Asia and Eurasia
SCO Summit in Samarkand: Expectations Amid Uncertainty

The forthcomming summit of the Shanghai Coopertion Organisation is critically important for global peace and international security. The first post-pandemic, comprehensive, in-person meeting of the Eurasian G8 and its partners is expected to come off as a historic event, writes Rashid Alimov, Professor, Academy of Public Administration under the President of the Republic of Tajikistan, Doctor of Political Sciences, SCO Secretary-General (2016–2018).

An SCO summit will be held in Samarkand, Republic of Uzbekistan, on September 15-16. One of the world’s oldest cities will become a centre of global politics. The heightened interest in the upcoming meeting of the heads of the leading Eurasian states is quite understandable. The summit will take place amid three converging crises that directly affect the SCO member states and regional peace and security and that can catalyse changes in the existing world order. First comes the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan followed by the Ukraine-related crisis involving the "sanctions from hell" on Russia, and the crisis surrounding Chinese Taiwan that was caused by US provocations. The crisis of international relations which provides fertile soil for the crystallisation of a new multipolar world is the biggest crisis, though.

The world is witnessing a sharp aggravation in East-West relations that is being caused by the onset of a new world order. Once again, the West is “building” walls of alienation and “lowering” a second Iron Curtain in 70 years. The United States is making futile attempts to form a “broad-based” coalition against Russia and is resorting to blackmail and threats against China in an attempt to preserve the unipolar world. Global politics and economics are in the throes of mounting turbulence and tensions. The conventional international order is becoming a thing of the past. In these circumstances, a meeting of the heads of the SCO member states, which will bring together two permanent UN Security Council members (China and Russia), four nuclear powers (China, Russia, India and Pakistan) and nuclear-free Central Asia, is critically important for global peace and international security.

Importantly, the exchange of views between the leaders of the SCO states will take place not only during the SCO general meeting, but also in bilateral, trilateral and other formats with the participation of observer states and invited distinguished guests. The first post-pandemic, comprehensive, in-person meeting of the Eurasian G8 and its partners is expected to come off as a historic event.

What unites the SCO member states?

First, it’s close or overlapping assessments of the current regional and international agenda. Second, it is adherence to the creation of a more representative, democratic, fair and multipolar world based on the universally recognised principles of international law and the Shanghai Spirit. Third, the SCO stands for respecting the right of nations to make an independent and democratic choice of political and socioeconomic developmentpath. Fourth, the SCO is non-aligned and is not directed against other states or international organisations. Fifth and final, it’s the SCO member states’ focus onadvancingteam efforts in building new international relations, as well as forming a common vision for the idea of ​​creating a community of common destiny for humankind.

Will the SCO be reformed?

The SCO must move forward. From its earliest days, it has been following its own path. The world is changing, hence the SCO needs to adapt to the changing world. The SCO concept was put forward by its founders in 2001 and now needs to be improved and adjusted in light of new realities, challenges and opportunities. The SCO needs reforms, and its development strategy must be geared towards enhancing practical interaction. Over the past 20 years, the organisation has more than tripled in size (with six founding states in 2001 and 21 member states now, including observers and dialogue partners). Reforming the SCO will entail changes and additions to the SCO Charter that was adopted 20 years ago.

Will SCO priorities change?

Security interaction will remain an SCO priority. The number of local conflicts along the perimeter of the SCO’s external borders is not decreasing and local conflicts have regional and global dimensions which can be seen in the Afghanistan conflict that has lasted for almost half a century now. The common threats and challenges emanating from Afghanistan’s territory largely contributed to the emergence of the SCO on the political map of the world and the establishment of security cooperation within the region andeven with partners that lie far beyond SCO borders. The emergence of the SCO early on in the 21st century played a stabilising role for the Central Asian region and in many respects helped them form an effective partnership to stave off threats emanating from Afghanistan.

The deployment of the SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS SCO) in Central Asia, in Tashkent, in 2004was also a well-thought-out decision since international terrorist organisations, including those that have been comfortable within the borders of Afghanistan and are to this day, see great opportunities for spreading their radical ideas in the region.

