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Ready for a Larger Role
The inclusion of new members means greater scope for the SCO if it can cope with the challenges
By Chu Yin | NO. 25 JUNE 22, 2017
Chinese President Xi Jinping (third left) and leaders of other Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) member states pose for a group photo in Astana, Kazakhstan, on June 9 (XINHUA)

At its June summit, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) expanded its membership for the first time. With the accession of India and Pakistan at the 17th SCO Summit in Kazakhstan's capital Astana, the bloc now covers three-fifths of Eurasia from the North Pole to South Asia, which means nearly half the world's population as well as one-fifth of global GDP.

This year marks the 15th anniversary of the signing of the SCO Charter as well as the 10th anniversary of the Treaty on Long-Term Good Neighborliness, Friendship and Cooperation signed by SCO members. Against this backdrop, the SCO's expansion is historically significant.

Pakistan's Daily Mail reported foreign office spokesperson Nafees Zakria as saying that Pakistan's membership would help strengthen its connectivity with the region. He also said the SCO would provide Pakistan a good opportunity to play its role in addressing the challenges faced by the region, such as drug and human trafficking and

security-related matters. The SCO would also help Pakistan improve its relations with Central Asian states.

"I look forward to deepening India's association with the SCO which will help us in economic, connectivity and counter-terrorism cooperation, among other things," Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, adding he looked forward to further progress in ties with SCO nations for "mutual betterment and growth of our countries and our people."

The summit came up with a development blueprint for the SCO and also approved a series of important documents. They included a convention on combating extremism, marking a big stride taken by the SCO to safeguard regional stability and promote common prosperity.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (center) addresses the 17th meeting of Council of Heads of States of the SCO in Astana, Kazakhstan, on June 9 (XINHUA)

Security achievements

As an organization dedicated to addressing regional security issues, the SCO has made remarkable achievements in safeguarding regional security, combating terrorism and building consensus on cooperation. Chinese President Xi Jinping noted this while addressing the summit, saying that SCO member states were "making solid progress on the road to building a community of shared future, thus establishing a fine example of the new type of international relations featuring win-win cooperation."

Looking back at the history of the SCO as well as looking forward to its development orientation after the expansion, a distinctive feature emerges. The SCO is committed to resolving security problems by promoting cooperation on regional development. With security, stability, development and prosperity as the target, it is trying to achieve security through economic growth and development.

The ratification of the SCO Convention on Combating Extremism marks the implementation of Xi's proposal on countering terrorism at the SCO summit in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, in 2014.

The convention provides a new legal footing for combating the "three evil forces" of terrorism, separatism and extremism. Extremism is the breeding ground of terrorism. For a long time, the international community, including the SCO, was unsure of how to define extremism. Separating extremism from religious doctrine and preventing extremist ideas from spreading under the guise of religious activity will help to contain the rampant terrorism in today's world.

The acceptance of the Chinese proposal as an international convention indicates another contribution by China to the global anti-terrorism campaign.

The convention is also an SCO achievement in stabilizing regional security, strengthening collective cooperation and jointly combating terrorism and extremism.

The Shanghai Spirit, characterized by mutual trust, coordination on an equal footing, respecting cultural diversity as well as seeking common prosperity, is the soul of the SCO.

Following the Shanghai Spirit

Since its founding, the grouping has firmly adhered to the Shanghai Spirit, observing the principle of coordination for consensus and participating in international affairs and global governance.

The Astana Summit, following the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation hosted by China in Beijing, combined the spirit of the Belt and Road Initiative, the popular name for the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road, and the Shanghai Spirit. It also clubbed security problems with development problems to build a community of common destiny.

At the Astana Summit, President Xi proposed economic and trade cooperation, holding defense and security forums and drawing up cooperation outlines for combating the "three evil forces" in the next three years. Other proposals included starting a feasibility study for a free trade agreement, and establishing an economic think tank alliance and an e-commerce business alliance.

Since the SCO was founded, its members have been deepening their economic and trade ties. They have managed to share resources by extending the collaboration frontiers from energy to free flow of regional commodities, personnel, materials and services.

With India and Pakistan's inclusion, the bloc has a new opportunity for development.

But the expansion may also mean new challenges. With a protracted, and sometimes fierce, territorial dispute between India and Pakistan, their accession may require time for adaptation. The key to addressing the challenge is to rely on the spirit of a community of common destiny.

