In a robust show of unity, leaders of eight Shanghai Corporation organization (SCO) member states, including Russia and China arrived for a get-together to talk security and trade and to hail expansion of the block.
This year, leaders of the eight-member Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) gathered in the eastern Chinese city of Qingda. The summit was the first meeting in which regional rivals India and Pakistan were in attendance as full SCO members. Their official accession to the alliance was approved at the 2017 SCO meeting in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana.
The two-day summit saw leaders sign documents in diverse fields including security, trade facilitation and people-to-people exchanges, sending out a signal of unity and collaboration, against the backdrop of global challenges such as hegemony, power politics, security threats, unilateralism and trade protectionism.
Delivering his opening remarks, Chinese leader Xi said: “Tomorrow we will hold the first summit of the SCO after its expansion and draw up a blueprint for its future growth.” “The Qingdao summit is a new departure point for us,”. “Together, let us hoist the Shanghai spirit, break waves and embark on a new journey for our organization.”
“We should reject selfish, short-sighted, narrow and closed-off policies. We must maintain the rules of the World Trade Organization, support the multilateral trade system and build an open global economy,” Chinese President Xi Jinping said.
Xi warned that “unilateralism, trade protectionism and a backlash against globalization are taking new forms”. “We should reject the Cold War mentality and confrontation between blocs and oppose the practice of seeking absolute security of oneself at the expense of others, so as to obtain security of all,” he said. Without mentioning the US, Xi also made a plea for free trade, rejecting “selfish, short-sighted” policies and calling for the building of an “open global economy”.
The Chinese government is currently in the middle of negotiations with the US in hopes of staving off a trade war. After the last round of talks ended last week, Beijing said the two sides had made “positive and concrete progress” but details were left to finalize. He also announced he would make 30 billion yuan ($4.7bn) available for loans under a framework formed by SCO countries. Chinese President Xi Jinping gave the leaders of Pakistan and India a “special welcome” to their first SCO summit, while Russian leader Vladimir Putin said the new members made the alliance look as it should be. “Regarding the enlargement [of the body], we agreed that the current structure is optimal,” Putin said, as cited by TASS, adding, “we must see how the organization will work in an enlarged mode.” “If we calculate… per capita, the seven countries are wealthier, but the size of the SCO economies [combined] is larger. And the population is of course much bigger – half of the planet,” Putin stated. The SCO initially included China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan when it was formed in 2001. After India and Pakistan joined the SCO, it has become the largest regional body in the world in terms of geographical coverage and population, spanning across Eurasian continent and embracing over 3 billion people. “Thanks to joint effort by leaders of the member states, the biggest regional organization bearing global responsibility has appeared on the map,” said Rashid Alimov, the sitting SCO Secretary General, according to RIA Novosti.
Regional security issues popped up in the summit’s agenda as terrorism – sometimes fueled by Islamist ideology – is the most severe challenge facing the SCO. In Qingdao, SCO leaders said they were concerned about chemical and biological weapons being obtained or used by terrorists, promising to support every international effort to tackle the issue.
Islamist fighters returning to their home countries is another threat facing the member states, the Qingdao summit’s declaration said, as cited by Interfax. Returnees “are finding shelter in third countries to carry on [acts of terror] in SCO area,” it stated, calling for better intelligence sharing and easier extradition procedures for terrorist suspects among the organization’s members. Syria and Afghanistan are the hotspots burning in the immediate vicinity to SCO borders and the leaders’ talks were also focused on bringing lasting peace to the war-ravaged countries. Political solution and national dialogue are key to put an end to war in Syria, the declaration said, noting the peace process must respect Damascus’ sovereignty and territorial integrity. SCO members have praised efforts by Russia, Turkey and Iran who brokered the so-called de-escalation zones where hostilities between government forces and rebels have been ceased.
In Afghanistan, peace should be ensured by the locals themselves and for the locals, SCO members said.
The Qingdao summit wasn’t limited, of course, to terrorism and security challenges. SCO was founded to help its members improve trade ties and make way for mutual investments. Some SCO countries are feeling the impact of Trump’s protectionist ‘America First’ policy, accompanied by curbs on exports and imports. China, one of the leading SCO members, is locked in a standoff with the US over tariffs on goods, whereas Russia has been slapped with discriminatory sanctions imposed by Washington and its allies.
Shanghai Cooperation body assumes greater importance after entry of India, Pakistan, says UN
UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed, in her remarks to the plenary session of the 18th meeting of the Council of Heads of State of Member States of the SCO in China’s Qingdao city, had said that the world now needs a recommitment to multilateralism. “With the accession of India and Pakistan, representing the first formal expansion since 2001, the SCO is assuming even greater importance and your expanded range of activities will have implications for peace, stability, and prosperity across the region and far beyond.
“You represent more than half of humanity and you are playing a growing role in shaping the global agenda, based on cooperation and dialogue,” Mohammed said on Monday.
She said regional and international threats to security and stability, from transnational crime to climate change to violent extremism and terrorism, cannot be resolved by any one country alone. “Only our joint commitment, firmly grounded in respect for human rights and the rule of law, will build and strengthen the cooperation needed to respond to such challenges,” Mohammed said. To ensure fair globalization, it must be ensured that nations are able to have the necessary domestic resources and capacities to steer their economies and development agendas towards common goals, as outlined by the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Climate Agreement, she said. The Deputy Secretary-General stressed that openness and partnership between countries can make a critical contribution to strengthening security and bringing about prosperity. “It is encouraging to see positive regional dynamics in Central Asia and closer interaction among countries,” she said, adding that the Belt and Road Initiative is promoting connectivity, economic prosperity and diplomatic ties across the region. Over the past four years, several major joint infrastructure projects have been completed in SCO member states that have improved conditions for cross-border cooperation and boosted development capacity, such as the Peshawar-Karachi motorway project in Pakistan and Kazakhstan’s Astana light rail project, Mohammed said. “The soon-to-be completed 9,400-kilometre Lianyungang-Kazakhstan-Russia-Saint-Petersburg road corridor, on the other hand, is set to become the major transport axis connecting the Eurasian continent,” she added. The SCO was founded at a summit in Shanghai in 2001 by the presidents of Russia, China, Kyrgyz Republic, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
Published in Melange Int. Magazine in July 2018.