Annual anti-terrorist exercises are the SCO’s collective response to the changing nature of existing security challenges and the danger they pose as they become intertwined. Furthermore, joint exercises “sober up” those who hatch aggressive plans related to the SCO region, including Central Asia. Importantly, the exercises are usually based on a scenario that is built on existing operational situations within the SCO and on the terrorists’ tactics. The first SCO/CSTO joint exercises in Tajikistan in the autumn of 2021 after the chaotic US evacuation from Afghanistan are the most recent examples. The SCO is not a military-political bloc, nor is it an anti-Western organisation, despite the fact that the West sees it as an emerging anti-Western bloc. The SCO is based on the concept of indivisible security.
The SCO can and should become the embodiment of the principle of indivisible security implemented at the regional level and should make a greater contribution to enhancing global security.

Amid mounting compound challenges and threats, the SCO is looking for the modalities and mechanisms that can bring security cooperation to groundbreaking levels. The search for such mechanisms is ongoing. In addition to the effectively functioning RATS SCO, a number of countries have put forward a conceptthat would create several independent security centres or mechanisms, such as an SCO Anti-Drug Centre in Dushanbe; an SCO Centre for Combating Cross-Border Organised Crime in Bishkek; and an SCO Information Security Centre in Nur-Sultan, to name a few. Alternatively, comprehensive approach proponents suggest creating a Universal (United) SCO Centre for Countering Threats and Challenges. The discussions are ongoing.

Economic cooperation within the SCO is also in need of a boost. The SCO has developed a diverse legal framework and boasts major economic and investment potential. Cooperation mechanisms, including the Business Council and the SCO Interbank Association, have been put in place. Region-to-region cooperation is gaining traction. Major efforts aimed at creating an efficient and competitive transport and technology infrastructure have been undertaken. Work is underway to create favourable conditions for international road transport. Cooperation between railway administrations is expanding. Cooperation mechanisms in energy and industry have been put in place as well. The interaction mechanisms and cooperation formats created within the SCO provide a unique opportunity to harmonise individual SCO member states’ national interests with the interests of the SCO region as a whole. Everything points to the fact that the SCO aims to build a sustainable economic system, which includes promoting green and environmentally friendly technology. However, the ongoing fundamental changes in the entire international relations system, including economic relations, are dictating the need to develop innovative approaches to economic cooperation within the SCO that can meet the challenges and threats of our time.

The SCO economic “wheel” needs a wide track, no question about that. Trade between the SCO countries is a mere 10 percent of the SCO countries’ total foreign trade ($7.5 trillion). In fairness, though, foreign trade between the SCO countries grew by almost 32 percent compared with 2017. The land-locked Central Asian countries are particularly interested in the needs of economic success. According to the World Bank,Central Asia remains one of the least “connected” economies in the world despite major improvements in the SCO countries’ transport connectivity. The transport cooperation mechanisms created within the SCO are expected to tap the full potential of Central Asia’s transit and transport infrastructure and “bring the region closer” to seas and oceans. Much has been accomplished in this regard with Russia and China’s support, which are the largest trading partners of the countries in the region and are also their major investors. The total volume of China and Russia’s accrued investment in Central Asia exceeds $61 billion. Once Iran becomes a full SCO member, trade between the countries in the region is expected to increase significantly.

The COVID-19 pandemic has slowed humanitarian cooperation. All SCO member states are interested in advancing and enriching it. The SCO humanitarian space has given the world great thinkers, outstanding pioneer researchers and cultural figures, whose contribution to the world civilisation is truly invaluable. Of the over 1,000 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, almost one in eight is located within the SCO space. A sustainable dialogue between various cultures and civilisations has been established within the organisation. An SCO Museum, an SCO Park and an SCO Art Gallery will open soon. The Eight SCO Wonders traveling exhibition is a permanent event. In addition, Uzbekistan plans to open the SCO Tourism University in Samarkand. Russia proposes holding regular SCO sports games. The internationally recognised SCO Marathon has become an integral part of humanitarian cooperation. The annual announcement of the SCO tourist and cultural capital holds much promise for further promotion of the rich cultural and historical heritage of the SCO nations and their tourism potential. There are plenty of claimants for this title within the SCO space. In addition, 2023 may be declared SCO Tourism Year which will strongly promote the tourism industry that was severely impacted by the pandemic and help improve the SCO cities and regions’ tourist appeal.
Eurasia and Asia
SCO Facing a New Challenge
Rashid Alimov
Partnership, cooperation for co-prosperity, has been the cornerstone of interaction within the Organisation. In the current conditions of the SCO, it is important not only to preserve this principle, but also to give it additional strength and energy, to move from extensive to intensive development. The current moment requires just such an approach, writes Rashid Alimov, SCO Secretary-General in 2016–2018.