With its expansion, the SCO's regional and international influence as well as global status will rise and it will play a much larger role in global governance and international security cooperation.

A train carrying 720 tons of wheat from Kazakhstan arrives at a transit base in Lianyungang Port in east China’s Jiangsu Province on February 5, before the wheat is sold to Southeast Asian nations (XINHUA)

Faster response

The expansion also updates the security mechanism in the Asia-Pacific region. Unlike the U.S.-dominated regional security mechanism which is based on the U.S. alliance system, the SCO doesn't get into alliances. It is an institutionalized cooperation organization that evolved from a regular dialogue mechanism. Therefore, it doesn't rely on the traditional idea of an "alliance." It has no imaginary adversaries and it respects all members' ideas.

SCO members will take joint action based on coordination. Compared with the Shangri-La Dialogue, a second-track mechanism also dedicated to regional security, the SCO, as an inter-governmental international organization, can take swifter and much stronger action. It can better translate the outcomes of meetings into policies and carry out cooperation in different fields.

President Xi Jinping's Proposal at the 17th SCO Summit

Strengthening solidarity and coordination

The Shanghai Spirit has inspired a strong sense of solidarity which ensures the growth of the SCO. It is China's proposal for the SCO to draw up a five-year outline for the implementation of the Treaty on Long-Term Good Neighborliness, Friendship and Cooperation.

This will help set the direction for SCO cooperation in all fields in the next phase. It is suggested that exchange and cooperation between legislative bodies, political parties and in the judicial fields be increased so as to provide channels of policy communication for all parties.

Joining hands to tackle challenges

Security is a prerequisite for development. Recent acts of terrorism in this region show that the fight against the three forces remains a long and arduous task. China supports the enforcement of the SCO Convention on Combating Extremism to be signed at the summit. This will effectively contain the spread of extremism.

To enhance the capacity of member states in coordination and implementation in the security field, China calls for the SCO to strengthen regional counter-terrorism institutional building and resolutely crack down on illicit drug manufacturing and trafficking. China is willing to host again the SCO joint counter-terrorism cyber exercise. China proposes to hold a defense security forum and formulate a three-year program of cooperation to fight the three forces.

Deepening practical cooperation

It is China's suggestion to gradually put in place institutional arrangements for regional economic cooperation, and we may begin with an SCO trade facilitation agreement. For greater connectivity between regional countries, China supports the opening of the cross-border routes on schedule as prescribed in the SCO Intergovernmental Agreement on Creation of Beneficial Conditions for International Road Transportation.

China welcomes non-SCO countries in our region to join the agreement, and endorses the formulation of a plan for coordinated development of roads among SCO member states.

China supports the establishment of a mechanism for sub-national cooperation and has vigorously promoted small and medium enterprise cooperation by its initiatives of an economic think tank alliance and e-commerce alliance of the SCO. China suggests that we fully utilize the existing platforms to raise finance for SCO projects, while at the same time exploring at the expert level possible ways to establish an SCO development bank.

Enhancing people-to-people bonds

China is ready to work with other parties to ensure the success of the SCO University, as well as the SCO's brand projects such as the youth exchange camp and the summer camp for elementary and middle school students. China would like to host such SCO activities as the cultural and art festival, women's forum and skill contest of workers, and strive for solid progress of SCO cooperation in health, disaster relief, environment protection, sports and tourism.

China will launch a "China-SCO cooperation program in human resources development," under which China will invite representatives from SCO states to seminars and workshops in China, send Chinese experts to SCO states to give policy advice, carry out local training programs in SCO states and provide government scholarships.

China suggests setting up a mechanism for media cooperation, and would like to host the first SCO media summit.

Upholding openness and inclusiveness

China supports the SCO in carrying out cooperation of various forms and in a broad range of areas with its observer states and dialogue partners as well as other countries, and in further reviewing the applications from the related countries for legal status in the SCO.

China stands for more exchanges and cooperation between the SCO and the United Nations and other international and regional organizations, in a joint effort to promote lasting peace and shared prosperity in the world.

China highly commends the work of the two permanent bodies of the SCO and will contribute an additional 10 million yuan ($1.45 million) for the secretariat to improve working conditions and undertake more activities.

Copyedited by Sudeshna Sarkar

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