20 Years of the SCO: Development, Experience and Future Direction

| 作者: Deng Hao | 时间: 2021-12-03 | 责编:
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  Abstract: The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) has withstood storms to create a cooperative platform in Central Asia that conforms to the trend of the times, meets regional needs, and serves its member states’ interests. SCO’s commitment to innovative thinking, security cooperation and regional coordination has contributed to regional stability and development and to gaining experience for establishing regional and global order. China-Russia cooperation, efforts by the “Shanghai Five,” relations among member states, and external pressure have been the main driving forces supporting a huge increase in trade in the past 20 years. For regional development and stability and a greater role in global governance, the SCO should continue taking the long-term perspective in planning and policy.
  Keywords: Shanghai Cooperation Organization, regional development process, China’s future path, Central Asian trade
  When the heads of state of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, meeting in Shanghai, signed the declaration established the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a new type of international organization was created on the Eurasian landmass. A landmark in international relations in the 21st century, the SCO’s creation has ushered in a new era of inter-state relations and regional cooperation and a new chapter in regional and global governance. Moving forward from its creation on June 15, 2001 to 2021, the SCO is hailed as “an important and constructive force in the Eurasian region and international affairs.” SCO’s founding 20 years ago was far-sighted and correct since it continues to conform to the trend of the times, meets actual regional needs and serves member states’ interests for regional governance. SCO has set an example for building state-to-state relations featuring mutual respect, fairness, justice and win-win while accumulating valuable experience for forging a community with a shared future for mankind.
  20 Years’ Development
  SCO development can be understood in terms of the stages before and after 2017 when membership expanded. The founding phase, 2001-2004, introduced the “Shanghai Spirit” featuring “mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality, consultation, respect for cultural diversity and pursuit of common development.” To establish regulations and a legal foundation, SCO member states agreed upon a charter, met at a Shanghai Convention on Combating the Three Evil Forces (terrorism, separatism, extremism), and approved an outline for multilateral trade. By 2004, two permanent institutions, the secretariat in Beijing and a regional antiterrorist structure in Tashkent, were established. Internal construction and external cooperation marked the 2004-2017 SCO growth phase.
  The organization’s internal system and mechanism were built upon the Treaty on Long-term Good-neighborliness, Friendship and Cooperation among SCO member states, signed by heads of state. The 2007 document enshrined the ideals of lasting friendship and peace in law, and consolidated member states’ equal status and cooperation consensus. The 2009 Convention against Terrorism and 2017 Convention against Extremism consolidated the legal basis for SCO security cooperation, and a binding 2014 Intergovernmental Agreement on International Road Facilitation strengthened regional cooperation. The SCO Development Strategy to 2025 confirmed strategy and direction for the coming decade. Mechanisms were established for security secretaries, border authorities, economic ministers, and emergency relief ministers to formally meet. A Council of Businessmen, the Inter-bank Association and the SCO Forum were set up. Internal cooperation included having SCO member states at the Astana Summit on the United States and other countries to set a deadline for withdrawing their military bases in Central Asia. The Peace Mission joint anti-terrorism military exercise became regular. All sides involved support China’s Belt and Road Initiative. An SCO University is open for educational cooperation.
  External to China, the SCO has expanded from 2004 when Mongolia was admitted as the first observer state. By 2017, the organization was composed of six member states, six observer states and six dialog partners. India and Pakistan were admitted as full SCO members at the Astana Summit that year. In subsequent years, the SCO has become more influential and ambitious while working for its diverse members. The expanded SCO “has become the largest regional institution in the world, which covers 60% of the Eurasian continent and has a population of over 3.2 billion, with the GDP of its member states accounting for about a quarter of the global total.” It boosts cooperation with observer states and dialog partners and communicates closely with the United Nations and international and regional organizations to build a multi-dimensional network. Its ambitious mission and goal highlights the “Shanghai Spirit” and global governance. Its Outline for Economic and Trade Cooperation will realize the transport of goods, capital, services and technology within the SCO by 2035. One hurdle for the SCO involves handling member differences and diversity, making it more difficult for SCO coordination and concerted action. Another is the major-power game after the US intensified strategic containment of China and Russia in the region while attracting and dividing SCO member states. Regional security, also complex, is even more so in a pandemic.
  The SCO is undergoing great changes currently. The former seedling has become a towering tree after nurturing member states despite storms. Its primary contributions involve theory, equality and governance. Committed to theoretical innovation, the organization leads through a new way for multilateral cooperation and a solution for global governance. After 20 years’ practice, it has a path of cooperation that conforms to the trend of the times, meets the actual needs of the region and serves the basic interests of member states in post-Cold War global governance.
  The organization departs from outmoded models such as a Cold War mentality, zero-sum game and clash of civilizations in favor of Shanghai Spirit and Shanghai Wisdom. Its principles of non-alignment, non-confrontation, and not targeting any third party adhere to a model that all countries, big or small, are equal. Relations feature partnership rather than alliance. Its vision on security, cooperation and civilization promotes a new type of international relations.
