By Tao Wenzhao
The declaration and joint communique released by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit, which was convened on June 15 in Shanghai, offer guidelines for a fresh model of regional cooperation.
Founded in 2001, the SCO brings together China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. It blossomed from these countries' desire to enhance military mutual trust in their border areas. The SCO was also the first international organization to call for a fight against terrorism, separatism, extremism and drug trafficking.
The SCO declaration makes it clear that the member states will immediately start discussions about the effective means to be taken in case of emergencies that threaten regional peace, stability and security. It also states that SCO members will conduct studies on the possibilities of bringing about, within the SCO framework, a mechanism to prevent regional conflicts. This demonstrates the SCO member states' commitment to shouldering their common responsibilities to maintain regional security while stopping short of becoming military allies.
SCO members either border one another or are geographically close to each other. The security of all member states would be threatened in the event of an emergency. This largely explains why they try to share responsibilities to safeguard regional stability.
Experience indicates that terrorism, separatism, extremism and drug trafficking pose serious threats to the regional stability and security of all countries in the area. None of the countries involved can tackle these threats by acting alone. SCO member states have so far held three joint anti-terror military exercises, which have helped act as a deterrent against terrorism, separatism and extremism.
The situation, however, remains grave as these evil forces, like a cornered animal, are trying to stage a comeback. Cooperation must therefore be stepped up and the efficiency of this work must be improved. To facilitate this, at their recent summit, the heads of state of the SCO members signed an agreement on fighting terrorism, separatism and extremism from 2007 to 2009 and an agreement on procedures for organizing anti-terrorism military exercises. Another agreement was also reached on finding and cutting off the channels through which terrorists receive their funds.
It is expected that SCO member states' cooperation in this regard will become more effective.
Economics constitutes another important aspect of the cooperation between SCO members.
All SCO members are confronted with the major challenge of promoting economic development and improving the livelihood of their peoples. Some member states are even caught in economic dire straits, something which is bound to impact on regional security.
This necessitates economic cooperation among SCO members. As a matter of fact, the members have ever been strengthening their cooperation in this field in recent years.
During the SCO summit, an entrepreneurs' board and an SCO banking group were founded and relevant agreements signed. Banks from the member states also signed accords on extending loans worth a total of US$2 billion to a batch of large and medium-sized industrial projects and business undertakings.
China, on its own part, will provide capital and technology for the construction of the highway linking up Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, a high-tension power transmission line in Tajikistan, a cement plan in Kyrgyzstan and a hydro-power station in Kazakhstan.
The SCO's medium- and long-term strategy for economic cooperation is to bring about the free flow of capital, commodities, services and technology through simplifying trade and investment procedures.
Vast potential for economic cooperation exists in this region. Some SCO member states, for example, export oil and gas in large volumes while others consume large amounts of energy. A sort of energy commonwealth, which covers the complete chain of oil and gas production, transmission and marketing, could be formed. The newly finished oil pipeline between China and Kazakhstan could form the basis of this.
SCO members will benefit greatly from their ever-expanding economic cooperation.
Given their different backgrounds, the SCO member states, from the very beginning of the organization, have regarded mutual respect between different civilizations and different development modes as a principle of vital importance. Experience proves that different civilizations can tolerate each other and learn from one another and that different civilizations do not necessarily repel each other.
Cooperation in the fields of environmental protection, culture, education and sports is also being promoted. President Hu Jintao, for example, pledged at the Shanghai summit that China would increase its investment to boost cooperation in these fields. At the same time, a program in which China is helping train 1,500 technical and managerial personnel for other member states, initiated by the Chinese president at the 2005 SCO Summit in Astana, is being implemented smoothly.
On the eve of the Shanghai summit, the United States expressed its displeasure about the expected presence of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the conference, claiming this ran counter to the SCO's vow to fight terrorism, separatism and extremism. Some observers worried that Ahmadinejad's presence could have negative impact on resolving Iranian nuclear issue.
All these worries, however, were unfounded. President Ahmadinejad made some good suggestions on regional cooperation in his speech at the conference. His proposals provided food for thought for the SCO.
Both Chinese President Hu Jintao and Russian President Vladimir Putin met Ahmadinejad and urged Iran to carefully study the package of proposals and incentives worked out recently by officials from France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Russia, China and the United States. The presidents also urged Iran to return to the negotiating table as soon as possible and re-establish mutual trust with the international community. In response, the Iranian president said that Iran is willing to settle the nuclear issue through negotiations, and is studying the six-party proposals seriously.
All this demonstrates that the SCO summit helped facilitate the resumption of the talks on resolving the Iranian nuclear issue.
The author is a researcher with the Institute of American Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
(China Daily June 26, 2006)