The Shanghai Cooperation Organization in the war on terror
When the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) was set up, the Shanghai convention on countering terrorism, separatism and extremism was incorporated into the documents signed jointly by the six heads of state. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization is primarily viewed as a local or regional security organization, with its main goal being to combat these three forces through its framework of military cooperation. Therefore it can be said that when this organization was born, its core task was to fight and eventually win a resounding victory over terrorism, separatism and extremism.
Within the SCO, this counter-terror function serves to enhance mutual trust among the member countries in political and military terms: promoting cooperation among the countries. There is much to be gained from a genuine improvement in the foundations of peace and friendship, from countering real security threats, eliminating the hidden danger to regional security, and from coming together to fight international terrorism. It involves forming a framework for cooperation on different aspects of the fight against international crime, guaranteeing international information security, ensuring member countries’ defense capabilities are maintained at a level able to counter external threats, and enforcing the SCO’s ability to act. All this then boosts its international reputation, creates a new security concept and establishes a model for cooperation on security issues that allows all parties involved to cope with the unpredictable international situation.
The organization has existed for 10 years, in terms of SCO anti-terror activities and security cooperation, not only has it been gradually expanding throughout its existence, its standards are raised daily. Issues on its agenda range from solving the traditional security threat to tackling non-traditional threats; from setting up a legal basis for security cooperation to cooperation among the member states’ law enforcement agencies responsible for security; from the holding of joint anti-terrorism military exercises to setting up local anti-terror organizations. The territory covered by counter-terror activities has seen some of the most active and efficient cooperative work in the SCO. This framework has provided strong support for cooperation in politics, economics as well as in the humanities.
China is fully cognizant of the fact that it has a real interest in building the “harmonious area,” in fostering counter-terror cooperation within the SCO framework. It also represents a very real guarantee that the long-term friendly cooperative clauses agreed by SCO member countries will be realized, and concrete methods found to tackle the main security challenges China faces. Cooperating with other SCO member countries in the fight against terrorism is beneficial in solving military and security-related issues and also to eliminate the obstacles in the economic and social spheres. China is actively pushing for greater anti-terrorism cooperation. On the theoretical side, China proposed a new safety concept and is on record as saying it has moved beyond the concept of unipolar security and is instead working toward mutual security through mutually beneficial cooperation. It is seeking to eliminate the breeding grounds for terrorism through boosting these areas’ economic development. In practical terms, China has been an active participant in organizing bilateral and multilateral anti-terrorism exercises. Furthermore, China has held large forums and seminars as well as symposiums on anti-terrorism, to assist in training military officers and police staff in Central Asian countries.
Nowadays, disputes over hot issues come and go like the ebb and flow of the tides. Hot issues remain to be solved in some SCO member states’ regions, while the traditional and non-traditional security threats have fused. Therefore, peace building will remain a complex issue requiring significant work in the long-term, bound up with the multi-faceted security challenges. Against this backdrop, it is especially important that anti-terrorism cooperation is continuously enforced and deepened within the framework of the SCO. A Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman recently said that although the killing of bin Laden is an important event and represents active progress in the international war on terror, terrorist activities are still quite frequent, and the international situation remains, in this respect, quite tough. The international community should work to reinforce cooperation among nations and fight terrorism together. He emphasized that cooperation on security issues accounts for one of the major elements of overall SCO cooperation. He added that the Chinese side is ready and willing to facilitate continued development in this direction, working in cooperation with other member countries on defense and security issues in an atmosphere of mutual trust and mutual benefit, acting together with the member countries to combat the “three forces” (terrorism, separatism, extremism) and cope with the ability to counter other new threats and new challenges that may arise, in so doing, creating a peaceful and stable external environment that will benefit member countries and their people alike. Anti-terror measures will be a key agenda item at the summit meeting of heads of state marking the SCO’s tenth anniversary, on 15 June. This shows that the SCO is highly alert in this area.
Enhancing and deepening the anti-terrorism cooperation within the SCO framework is a meaningful task. The future will see other tough tasks emerge. One that is actively considered and which has seen attempts to realize it involves improving overall performance. This necessitates developing a uniform understanding, improving the mechanism, optimizing the entire process and boosting ability. For instance, one Chinese scholar proposed setting up a regular united military mechanism to improve the “anti-terrorism mechanism” and to construct 6+N SCO anti-terrorism partnership mechanism. This would provide the framework for handling a variety of issues from extradition to terrorism, separatism and extremism. This involves establishing a rule on extradition in terror cases of “prosecution not extradition.” This would approximate the inclusion of human rights protection in the anti-terror convention. In addition, the member countries have different concepts of: defense ability, state security strategy, the legal system and the nature of security cooperation as well as certain disputes in which they differ in the details. This deserves consideration, and an investigation of what practices should be used if these differences are to be overcome in such a way that benefits joint anti-terrorism cooperation.
Professor Bei Wenli is the Deputy Head of Russian Research Center, East China Normal University, China, Shanghai.