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Shanghai Cooperation Organization in a New Format of Geopolitical Realities

Army, Conversion and Disarmament Research Center presents an article by Adil Kaukenov, Director of the China Center of China Studies (Almaty), on why the SCO could not become a powerful regional organization, its strengths and weaknesses, conflicts of interest of Member States, probabilities transformation into a military-political "anti-Western" bloc.

Legends of "anti-NATO"

To date, the image of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization has been significantly transformed in expert and political discussions. Recall that the peak of the SCO theme popularity in Western publications fell to two thousand. Then it was connected with serious suspicions: whether this organization, which includes two serious antagonists of the collective West - Russia and China - does not turn into a military-political bloc like NATO or more precisely the Warsaw Pact.

This reasoning was criticized seriously enough. The main argument of such criticism was the contradictory relations between China and Russia, as well as the relatively low base of their economic relations in comparison with the level of relations, for example, on the lines Russia-Europe, China-USA, China-Europe, etc.

In other words, with declared competition with the West, Russia and China have a basis of economic relations with the US and Europe that is and remains incomparably higher than with each other. Moreover, even Moscow's "Turn to the East" could not change the situation dramatically, though it did improve relations with Beijing.

With the entry of India and Pakistan into the SCO, any discussions about becoming an "anti-NATO" in the form of this organization have lost any meaning. The SCO controversy group, namely the hidden competition between Russia and China in Central Asia, the mutual suspicions between the Central Asians themselves, the Central Asian countries' concern about different weights compared to Russia or China, and much more, have also received the historically most complex conflict between the nuclear powers of India. Pakistan. Moreover, the geopolitical contradictions between India and China, which have at the same time unsettled territorial issues, cannot be discounted, and as a result, the effectiveness of the organization - precisely as an organizational structure - has become sharply inclined to zero.

The SCO was initiated by the Kremlin, which was able to lobby for the idea, despite Beijing's initial objections. In doing so, Moscow has neutralized for itself the main suspicions of the SCO, which boils down to the fact that the organization opens the door to increase China's influence in Central Asia, to which Russia is very jealous. At the expense of an unyielding India, with which Moscow has traditionally good partnerships, it was possible to buy once and for all all options for the transformation of the SCO into a powerful regional organization led by China because of its economic opportunities, which Russia is unlikely and unlikely to have.

However, Beijing was also forced to address the Kremlin, as otherwise there would have been a serious risk of a complete split of the organization due to the demarche of Moscow. In addition, today China is interested in global cooperation, expanding its capabilities around the world, as well as in offering its world a format of peacekeeping in the face of increasing competition with the United States.

Therefore, by donating to the format of a regional organization that could also disrupt the balance in relations with Russia, Beijing received an amorphous but broader "hangout", with clear mechanisms and funding, as it is an international organization.

In this context, the SCO, by virtue of its expansion, is becoming such a new global platform in which China sets the tone, starting with even the organization's own name, Shanghai. On this basis, it is possible that the SCO will continue to expand, becoming an alternative platform for cooperation, as well as for establishing a dialogue to bypass Western structures. Moreover, the stronger the US pressure on China, the more the SCO will receive impulses for its further development.

New status - new tools

As the status from the regional to the global organization increased, the SCO began to change its focus points. Today, the SCO positions itself as an organization that includes half of humanity (counting observer countries) and a number of leading regions: Europe (Belarus, Russia), East Asia (China), South Asia (India, Pakistan), Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan). , Mongolia, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan) and the Middle East (Iran). Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Nepal, Turkey and Sri Lanka are partners in the dialogue.

Whereas previously the SCO had been relying on counter-terrorism and economic projects, then now the projects on cultural and humanitarian cooperation, mass events and improvement of contacts between peoples had come to the front. Moreover, not only those nations that are members of the SCO, but in general with all.

Take the SCO Marathon as an example, not only the representatives of the participating countries, but anyone who wishes. So, last year, the first place was taken by the Nepalese, and the third by the Turk. That is, most of the prizes went to representatives of completely foreign countries, but that is the point.

The SCO, according to Beijing's plan, should become a powerful international organization, attractive to all and all. Accordingly, there should be as many participants as possible, and the wider the geography, the better. This applies not only to the marathon, but to all SCO events, including venues and counterterrorism activities.

