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SCO, a dynamic player in shaping landscape of Eurasian continent

Author  :  Sun Zhuangzhi     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2018-04-18

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) has so far undergone nearly 17 years of development. A new type of regional mechanism that emerged in the post-Cold War international environment, the organization aims to maintain regional stability and security while promoting the common development of its member states. Today, the once young SCO has entered a new phase of stable development. Under its auspices, more than 30 meeting mechanisms at different levels have been initiated and more than 100 cooperation documents signed, raising the SCO’s prestige and influence in the international landscape. 

A major event in the international political life in the early 21st century, the creation of the SCO conforms to the basic interests of its member states and has exerted a far-reaching influence on the international pattern of the Eurasian continent. It did not take long for the SCO to reach maturity, which can be attributed to friendly relations between member states as well as the organization’s novel cooperation principles and development concepts.

The Shanghai Five group, the precursor of the SCO, was created with the intention of strengthening trust in border areas and facilitating disarmament agreements among China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Considering the special, complex security environment of Central Asia region, the Shanghai Five group called for joints efforts to fight against extremism, terrorism and transnational crimes that threatened the stability and security of Central Asia. 

On June 15, 2001, the SCO was established in Shanghai. Uzbekistan, which had just been admitted into the Shanghai Five group the previous day, became a founding member.

As was stated in the Declaration of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Shanghai Spirit which was formed under the Shanghai Five mechanism, featuring “mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality, consultation, respect for the diversity of civilizations and pursuit of common development,” would be the guiding principle for cooperation between the member states and the soul of the SCO. 

The first decade after the founding of SCO witnessed dramatic regional changes. The US War on Terror and its allies, the Color Revolutions that happened in several countries of the former Soviet Union and the financial crisis that swept across the globe brought radical adjustments to the Eurasian landscape.

Fortunately, the SCO weathered these incidents while continuing to enhance its internal cohesion. Through the establishment of a multi-level regular meeting mechanisms, such as the top decision-body Council of Heads of State, the second-highest Council of Heads of Government (Prime Ministers), the Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs and the Council of National Coordinators, member states maintained frequent contact with each other. The Secretariat and Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure were set up in 2004 as two permanent organs, the heads of which were appointed in turns among the leaders from each member state. 

The SCO has achieved substantial practical results regarding multilateral cooperation in various fields. Security cooperation includes treaties such as the Shanghai Convention on Combating Terrorism, Separatism and Extremism, anti-drug agreements and annual cooperation plans. Counter-terrorism drills were also held and exchanges on matters pertaining to defense were carried out.

Given the disparities in the economic strength of member states, the SCO’s economic cooperation emphasizes progressive and mutually beneficial strategies. The Council of Heads of Government (Prime Ministers) decided to initiate the trade and investment facilitation process early in its first meeting. Seven working groups, covering customs, energy, investment promotion and e-commerce, were established under the Economic and Trade Ministers’ Meeting mechanism, and the Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors’ Meeting was also held to tackle the challenges posed by global financial crisis. In addition, China has actively promoted economic cooperation within the SCO framework and provided more than $22 billion concessional loans to other member states. 

Cooperation in the sector of humanities has also been increasingly prioritized by SCO member states. A series of activities, such as art festivals, exhibitions, science and technology and cultural exchanges as well as forums on youth development and media communication were held. SCO University operating as a network of existing universities in member states of the SCO was established. China also proposed and took the lead in the establishment of SCO Good-neighborly and Friendly Cooperation Committee.

The organization has also become an observer of the United Nations General Assembly and has signed cooperation documents with several other international organizations. Mongolia and five other countries received observer status in the SCO while six countries, including Sri Lanka, were granted dialogue partner status. India and Pakistan joined the SCO as full members in 2017. 

As China’s “Belt and Road” initiative has in recent years become a vital platform through which SCO member states accomplish strategic alignment, the SCO is becoming a model representative of a new type of international relations by realizing new cooperation concepts and making the construction of a community of common interests and shared future its long-term goal.


This article was edited and translated from Guangming Daily. Sun Zhuangzhi is the director of the Institute of Russian, Eastern European, Central Asian Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.


(Edited and translated by BAI LE)

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