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UPDATED: October 14, 2014 NO. 39 SEPTEMBER 25, 2014
Aiming Higher, Going Larger
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization seeks new development opportunities at its annual summit
By Bai Shi

HEADS OF STATE: Presidents of SCO member states pose for a group picture during their meeting in Dushanbe, capital of Tajikistan, on September 2. From left to right: Almazbek Atambayev of Kyrgyzstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan, Xi Jinping of China, Emomali Rahmon of Tajikistan, Vladimir Putin of Russia and Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan (LI TAO)

In the last 13 years, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) has been playing a constructive role in maintaining security and stability in Central Asia as well as promoting the economic development of its member states. From this year on, the SCO is expected to open its doors to new member states, demonstrating the growing vitality of the six-nation group of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

The 14th meeting of the Council of the Heads of State of the SCO was held in Dushanbe, capital of Tajikistan, on September 11 and 12. According to the Dushanbe Declaration and a communique signed and issued jointly by SCO leaders, regional security and economic cooperation are two major agenda topics for discussion at the summit. The leaders approved a series of documents on SCO expansion, implying the inclusion of new member states in the near future.

"The Dushanbe summit was significant for the SCO's development as it planned the organization's development strategy up to 2025," said Sun Zhuangzhi, Secretary General of the Beijing-based Center for SCO Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, in an interview with Xinhua News Agency.

Security challenges

Maintaining regional security has always been one of the most important tasks for the SCO member states since the organization was founded in 2001. At the very beginning, the SCO focused on fighting terrorism, extremism and separatism, as well as transnational crimes, such as drug smuggling. From the Chinese viewpoint, it allows the country to maintain the stability of its northwestern border areas by establishing a multilateral cooperation mechanism together with its Central Asian neighbors and Russia.

After years of efforts, the SCO has made achievements in fighting cross-border terrorism and crimes. The coordination and cooperation between the SCO member states have also been improved greatly, Sun said.

For example, the Peace Mission 2014 joint antiterror drills that concluded on August 29 reflect the fact that the security cooperation and mutual trust between SCO member states are further deepening, Sun said.

The five-day drills were held in north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, with the participation of more than 7,000 troops from China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan and involving ground, air, special operations and airborne troops.

"The success of the drills demonstrates the unity of the SCO military forces, a strong capability to safeguard regional security and peace, and their resolution to fight against the 'three evil forces' of terrorism, separatism and extremism," said Fang Fenghui, Chief of the General Staff of the Chinese People's Liberation Army.

Since their related mechanism was established in 2010, the Peace Mission joint antiterror drills have become a regular event among SCO member states. "It is a highly relevant way for China and other SCO member states to improve defense cooperation and counterterror coordination," said Li Daguang, a professor of National Defense University PLA China.

The security situation in Central Asia is often influenced by many destabilizing factors, both conventional and unconventional.

"The Dushanbe summit gives a lot of attention to these new security challenges, such as cyber terrorism," Sun noted.

Chinese President Xi Jinping proposed to enhance cooperation in fighting new security challenges at the summit. "The SCO member states should focus on combating religious extremism and Internet terrorism," Xi said in his speech. "The SCO members should launch consultation on an antiextremism convention and initiate studies on a mechanism for actions against Internet terrorism."

Sun said that Xi's proposal reflects that information security has become a focus that deserves more attention.

Additionally, the situation in Afghanistan, an observer state in the SCO, is a concern for the organization's member states. Afghan President Hamid Karzai also attended the Dushanbe summit. SCO leaders reiterated support for political reconciliation and peaceful reconstruction led and owned by the Afghan people in the Dushanbe Declaration. They also stressed that Afghanistan's independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity should be respected.

Yu Jianhua, a researcher of international relations with the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, said that the Afghan issue is unavoidable for the SCO, as it makes efforts to improve its regional security environment.

Sun stressed that the SCO plays an important role in maintaining regional stability; however, it is not a military alliance. "It will neither put a spearhead to a third party nor interfere in the internal affairs of other countries," he added.

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