At the same time, unlike many other international organizations, the SCO is more mobile, as it has firm funding and the will of China to develop further. At the same time, the presence at the SCO of India is rooting in any fears of small countries that joining or participating in SCO activities will carry political risks. This is due to the fact that India is a recognized democratic state with a strong international weight, so Delhi will not allow a priori a situation of any domination or transformation into a military bloc.

Today, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the SCO China Neighborhood, Friendship and Cooperation Committee is actively providing humanitarian assistance to the affected countries, making effective use of the SCO's resources and capabilities. This gradually sets this new format of functioning.

The official look

In the Chinese foreign policy doctrine, the SCO is consistently among the top five priorities. And this is understandable: in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, China encountered a powerful information attack, which revealed a shortage of allies capable of influencing the course of information battles. The most important support was provided by Russia, demonstrating to Beijing the correctness of the strategy of maintaining strong partnerships with Moscow, as well as the need to preserve the SCO as a platform where its own discourse could be designated.

President Xi Jinping repeatedly emphasized, "With the expansion of the permanent members of the organization we have become even stronger and stronger"And also noted the need to reinforce this vector:"need to involve partners and observer states in multilateral dialogue, play a more active role in international and regional issues».

The official position on the SCO is maintained at all levels, and even fierce opponents of the expansion of the organization in scientific circles have changed to a new format of work.

In Russia, the SCO has a very dualistic attitude: on the one hand, the Kremlin is reluctant to remain aloof, and after imposing sanctions, is even more keen to show the world its status and participation in international affairs, on the other, for Moscow, it seems unclear how it is to use the SCO in practice.

Russian President Vladimir Putin noted that "The SCO, as a structure, went beyond the original boundaries and tasks”But nonetheless, in 2019, at the summit, the main priority was to combat terrorism:“…proceed from the fact that one of the main priorities of the organization remains the fight against terrorism and extremism, we consider it important to increase cooperation within the SCO regional anti-terrorist structure, to block the financial support of terrorists from the proceeds of drug trafficking, to do everything to prevent chemical into their hands, biological and other weapons of mass destruction».

One of the main causes of skepticism of the Kremlin is that, on the one hand, Russia is unable to launch global projects within the SCO because of the lack of economic opportunities, on the other, the SCO is not ready and cannot support Moscow in its fight with the West. And although China is now straining relations with the US, all other SCO members will be opposed to changing the status quo.

Kazakhstan side, like all other Central Asian participants, it is trying to squeeze economic dividends out of the SCO. For example, at the last summit, President of Kazakhstan Kazim-Zhomart Tokayev noted that "there is a need to form a pool of modern technoparks in the countries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization ». Another important agenda for the Republic of Kazakhstan is to avoid the situation when the SCO will become firmly associated in the West as an anti-Western and anti-democratic project. That is why Kazakh diplomacy is trying to connect as many participants as possible to the SCO, in order not to create a negative background around Kazakhstan itself.

Thus, President K. Tokaev stated: “…Overcoming the stereotypes of the block world perception, strengthening the foundations of openness and equal cooperation is of particular relevance. For example, the Eurasian Economic Union, ASEAN, BRICS and the European Union can be reliable SCO partners».

In fact, if you look at other parties, then by and large, there is a similar interest everywhere. Only the position of Mongolia and Iran seems intriguing.

Mongolia would have long been glad to see the SCO, but Ulan Bator, wedged between China and Russia, fears that its dependence on the two giants will become critical. Even less so in Mongolia's desire to repeat the situation of the last century, when it was a satellite of the USSR, which was jokingly called the "16th Union Republic."

Iran has expressed its desire to join the SCO to address its challenge of seclusion. Incidentally, its entry would seriously strengthen the Muslim bloc in the organization. However, China, Russia, and Pakistan are cautious enough about this prospect, as Tehran is pursuing its own policies, and its stark contradictions with the US may complicate the SCO's relationship with Washington and its allies. So while Iran remains in the position of an observer country.

Thus, at the official level, there is an understanding of the need for the existence and development of the organization, but the goals, of course, each side sees its own. And trying, based on the general vision of the importance of cooperation, to conduct some kind of game.

