SCO: Charting a modern Silk Road of security and prosperity

0 CommentsPrint E-mail Xinhua, June 15, 2011
Adjust font size:

The six Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) members held a landmark summit Wednesday in the Kazakh capital of Astana dedicated to steering the increasingly influential regional grouping forward into its next decade.

During the gathering, heads of state of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan pledged to further fortify their time-honored bond as Silk Road partners, bring more benefit to their over 1.5 billion people and make new contributions to world peace and development.

These shared aspirations stem from a decade of sound development that has turned the SCO into what Chinese President Hu Jintao lauded at the summit as "an important safeguard of regional peace and stability and a powerful impetus for common development and prosperity across the region."

With a multi-tiered set of consultative mechanisms already in smooth operation and a diverse series of cooperation projects bearing fruit, the SCO has passed its infancy and will further mature and improve in the coming decade, Sun Zhuangzhi, secretary-general of the SCO Research Center under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told Xinhua.

Forging ahead on two wheels

Security cooperation and economic cooperation have been the SCO's top priorities, and are valued as the two wheels of the organization, said Zhang Deguang, the first SCO secretary-general.

Given the rampant spread of "the three evil forces" of terrorism, separatism and extremism as well as other threats like drug- and arms-trafficking across the region, upon its establishment session in June 2001 in Shanghai, the SCO pledged to get rid of these menaces.

During the past 10 years, the SCO members have conducted regular senior-level conferences to appraise the latest regional security situation and staged successive joint drills to enhance the interoperability of their militaries and law enforcement agencies and deter potential troublemakers.

Meanwhile, since the 2004 establishment of the Tashkent-based regional anti-terror structure, the SCO's only other permanent organ besides the secretariat, over 500 terrorist plots have been foiled and thousands of lives saved, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev said in an article published ahead of the Astana summit.

As a further stride forward in the organization's security cooperation, the military chiefs of the six member countries gathered in Shanghai in late April for the first meeting of its kind in the SCO's history, where they pledged to further boost defense and security cooperation.

A decade after its inception, the SCO, whose members cover 60 percent of the Eurasian landmass, has become the mainstay of peace and security of the vast continent, particularly in its heartland of Central Asia, Leonid Moiseev, Russia's presidential envoy for SCO affairs, told Xinhua.

Citing Kyrgyzstan's political turmoil last year, he noted that the SCO offered massive political, diplomatic, economic and humanitarian support to help the troubled member restabilize and reconstruct and that even at the most turbulent moment Bishkek did not break away from the organization.

"I think the SCO should be credited for this," Moiseev said.

More immediately beneficial to the hundreds of millions of households across the region is the SCO's growing economic cooperation, a modern version of the ancient booming Silk Road trade that is far broader in scope and larger in scale.

As a sign of the vitality in this sphere of cooperation, China's trade with other SCO members has shot up from 12.1 billion U.S. dollars to some 90 billion dollars during the past 10 years, recording a faster increase than China's overall foreign trade, Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Cheng Guoping said last week at a SCO forum.

The growing trade volumes dovetail with the SCO's ambitious integration endeavors to realize the free flow of goods, capital, services and technology by 2020. Among other concrete moves is the construction of a railway, highway and pipeline network linking landlocked Central Asia and its rich natural resources to the global economy.

Meanwhile, the SCO members have also established the Business Council and the Interbank Association, two non-government organizations, to better promote and finance cooperation projects within the framework.

The latest example of the rejuvenated Silk Road partnership is the China-Kazakhstan Horgos International Border Cooperation Center, a testing ground for economic cooperation under the SCO framework. Starting July 1, citizens from China, Kazakhstan and third countries will be allowed into the cross-border marketplace to negotiate business and trade.

"The SCO has developed into an indispensable constructive force on the Eurasian landmass and a regional cooperation organization that the member countries can trust and rely on," Cheng told the forum.

Also picking up momentum are the people-to-people exchanges and cooperation in such domains as culture, education and youth affairs, which are considered the axletree between the SCO's two wheels.

Noting that diverse art festivals, youth festivals, exhibitions and forums have been carried out under the SCO framework, incumbent SCO Secretary-General Muratbek Imanaliev said earlier this month that this aspect of cooperation "is of great importance" to consolidating the traditional friendship and win-win partnership within the SCO member countries.

"Humanitarian cooperation will not produce instant results, but it is like sowing seeds into the soil. As long as you are patient and confident, it will blossom and bear fruit one day," Guan Guihai, associate dean of the School of International Studies at Peking University, said at the SCO forum.

A spirit that binds

Underlying the SCO's thriving cooperation projects and rising international status is the Shanghai Spirit, the organization's inborn philosophy that features mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality, consultation, respect for cultural diversity and pursuit of common development, Imanaliev said.

With profound changes taking place on the regional and global landscapes, he added, the SCO members should continue to uphold this defining spirit and boost cooperation in various fields, which accords with their fundamental and long-term interests and helps promote their sustainable development.

Echoing Imanaliev's comments, Cheng told the forum that the Shanghai Spirit and the SCO's development path and cooperation model align not only with the common interests of its members but also the main themes of the times, namely peace, development and cooperation, and should be passed on to future generations.

