Some observers have suggested that for most of its 20-year existence, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) may have become an anti-Western bloc dominated by China and Russia. The Central Asian members of the group have a complicated cooperative relationship with the United States and Europe, although SCO host Uzbekistan used its chairmanship of the event held in Samarkand on September 15-16 to emphasize that the group does not, and should not, oppose American or anti-NATO .
“During our chairmanship, we sought to intensify practical cooperation within our organization, increase its potential and international prestige. Along with security issues, priority was given to building up trade, economic and humanitarian cooperation,” said President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev in his speech at the summit, which was attended by more than 800 journalists from around the world.
Mirziyoyev welcomed 13 leaders from China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia and Tajikistan. The Presidents of Belarus, Iran and Mongolia attended as observers, and the Presidents of Azerbaijan and Turkey as invited partners.
Minsk and Tehran intend to join the group soon. Iran, which has been trying for years, but unsuccessfully, signed a memorandum of membership with the leadership of the SCO, Belarus has also expressed a desire to join.
“The SCO is turning from a regional bloc into a global one,” President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko said, saying that his country’s interests are closely linked with the interests of the SCO members. “We are very grateful for the unanimous support of our application to join the organization as a full member,” Lukashenka said. “We can offer our transit, industrial and scientific potential, experience in peacekeeping and multilateral diplomacy,” he added.
Iran is close to joining, SCO officials say, citing the memorandum. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi denounced “American unilateralism” by calling for more free trade within the SCO, more financial transactions and banking, making it clear that Tehran sees membership as a way to circumvent US sanctions.
Xi and Putin meeting
The most noteworthy summit took place on the sidelines between a meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin, in which the leaders pledged to respect each other’s “fundamental interests” – a euphemism in Beijing for Russia’s support for Taiwan-related issues. .
Chinese accounts of the meeting were vague about Xi’s promises. The two leaders have met often over the years, but haven’t done so since the Beijing Winter Olympics in February, shortly before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The trip to Central Asia was Xi’s first overseas venture in the years since the COVID-19 outbreak in early 2020.
Putin thanked Xi for what he called a “balanced approach” to Ukraine, while at the same time he criticized Washington for its “ugly policies”, including support for Kyiv.
However, Xi took a more restrained tone, saying that “in the face of changes in the world, time and history, China is ready to work with Russia to reflect the responsibility of a large country, play a leading role and bring stability to the world.” troubled and interconnected world.”
Putin argued that Moscow and Beijing “jointly advocate the formation of a just, democratic and multipolar world based on international law and the central role of the United Nations, and not on rules invented by one who tries to impose them on others without explaining what it is.” “.
However, local analysts told VOA that the core objectives of the SCO have not been affected by these current events or by the group’s two largest members.
Ulugbek Khasanov, a professor at the Uzbek University of World Economy and Diplomacy, acknowledges that the SCO is a complex circle of countries that disagree on many important issues. “But they gathered in ancient Samarkand with the aim of strengthening security, trade and innovative cooperation.”
Khasanov calls the SCO’s mission diverse and constantly evolving, seeing its focus on climate change, food and energy security, and regional security as a positive sign of cooperation.
Kazakh and Kyrgyz analysts shared similar views with VOA, but said members would need more tangible steps to build the group’s capacity.
These Central Asian scholars share their governments’ desire to prevent the SCO from becoming a puppet of China and Russia. The SCO should be a “fair and equal platform” for all members, agrees Khasanov, a former senior public relations officer in Tashkent.
“Central Asia is at the center of this organization,” Khasanov says, “and if you want to work with the region, you have to listen to the ideas and proposals of Uzbekistan, not least its position on Afghanistan.” In other words, to act locally in Central Asia, he argues, China, Russia and other countries must reflect Central Asian priorities and agendas.
Muzaffar Jalalov, rector of Inha University in Tashkent, believes that the SCO should be, first of all, a platform for development.
“All participants have their own interests and policies. But what is clear is that the SCO is not a military bloc and should not be seen as a “scale” balancing between the West, on the one hand, and Russia or China.”
Jalalov sees that the SCO members are seeking partnership in areas closer to the agenda, which, as a rule, is a priority for Central Asians – education, science and healthcare. He welcomes the proposals of President Mirziyoyev on the role of the SCO in promoting digital literacy and information technology.
“Some SCO countries have better experience and skills. Cooperation in these areas is key to our common development.”
International observers view Tashkent’s proposal to create an Afghan aid fund as an important humanitarian step.
Raleigh Astana, the UN Resident Coordinator in Uzbekistan, told VOA that the UN takes every initiative that brings countries together seriously. “As President Mirziyoyev reiterated in his speech, international cooperation is absolutely necessary to solve the global problems of our time.”
Asked about the UN’s position on the SCO summit, Astana said: “Whether it’s climate, connectivity, pandemic recovery, preparation for future pandemics, or people-to-people connectivity, global issues require international cooperation. And it was good to hear that leaders today are committed to working together on important issues such as trade, communications, food security and sustainable development.”
India, known as the only consolidated democracy among the group’s members, joined the SCO in 2017, along with rival Pakistan, and it will become the new chair. The two rivals distinguished themselves in Samarkand by not conducting bilateral negotiations.