President Xi underlines SCO's importance to China

By Tim Collard
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, June 23, 2016
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Chinese President Xi Jinping's summer tour of Eastern Europe and Central Asia now culminates in his attendance at the annual summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Tashkent.

Among the plethora of international organizations which have tried to make sense of the international melting pot which followed the end of the Cold War and the break-up of the Soviet Union, the SCO has proved one of the most durable. Originally founded in 1996 (under the name "the Shanghai Five") in the hope of ensuring that the changed situation in Central Asia would not lead to dissension between Russia and China, the SCO has expanded its scope to become a major multilateral regional forum with a focus on mutual security. Uzbekistan was not originally a member, being one of the few countries in the region which borders neither Russia nor China, but was clearly an appropriate participant in discussions pertaining to the region, and thus joined the organization in 2001.

Since then, there have been no more accessions, but the prestige of the organization has been demonstrated by the number of adjoining countries who have applied for observer status. Now the SCO is on the verge of a very significant expansion, with India and Pakistan about to become full members – both countries are sending high-level delegations to the summit (Pakistan President Mamnoon Hussain, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi) and are expected to sign the SCO "Memorandum of Obligations" in Tashkent, the last step towards full membership.

This will of course be quite a challenge to China, as Pakistan is a long-term ally of China, whereas India and China have encountered a few problems in their bilateral relationship. Nonetheless the general aim of keeping the peace within the region and basing that on solid, mutually beneficial economic cooperation remains the mainstay of Chinese economic and diplomatic policy, particularly in the context of China's "Belt and Road" policy, which involves all countries in the region.

In this respect, China places a great deal of reliance on Uzbekistan's support to push forward the SCO's economic and security cooperation. So far this year, the two countries have been working tightly together. Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov visited China in March, and his counterpart Foreign Minister Wang Yi was in Tashkent on a preparatory visit in May. Uzbekistan is seen as an essential partner for China within the organization.

At last year's summit in Ufa in Russia, China took the opportunity to blow the trumpet for the "Belt and Road" program, offering large-scale funding from the US$ 40 billion "Silk Road Fund" established in 2014 for projects in the Central Asian region, and appealing to the member states to uphold the "Shanghai Spirit for common development." Now that arrangements for the funding of projects under the "Belt and Road" program are that much further advanced, China hopes for increased engagement from SCO partners in the program. After all, this is not a region where funding for infrastructural projects is easy to find.

And the prospect of Chinese funding helps to concentrate minds on the coordination of infrastructure projects. At last year's summit, President Xi promised to work towards a massive expansion of the region's road and rail infrastructure. Also, Beijing has already invested billions of dollars in the natural gas pipeline network connecting Central Asian producers to China. Russia, the other major SCO partner, accepts that China is the economic locomotive of the region, and that China's active participation will remain fundamental to achieving the collective aims of SCO partners.

There is also the security element of the SCO up for discussion in Tashkent. Last year, the member states agreed with Russian President Vladimir Putin when he said that "ensuring the security of the member countries' territory and external borders remains one of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization's priority areas of work." China is not particularly worried about the security of her land borders, but is keen to ensure the support of her SCO partners for the general principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, and is thus prepared to give full support to her neighbours' concerns.

Last year in Ufa, an agreement was signed on border defence, and China supports the efforts of the organization to draw up a new treaty on fighting extremism. The struggle against Islamist terrorism, with the continuing deleterious influence of the "Islamic State" organization far beyond the borders of Syria and Iraq, presents a constant threat against which SCO partners are keen to coordinate their efforts.

China will thus underline once more her commitment to the joint aims of the SCO, both economic and political. President Xi will be careful to stress that all partners are cooperating on an equal basis, but everyone is aware that China is the only nation with the economic clout to make things happen.

Tim Collard is a columnist with For more information please visit:

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of

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