"Frankly speaking, in the current world, some countries indulge in hegemonic politics, and some big countries bully smaller ones and impose their values and ideologies upon other countries. I think this is totally incompatible with the Shanghai Spirit," he added.

In response to the allegation that the SCO is a NATO-like military alliance aimed at counterbalancing NATO and the United States, Jin Yinan, director of the National Defense University Institute for Strategic Studies, said in April that it is utterly fallacious to compare the SCO to NATO.

"The SCO is totally different from NATO. NATO is an outcome of the Cold War, while the SCO results from the need to maintain regional security in the new era of economic globalization, and it is not a military organization," he said.

A background check will find that the SCO originated from the Shanghai Five, a mechanism for negotiating lingering border issues between China and other current SCO members except Uzbekistan in the aftermath of the Soviet disintegration, and that it enshrines the principles of non-alignment, not being directed against any other country or region and openness to the outside.

"I just want to emphasize here that the SCO is not a military-political alliance, we do not target any country or bloc of countries, and we have no plan to transform into a military-political alliance," Imanaliev told Xinhua.

The SCO is also ready to enhance cooperation with other interested organizations to jointly promote peace and prosperity in the region and across the world, the secretary-general added, noting that the SCO has already established effective contact with the United Nations, the Commonwealth of Independent States and the Collective Security Treaty Organization among many others.

By now, Mongolia, Pakistan, Iran and India are observer states at the SCO, while Sri Lanka and Belarus are the organization's dialogue partners. Afghanistan, which intends to become an observer, signed a protocol with the SCO on setting up a liaison group in 2005.

The SCO's partnership-rather-than-alliance model has thrown the Cold War mentality and hegemonic politics on the ash heap of history, and is committed to creating a new model of regional cooperation that is likely to set a successful example for other international cooperation efforts, said Sun from the CASS.

"On the contemporary world stage, the SCO is an unparalleled organization. Advancing security, economic and cultural cooperation in a moderate way is its distinct feature," said Valikhan Utebalyuly Tuleshov, director of the International Research Center of Kazakhstan's Institute for World Economy and Politics.


Looking into the future of the SCO, Alexander Lukin, director of the Center for East Asia and SCO Studies at Moscow State University for International Relations, quoted a saying by late Chinese leader Mao Zedong, "while the prospects are bright, the road has twists and turns."

A pressing concern is that the combustible mix of "the three evil forces" -- narcotics, illicit arms and other menaces -- still poses a serious threat to regional stability and security, said Ji Zhiye, vice president of China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.

Such a gloomy picture, he said, demands that the SCO further beef up security cooperation so as to prevent pernicious elements from spreading in the region, which includes the still restive Afghanistan, a breeding ground for terrorism and narcotics trade.

Also with an eye on Afghanistan, Nazarbayev said in his article that the fate of the whole region is to a large extent dependent on that of Afghanistan and that the SCO should map out a plan to help stabilize the country after the withdrawal of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, which is scheduled to be completed in 2014.

"The SCO backs the efforts to build Afghanistan into an independent, neutral, peaceful and prosperous country. Realizing peace and stability in Afghanistan constitutes an important part of maintaining regional and global security. The SCO will continue to help the friendly Afghan people rebuild their country," the SCO leaders said Wednesday in a joint declaration.

Meanwhile, "it has to be admitted that economic cooperation remains a weak link in the SCO framework," Nazarbayev added in his article, stressing that the SCO faces a great gap between its economic potential and the actual use of it and an urgent need to implement some large joint projects.

"Promoting multilateral economic cooperation should be the most important strategic task of the SCO in the coming 10 years," he said.

In a similar vein, Anatoly Klimenko, a senior expert at the Far East Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, told Xinhua that if the SCO, which accounts for about half of the global population should its four observer states be included, can fully tap its huge potential, it will bring a lot more benefit to the region and beyond.

Referring to the recent turbulence in West Asia and North Africa, Moiseev said that the sweeping unrest "is just another evidence of the importance for the SCO members to enhance economic and trade cooperation," because "only with economic development and improvement of the people's livelihood can political stability be maintained."

Another issue of far-reaching importance is the SCO's potential enlargement, as the organization's tenets and aspirations have proven attractive to many other countries. While Sri Lanka and Belarus have become the SCO's dialogue partners, some observers are applying for full membership.

Noting that the SCO has adopted some basic rules about admitting new members, Moiseev said that the SCO is an open organization, but has to handle the enlargement issue in a prudent and responsible way so as not to damage its own interests or tarnish what it stands for.

"Being a force for peace, a force for construction and a force for development, the SCO has played a very important role on the international stage since its establishment 10 years ago," Chinese Ambassador to Kazakhstan Zhou Li said in an interview with Xinhua.

"It will advance along the path of cooperation and harmony, realize lasting peace and common prosperity across the region and write a new chapter on modern Eurasian civilization," he added.

Print E-mail Bookmark and Share

Go to Forum >>0 Comments

No comments.

Add your comments...

  • User Name Required
  • Your Comment
  • Racist, abusive and off-topic comments may be removed by the moderator.
Send your storiesGet more from