Is expansion good or bad for the SCO?

The SCO is steadily implementing the principle of openness enshrined in its charter. However, expansion has never been an end in itself. Iran has been on the path towards full SCO membership for 17 years now. The final decision on changing Iran’s status from an observer state to a full SCO memberstate will be made at the SCO summit in Samarkand. Thus, the SCO will significantly consolidate its position as a steadily emerging centre of power in Eurasia. Belarus, which obtained observer status in 2015,is the next candidate for full SCO membership. The SCO members plan to launch the accessionprocedure in Samarkand. If they decide to go ahead with it, the SCO will be comprised of 10 Eurasian countries in 2023. At least 10 more countries are on the waiting list.

The question of whether the SCO should approve incoming applications and thus expand has always been debated. This issue had been widely discussed before the accession process for India and Pakistan was launched. The Dushanbe summit participants resolved in 2021 to grant dialogue partner status to Egypt, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which is indicative of the Arab counties’ growing interest in interacting with the SCO. The fact that Bahrain, Kuwait and the United Arab States are desirous of becoming part of the SCO family confirms this trend. In addition, applications from the Maldives and Myanmar are under review. The SCO also has the informal position of honoured guest of the current SCO chair to offer. Traditionally, the head of Turkmenistan is the guest of honourduring SCO summits. The Samarkand summit is expected to expand the number of eligible distinguished guests. In addition to the heads of state from Turkmenistan, the SCO Heads of State Council meeting attendees may also include the heads of state from Turkey, Azerbaijan and Armenia. Clearly, the SCO now has a higher standing due to its positive image and the fact that it is not directed against third countries or organisations. All of this is indicative of the forming of a new geopolitical centre of power with a positive agenda, which many countries can relate to.

What is the secret behind SCO success?

There are many reasons for the SCO’s appeal. Its transcontinental spectrum and enormous natural potential predetermine the global profile of its activities acrossa variety ofstrands of international politics, the economy and culture. Countries and international organisations see the SCO as a rapidly evolving centre in a multipolar world that can effectively cope with global and regional risks. Also clear is the SCO countries’ aggregate potential which can ensure sustainable development that relies on the member countries own resources, countries that almost half the world’s population call home.

The SCO’s greater weight in international affairs, including through the establishment of partnerships with the UN, its specialised agencies and other international organisations (the CSTO, the CIS, ASEAN, the EAEU, the Arab League, CICA, etc.) is also good for enhancing its standing. Other countries find all of the above, including the decision-making procedure relying solely on the basis of consensus, attractive, as it embodies a new perspective on international relations based on the Shanghai Spirit, which rejects the single-centre approach to decision-making. Additionally, with the SCObeing neither a military-political bloc, nor an economic union, the countriesfind its ideals and principles appealing. The SCO is not about seeking confrontation or enemies. It focuses on shared efforts to find mutually acceptable solutions to the pressing issues of our time. Its strength lies in its member states’ equality and unity, regardless of their size or military or economic potential.

Each SCO summit breaks new ground. The SCO Samarkand summit will not be an exception. Amid uncertainty, the SCO will showcase its focus on advancing neighbourliness, friendship and cooperation, as well as shared growth and prosperity.

World Economy
The Assembly Lines of Grand Eurasia
Yaroslav Lissovolik
There are multiple possible trajectories for the assembly process of the Grand Eurasia — the most attractive appears to be the “integration of integrations” track as it appears to be more expeditious and inclusive, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Yaroslav Lissovolik. At the same time, there are also risks and challenges involving this scenario as the domain of “integration of integrations” remains largely unexplored across the terrain of the Global South.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.