  The organization prioritizes cooperation for maintaining regional stability, an indispensable precondition for member states’ socioeconomic development. Based on cooperative security, common security and universal security, the SCO concept never creates an imaginary enemy. Countering non-traditional security threats and creating a security environment for development and for people’s peaceful lifestyle meant that Central Asian countries have not been “Middle Easternized.” The economies of all member states have generally been in good shape, with both GDP and per capita GDP growth higher than world average for the same period, and trade facilitation has improved. This would be impossible without effective security cooperation among SCO members.
  The SCO supports major countries to co-exist peacefully and achieve regional win-win. China and Russia, through coordination within the SCO framework, avoided vicious competition, instead cooperating in Central Asia over the past 20 years.
  Regionally, mutual benefit stemming from bilateral and multilateral approaches promotes trade and investment, institutional arrangements for the economy, and cooperation. The economic aggregate of SCO member states is close to US$20 trillion, more than 13 times larger than when the SCO was founded. Total foreign trade by SCO is US$6.6 trillion, over a hundred times bigger than 20 years ago. The SCO Interbank Association and a Council of Businessmen, a drive for trade development through investment, resources for loans to address funding shortages, and demonstration projects provide valuable experience for South-South cooperation among developing countries.
  The SCO upholds principles of openness, inclusiveness and transparency, and refrains from forming a closed, exclusive circle, ensuring SCO vitality and reputation as an open international organization. Opening-up and cooperation have always been pursued by SCO. Since 2004 when Mongolia became an SCO observer state, membership has continued to grow. After India and Pakistan were admitted as full members, the SCO network comprised eight full members, four observers and six dialog partners. For 20 years, SCO has maintained close cooperation with the United Nations, ASEAN, the Commonwealth of the Independent States (CIS), Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), and Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA), among others. Innovation, cooperation and openness are SCO values.
  Factors in SCO Success
  The success of the organization is by no means accidental. It was built upon several factors including China-Russia cooperation, efforts by the “Shanghai Five,” relations among member states, and external pressure. China and Russia, working together, provided strong impetus. They are twin engines with leadership and demonstration roles in SCO development. The principles of non-alignment, non-confrontation and non-targeting any third party, coming from historical experience and lessons learnt in China-Soviet relations, ensured normal, orderly relations, guiding the organization to a model of state-to-state relations in partnership rather than alliance. 
  An Agreement on Building Military Confidence and Reducing Military Forces in Border Areas, approved by the “Shanghai Five,” was also inspired by the handling of Sino-Soviet issues. As early as 1989 with the China-Soviet Union Joint Communiqué, it was explicit that “military forces in China-Soviet border areas should be reduced to the lowest level compatible with the normal good-neighborly relations,” with joint effort “to strengthen trust and maintain tranquility in their border areas.” The 2001 Treaty on Good-neighborliness, Friendship and Cooperation became the first treaty of this kind signed by China with SCO members, setting the stage for the Treaty on Long-term Good-neighborliness, Friendship and Cooperation among SCO Member States. China and Russia actively encouraged member states to make the SCO’s voice heard on major international issues. To bring SCO participation in global governance onto the fast track, China and Russia boosted synergy of the Belt and Road and the Eurasian Economic Union, and strengthened coordination of the Belt and Road and the Greater Eurasian Partnership. China and Russia strongly support joint anti-terrorism military exercises under the SCO framework and hold multilateral anti-terrorism military exercises under the SCO Peace Mission. China and Russia’s promotion of the Inter-bank Association opened a path for financial cooperation within SCO. 
  China has vigorously advocated the Shanghai Spirit for building a harmonious region. China invested US$85 billion in the SCO and is its largest financial supporter. Among major moves, China advocated and practiced a new vision on security, promoted conclusion of the Convention against Extremism, and helped establish a training base for international judicial exchanges between China and SCO. China set up an SCO demonstration base for agricultural technology training and exchange in Yangling City in Shaanxi Province, and a China-SCO economic demonstration zone and a technology transfer center in Qingdao in Shandong Province. A demonstration base for local health cooperation in Hubei Province is proposed. China’s other ventures with SCO are a committee on good-neighborliness, friendship and cooperation, youth exchange camp, government scholarships in member states, environmental information sharing platform, science and technology partnership program, and medical research center. Through these measures, China deepens cultural and people-to-people exchanges with member states.
  Russia, a major contributor, hosted five SCO summits. The SCO charter, its constitution, was drafted and signed during the Russian presidency. Russia contributed to the Convention on Combating the Three Evil Forces, 2004 Antiterrorist Agency, 2009 Convention against Terrorism, and 2015-2025 development strategy. Russia worked in establishing both the Council of Businessmen and the Inter-bank Association, and proposed an energy club and currency swaps. Russia was chief promoter of SCO University and called for greater environmental protection. Russia promoted SCO’s first expansion, initiated an international conference on the settlement of the Afghan issue, and promoted SCO-BRICS cooperation.
