Voice
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization expands its scope
By Anton Bugayenko  ·  2021-09-28  ·   Source: NO.39 SEPTEMBER 30, 2021

People visit the Shanghai Cooperation Organization International Investment and Trade Expo in Qingdao, Shandong Province, on April 26 (XINHUA)
This September celebrates the 20th anniversary of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Over the years, the bloc has demonstrated itself to be a convenient platform for resolving security issues in the Greater Central Asia region.

After its founding in 1996, the Shanghai Five, the predecessor of the SCO that grouped China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, was able to effectively settle the issue of demarcating the borders of the newly independent former Soviet states with China. This is one of the most important events in the formation of independence and recognition of the Central Asian states.

The main result of the first stage in SCO development, following its establishment by the Shanghai Five and Uzbekistan in 2001, can be considered the introduction of more interaction between the countries of Central Asia and China with the participation of Russia. For centuries, the region has been locked in a geopolitical corner on the outskirts of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union. And perhaps the region would have remained as such, had it not been for the intensification of political interaction with China within the SCO. Without it, contacts along the eastern border of the region would be chaotic and could face a fate similar to that of the southern borders—without strong political channels of interaction, the borders in the south were eventually sealed in.

The SCO has created a platform for interaction with China, which now stretches beyond the organization, turning Eurasia into a developing region looking both east and west.

A new trajectory 

After India and Pakistan joined the SCO in 2017, the organization's contacts with South Asia intensified dramatically. The development process toward the south could even further accelerate following the accession of Iran in 2021, paired with its focus on solving the Afghan problem by reintegrating Afghanistan into its surrounding region.

For the SCO, one of the most important tasks is preventing the disintegration of Afghanistan and the repetition of the Syrian and Iraqi paths. External players using the existing differences within Syria and Iraq eventually led to the destabilization of the entire Middle East as well as the growth of religious extremism.

The SCO countries should work together in landing on a common position regarding the future authorities of Afghanistan and provide mutual assistance in dealing with the new Afghan Government. The countries of Central Asia can use the support of Russia and China to deal with the Taliban regime. In turn, the situation in the Afghan borderlands of Central Asia will influence stability in China and Russia.

Many Eurasian countries, including Afghanistan, are observers of the SCO. It can become one of the first platforms where the new leadership of Afghanistan will be able to conduct a dialogue with the outside world. It is very important to use this advantage to benefit SCO member countries and develop a system of long-term agreements, respecting the interests of the region's countries.

There is no other solution to the problem of Afghanistan, except for the stabilization of the situation in this country and its reintegration into the outside world. The SCO can play a decisive role in this process. If the Taliban is ready to abide by the agreements and pursue a civilized policy, then there is a theoretical possibility of reintegrating Afghanistan and its central government into the regional security structure. This is a hypothetical and long-term scenario. If any power in the region possesses such potential, it's the SCO.

Center of gravity 

The SCO, as an organization of Eurasian scale, opens up the continent's prospects and provides synergy between its various players. For the organization, there are great prospects ahead in the field of moderating relations between different poles of power in Eurasia, as well as uniting the different regions of this large continent within the framework of a single space for security and mutual development. 

Furthermore, the group can provide a much-needed platform where decisions on the most important issues for the continent can be developed. First of all, because the SCO now unites almost all large countries in the middle part of Eurasia, Eurasian countries can engage in dialogue to avoid conflicts of interest and together, they can work out solutions that consider the national interests of all.

The Shanghai Spirit requires consensus decisions, and therefore large countries must listen to other members of the organization. Of course, this slows down the decision-making process, but it allows small states not to get crushed by giants, enabling them to not just communicate their stance, but also to confirm their interests are taken into account.

Accordingly, the statements of the SCO and individual countries following the 21st meeting of the Council of Heads of State, hosted by this year's rotating presidency of Tajikistan, on September 17, included a mandatory requirement for Afghanistan, namely to create an inclusive government. This is primarily the initiative of Tajikistan, a country small in size but with big interests in Afghanistan. In this case, one could also observe that the dialogue on Afghanistan can be supported by countries holding very different positions toward the Taliban, such as Tajikistan and Pakistan. So far, the process of developing a consensus with regard to Afghanistan shows the possibility of observing the interests of all countries, and also confirms the status of the SCO as a platform for working out solutions that suit everyone.

The process of globalization at the current stage is accompanied by the fragmentation of the world into so-called "superblocs." In Eurasia, the SCO can become such a body for implementing the ideas of harmonizing legislation and standards across the continent. As it is the only organized structure that covers such large spaces and diverse regions there, it proves best suited for simplifying the various bureaucratic procedures. The first such solution may be, for example, the introduction of a uniform standard for COVID-19 vaccination certificates. 

During its 20-year-long history, the SCO has gone through a difficult stage of development: the formation of basic values, strengthening the structure and expansion of the geography of action, and reassessing its place in the modern Eurasian security architecture.

Now, the organization faces new problems: to increase its weight in the world and to ensure the stability of the new

composition of the organization. It is also necessary to maintain stability and a course for sustainable development. The economic component, too, requires expansion—the SCO's coverage in this area should correspond to the real state of interconnections between the economies of the group's member states.

The SCO should act as an active participant in processes across the continent, not only providing a platform for the states of the Eurasian continent, but also, on the one hand, actively promoting the collective interests of the member states, and on the other hand, solidifying the generation and implementation of specific ideas. The Afghan question provides such an opportunity.

After all, the long-term viability of the organization depends on proactive action.

The author is the chief expert of the Chinese and Asian Studies program at the Institute of World Economy and 

Politics in Kazakhstan 

(Print Edition title: Entering a New Stage) 

Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon 

Comments to yanwei@bjreview.com 

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