By Sofya du Boulay
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) a macro-regional alliance that promotes peace and security across Eurasia gathers in Samarkand, Uzbekistan’s historical centre, for its annual summit on 15-16 September. In addition to its eight member states (China, Russia, India, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan), Iran joins this meeting in anticipation of receiving full membership in 2023. SCO members commit to combat terrorism, separatism, and extremism (the ‘three evils’) and encourage security cooperation in Asia, with a special focus on Central Asia.
The organisation serves to check Western hegemonic power and demands a fairer system of global governance for the Global South. Essentially, it is a multilateral platform for Beijing and Moscow to maintain a strategic power equilibrium between themselves. Within the SCO inter-governmental exchanges, Russia mainly enhances the political-military partnership, while China boosts regional economic development. This segregation of interests prevents direct confrontation between them.
Russia’s attack on Ukraine in February 2022 resulted in a hostile juxtaposition between Moscow, Beijing, and the Western global powers. The Kremlin’s ‘special military operation’ disturbed China’s long-term prospects for establishing an alternative transport corridor to the EU (bypassing Russia). Central Asian leaders expressed their rising concern about the war and its economic and political repercussions for the region.
Putin’s readiness to fight for the rights of Russian compatriots abroad and reinstall the historical justice worries the neighbouring states of the former Soviet Union, who fear the economic and political repercussions. In his remarks at the 25th St Petersburg International Economic Forum, Kazakh president Tokayev criticised the Kremlin’s military operation, arguing that it violated international principles of state’s sovereignty and integrity.
Since the annexation of Crimea in 2014, China and the SCO have carefully avoided any direct support for Russian actions. Anti-separatism remains the fundamental basis of the Shanghai Spirit. The SCO Dushanbe declaration in 2014 incorporated the commitment to fight fascism, radicalism and chauvinism, mimicking Putin’s discourse on the crisis in Ukraine.
Wang Yi, Foreign Minister of said that the SCO should play a more proactive role in sustaining security and stability in the region and beyond, strengthening mutual support and solidarity, avoiding mention of the conflict in Ukraine. Following the non-interference logic, SCO officials did not endorse Moscow’s brief war with Georgia in 2008. Through its lack of intervention, the SCO reluctantly legitimises Russian aggression and defends authoritarianism.
In the past, the SCO validated non-democratic norms and alternative rules of the international order, justifying the actions of its member states. This relates to the authorisation of local elections and repression during domestic security crises in Central Asia. Political stability, regime preservation, and state sovereignty have always been seen as a priority over other needs.
The SCO reaction to regional security turbulence was limited to public declarations and consultations on peace and public safety, rather than concrete implementations. This is mirrored in the SCO response to the January unrest in Kazakhstan in January 2022 and the violent unrest in the Uzbek autonomous region of Karakalpakstan in June.
The SCO took the Kazakh government’s side and endorsed its ‘comprehensive measures’ to ensure public security. Similarly, the SCO condemned anti-constitutional manifestations and attempts to destabilise the socio-political situation, advocating for the preservation of stability in Karak Pakistan, siding with the political regime on the security threat.Central Asian leaders sympathise with the principle of non-intervention and the preservation of political order. The SCO is malleable in interpreting and instrumentalising its framework of anti-extremism and terrorism when it comes to concrete cases.
In 2017 India attained full membership in the non-Western anti-terrorist alliance and hosted the SCO annual summit in 2020 online. To ensure digital security, India promoted the establishment of SCO technology parks and interaction between the heads of information technology agencies.
Russia proposed India as a new member to counterbalance the growing Chinese economic domination in Central Asia. Gaining a land route to Afghanistan through Iran’s Chabahar port would be a strategic possibility that India can benefit from the SCO cooperation. This plan could be realised once Iran gains full membership.
The upcoming SCO summit in Samarkand will include the discussions on regional peace, tackling global inflation and possibilities for energy exchange. To overcome Western sanctions, Moscow invites SCO union countries to join its SWIFT equivalent. It advocates a shift towards global inter-banking alternatives and increasing exchanges in national currencies, rather than using the dollar.
Maxim Reshetnikov, Russia’s Economic Development Minister, argues that a quarter of the trade turnover between Russia and China is successfully settled in Rubles and Yuan. There are prospects to develop information transfer schemes using blockchains, including the digital ruble, yuan and rupee.
Reducing the dependency on the US dollar would strengthen the economic climate of Eurasia. Earlier, Beijing tried to establish an SCO Development Bank and a regional free-trade zone, constantly opposed by the Kremlin. Moscow does not want to advance Chinese trade and investment activities to the traditional territories of its influence. The SCO international format of disunited states faces ambiguity in dealing with pressing security challenges and growing uncertainties in the world and the Eurasian region.
Author is a political scientist specialising in Central Asian politics. She is a PhD candidate in Politics at the Oxford Brookes University, England.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited.