SCO adopted a comprehensive strategic plan for its future development at the Beijing summit. The plan identified "consolidating mutual trust, maintaining security, promoting development, improving people's livelihoods and strengthening exchanges" as priorities for future cooperation. SCO leaders agreed to take further measures to combat the "three evil forces" of terrorism, separatism and extremism. They also incorporated the protection and evacuation of member states' nationals living abroad into the SCO security cooperation agenda. All these moves aim to make the SCO region, which covers three fifths of the Eurasian continent, more peaceful and prosperous, thus delivering benefits to the region and the world at large.

Over the past years, the SCO has evolved from a regional security arrangement against the "three evil forces" to a full-fledged international organization focusing on security, as well as economic and cultural cooperation. It has also reached out to other Asian nations for dialogue and collaboration. At the Beijing summit, Afghanistan joined the ranks of Mongolia, Pakistan, Iran and India as SCO observers. Turkey became one of the dialogue partners of the organization, which also include Sri Lanka and Belarus.

As the first international organization established on the Chinese mainland and named after a Chinese city, the SCO means much for China. It not only serves as a platform through which China engages its Central Asian neighbors, but also exemplifies the country's efforts to build a "harmonious world." Unlike NATO, a military alliance for collective defense, the SCO stresses mutual trust, mutual benefit, equal consultation, respect for cultural diversity and the pursuit of common development—principles that resonate with China's vision for world harmony.

As a new decade unfolds, hopes are high for the SCO to play a greater role in promoting regional peace and development.

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