The forthcoming Qingdao summit of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) is likely to endorse a five-year framework for the implementation of ‘Treaty on Long-term Good Neighborliness, Friendship and Cooperation’ to set the future course of SCO collaboration in the next phase, and approve a host of resolutions and cooperation deals covering areas including security, economy, and trade, as well as people-to-people exchanges.
SCO initially came into being in 1990 between the former USSR and China. For the first time in 1996, Heads of States and delegates from Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kirghizstan, and Tajikistan sat together in Shanghai to draw upon the mandate, goals, and structure of SCO for trust-building measures in administrative issues as well as border conflicts. The post-Cold War trends and NATO expansion compelled the regional states for the formation of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.
SCO member states hold strong credentials, having overwhelmingly rich energy resources, accommodating more than one-quarter of the world’s population, and two of its founding members are the United Nation’s Security Council’s permanent members.
At that time, China and Russia were trying to provide an alternate bloc and to counter the US influence. The SCO provided a platform for member states, especially China and Russia, to counter and contain the western and US influence in the region and form a uniform strategic alliance against the US hegemony. However, since its reemergence in 2001, the SCO has become a regional driving force and has been gaining importance in Asia’s strategic and security architecture.
With the new strategic realignment and regional security calculations, Russia is more concerned to give SCO a security outlook with an energy-centered orientation, while China accentuates on regional connectivity and economic integration. China is interested in highlighting regional trade and investment through connectivity and economic linkage, which enables China to play a larger role in the regional and global affairs through BRI, BRICS and SCO platform. Russia desires to fetch the energy potential in the framework of SCO.
The first and foremost feature of unity and binding force among SCO member states is the common threat perception of US influence in Central Asian region. China and Russia intended to promote the Eurasian order as a counter containment policy to the US influence. The SCO is the best toll and counterweight to NATO intrusion in the Eurasian region. In order to keep US influence out of Eurasia, there is a possibility that both China and Russia would consider making certain realignments in their strategic maneuvering to balance their inherent strategic competition.
SCO is the best opportunity and platform for its new members like India and Pakistan because both have a troubled history of long standing disputes and wars
Meanwhile, the region is facing multifarious challenges. The biggest challenge is that China, Pakistan, Russia, India, and Iran are pursuing their own varied interests in Afghanistan. Moreover, major states of the region have territorial disputes awaiting resolution. The SCO has also exaggerated its focus on Afghanistan. The intensifying emphasis on SCO as a probable multilateral platform for comprehensive cooperation in Afghanistan is a demonstration to the great transformational changes within the regional security milieu over the last decade but SCO has less room for engagements in Afghanistan due to the NATO and US forces.
The SCO-Afghanistan Action Plan emphasised on joint military exercises, joint operations in combating and eliminating terrorism, drug trafficking, and organised crime; for involving Afghanistan in uplifting its institutional capacity. Moreover, the action plan clearly points out the security challenges that emanate from the situation inside Afghanistan and threatens the security of the SCO States; on closer examination its scope appears limited and modest.
Pakistan placed itself at the crossroads of the south, east and central Asia. Keeping in view the geo-strategic importance of Pakistan and the development of Gwadar Port, Pakistan can become an energy and trade corridor for SCO countries. On the other side, there are a lot of prospects for Pakistan in the domain of strategic, economic, and political spheres.
Strategic imperatives encompassed military to military, counter-terrorism, and anti-drug trafficking collaboration; economic dimension included Pakistan’s role as energy and trade corridor; and political dividends included good relations with China, Russia, and India. India and Pakistan considered SCO as the most momentous platform in the Eurasian region that might bring peace, prosperity, and stability in South Asia. Now with the induction of India and Pakistan, SCO has expanded with a new version by covering Central Asia, South Asia and West Asia. SCO expansion with new members will encourage linkage and connectivity between the SCO and BRICS states.
China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)is facilitating coordination of development and connectivity mechanism between the SCO members, such as the Eurasian Economic Union, headed by Russia, and Kazakhstan’s Bright Road. China’s cooperation with Russia and Kazakhstan has set a good example for other SCO members and observer states. The SCO has become a major platform for Eurasian countries to synchronize development strategies and jointly build the Belt and Road connectivity. India is expected to ratify the Belt and Road Initiative after its inclusion in the SCO alongside Pakistan, which will amplify development strategy coordination among countries along the Belt and Road routes.
China is eager to host the SCO joint counterterrorism cyber exercise again and to hold a defense security forum. China wants the SCO to address global and regional issues with collective wisdom and common voice, which will help the organization play a bigger and more constructive role in international affairs.
Since its inception in 2001, the SCO summit has been held in China three times, twice in Shanghai and once in Beijing. Qingdao is the third host city, the coastal city in east China’s Shandong Province. The SCO coming summit in June is the first meeting after the expansion of SCO’s since its commencement in 2001. SCO is the best opportunity and platform for its new members like India and Pakistan because both have trouble history of long standing disputes and wars.
As Pakistan and India are now, part of this regional alliance and community of nations having shared destiny of development, progress and long-awaited energy projects like TAPI (Turkmenistan, IPI and CASA (Central Asia-South Asia) can be kick-started and pushed forward using the platform of SCO. The induction of new member states will encourage synchronisation between the SCO and BRICS member states and this will add more responsibility with increased international impact followed by enlarging geographic and demographic range.
The writer is PhD scholar in international Relations. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Published in Daily Times, May 23rd 2018.