Current issues

SCO's strengths - is a large number of authoritative participants with the right to veto each of them, which makes it possible to protect from the dictates of strong even the smallest players; the diversity of political systems, which increases the attractiveness of various actors. However, these strengths are, at the same time, the vulnerabilities of the organization.

Even before the entry of India and Pakistan, the SCO countries were literally littered with disputes. The Russian side openly bragged about the successful torpedoing of Chinese initiatives, all participants successfully blamed each other for certain sins, and the key drawback was the lack of a single and specific mission that could unite everyone under the auspices of the "Shanghai spirit".

Of course, the SCO's role as an excellent negotiating ground gave the opportunity to communicate to senior government on a regular basis, plus a number of summits, committees and much more, reducing the degree of suspicion and improving relations. However, the fact that the organization consisted of two powers with their own global ambitions posed the SCO a problem of underutilization of capacity.

The arrival of India and Pakistan, as well as the involvement of new dialogue partners, gave, on the one hand, a new impetus, but on the other - further deprived the organization of a specific mission. That is, it is clear that each country has its own vision and desires for the operation of the SCO, but from there the situation of "swan, cancer and pike" arises, aggravated by the lack of concrete visible results, which creates skepticism on the part of many.

The bureaucratic SCO apparatus, recruited mainly from diplomatic staff and officials who approach its mission in the organization, also updates this problem, where it is important not to step back.

However, this situation can be treated in two ways. On the one hand, it is possible to criticize another "booth" where there are no real opportunities for the implementation of large projects. On the other hand, take as a given and make the most of the opportunities that are provided during the natural development of the organization.

It seems that all parties involved in the SCO have adopted a similar formula and are successfully implementing it.

SCO in 2020

One of the main challenges and challenges this year for the SCO was, of course, the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic and political consequences. In the near future, the SCO intends to adopt a single document on measures to counter the coronavirus, which will show consolidation of views on the fight against the pandemic.

A special point in this document is to expect exponential rhetoric that is fundamentally different from that issued today by US President Donald Trump. It is about the ongoing accusations of China and WHO about the emergence of the epidemic in the United States itself.

An interesting point will be Belarus, whose approach to fighting COVID-19 differs significantly from all other SCO countries. Moreover, there is criticism from the Russian media community towards Minsk and a backlash from the Belarusian side. But in this context, most likely, the SCO will do its best not to notice the disagreements, leaving them to the Eurasian Economic Union and the allied state of Russia and Belarus.

For medium and small countries in the SCO, it is more important than the geopolitical playgrounds of the SCO to address the economic problems that will undoubtedly be caused by the COVID-19 epidemic. To this end, it is planned to launch cooperation mechanisms between the SCO Development Banks. This year, the Russian side is the chairman of the SCO, at the level of the Interbank Association (IBO) its work is led by the National Institute for Development of the Russian Federation Web, headed by Igor Shuvalov.

The SCO's MBO also includes the State Development Bank of China, the State Savings Bank of the Republic of Tajikistan Amonatbank, the Indian Infrastructure Finance Company, the Development Bank of Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Development and Savings Company, the Habib Bank Limited (Pakistan), and the National Bank of Uzbekistan. . The Eurasian Development Bank, the Belarusbank Savings Bank and the Mongolia Development Bank are the partner banks for dialogue.

However, due to the fact that SCO is still a developing organization, where there are many participants and interests, there are no real steps that can give a quick and visible effect. Even if it is possible to simply develop some common document or to emphasize a common vision of development, it will be a great success for this organization.


In this way, today, the SCO is undergoing a major transformation phase, responding to changes in the world schedule, notably the changing role of China and all of Asia in the world.

In the future, the SCO it has the potential to become one of the poles of attraction in the multipolar world, but in order to do so, China will have to at least compete with the US in economic and military-political power. In fact, with such a focus, Beijing is actively developing the SCO in view of its own development and expansion of international influence.

However, while the SCO is first and foremost a dialogue platform, which increasingly focuses, on the one hand, on the idea of ​​combating terrorism on the one hand, and on the other, on cultural and humanitarian cooperation, which emphasizes opportunities for people from the SCO countries to discover its potential: festivals, competitions, marathons, education, etc.