  Shanghai Five
  Another factor in SCO success is credited to its predecessor, the “Shanghai Five,” as a vital source of ideas on institutional building. The “Shanghai Spirit,” the soul of the SCO, was shaped in the process. A security concept was derived from the successful Shanghai Five mechanism. This five-year period, 1996-2001, set up mechanisms for summit meetings, consultation and coordination on foreign affairs, national defense, domestic affairs, and security. Motivation expanded from border security, to regional security and economic cooperation. Membership grew to six, with Uzbekistan an observer at that period’s last summit.
  Since the SCO was founded, China’s relations with northern neighbors have been developing smoothly. In 2011, China-Russia relations were upgraded to “comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination,” and in 2019 to “comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for the new era.” China’s relations with SCO member states in Central Asia were continuously upgraded over the past 20 years. Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan in 2013 formed strategic partnerships with China.
  Upgrade of relations among member states provides impetus for SCO development. With the China-Kazakhstan comprehensive strategic partnership, established in 2011 and later made permanent, and the China-Uzbekistan strategic partnership in 2012, all SCO member states in Central Asia are strategic partners of China. China-Uzbekistan, China-Tajikistan and China-Kyrgyzstan partnerships are now comprehensive strategic partnerships. Mutual trust was significantly strengthened after Central Asian leaders met in 2018 for the first time in 13 years, and again in 2019.
  Future Development
  An unstable regional situation is requiring deeper cooperation within the SCO. With both international and regional situations unstable, increasing factors of uncertainty and instability are a severe test to member states. In SCO’s early years, the realities of NATO’s eastward expansion and the rampant “three evil forces,” among others, transformed the Shanghai Five into an SCO mechanism. Color revolutions and economic crises forced SCO members to unite and cooperate. Now that great changes unseen in a century are accelerating and the pandemic is raging, serious challenges to domestic stability and socioeconomic development of SCO member states arise. This strengthens awareness of a community with a shared future and prompts the SCO to speed up self-reform, deepen cooperation and exchanges, and increase participation in global governance.
  Undergoing a major transformation as a result, the SCO is transitioning from internal cooperation to both internal and external interaction, from security cooperation to all-round cooperation, and from regional cooperation to regional governance. SCO challenges include balancing fairness with efficiency, differences in major countries’ goals, and external resistance necessitating the SCO remain strategically focused, stick to problem orientation, pay attention to conditions, and move forward.
  While enriching the Shanghai Spirit and upholding principles of non-alignment, non-confrontation and non-targeting any third party, the SCO should advance with the times in building a new type of international relations and a community with a shared future for mankind. Widely recognized by its members for its core value for the new era, the SCO vision on security, development, cooperation, civilization and global governance will shape an “SCO Consciousness.”
  Another SCO goal is ensuring cohesion through communication and mutual trust while respecting member diversity, differences and chosen development path, equality of big and small countries, and consensus among member states through consultation. The SCO should strengthen strategic communication and complementarity among its members, continue to increase trust and remove suspicions, and seek common ground while shelving differences in favor of win-win. Meanwhile, the SCO should improve the decision-making mechanism, establish corresponding supervision and working mechanisms, strengthen the building of institutions, and establish mechanisms for conflict mediation, punishment and withdrawal to effect cooperation efficiency.
  SCO Role in Global Governance
  For ensuring the SCO plays a larger role in global governance in support of the regional economy, plans are to increase its coordination and mutual support among member states, its ties with the UN and other organizations, and its focus on economic development issues. Ensuring regional security and stability will require measures addressing both symptoms and root causes through a new security concept involving a security community and high pressure on the “three evil forces.” Other plans are to encourage internal and external interactions, build a firewall against international Islamic extremist forces, support member states’ efforts to maintain domestic stability, construct a barrier to prevent the infiltration of “color revolution,” and adopt comprehensive measures to enhance member states capacity to ensure the security of lives and properties of other member states in their territory. 
  For advancing regional cooperation, the SCO should stick to win-win cooperation to achieve integrated development. Among the plans are: upgrade rules and regulations for cooperation from soft to hard constraint and establish a rule-based platform for regional cooperation; guide the transformation of project cooperation from government-led to market-led to upgrade the Belt and Road cooperation model; develop a diversified, multilateral financing and investment model; leverage members’ comparative advantages for integrated development of Central and South Asia; increase cooperation on digital economy, and explore new areas of cooperation.
  People-to-people connectivity will involve mutual learning and inclusiveness. The SCO should step up non-governmental exchanges and speed up personnel exchanges; strengthen educational cooperation and promote the SCO University; strengthen media and youth exchange to deepen mutual understanding and trust; and carry out cooperation in environmental protection, technology and poverty alleviation enhancing cultural and people-to-people cooperation.
(Deng Hao, a senior research fellow of the Department for European-Central Asian Studies of CIIS, this article was published on Contemporary International Relations, Volume 31 Number 4 July/August 2021)

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