The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is preparing its next presidential summit to be held on September 15 and 16 in Samarkand, the capital of Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan is the currently chairing the organization.
The summit is prone to both widen the scope of the SCO as well as deepen its areas of cooperation. Let’s start with the first.
West Asia joining Eurasia
Currently, the membership of the SCO extends over East Asia, with China, Central Asia, with the republics Kazakhstan, Kirgizstan, Tadjikistan and Uzbekistan, south Asia with India and Pakistan, and Eurasia, with the Russian Federation. On this summit, the geography the SCO covers will extend deeply into West Asia and enlarge further into Eurasia.
The biggest news is of course that the Islamic Republic of Iran will sign on the summit the according memorandum to become a full member of the SCO, as reports say. Iran’s President Raisi will attend the gathering. Iran has currently observer status in the SCO, and its embassy in China disclosed to the Chinese press that full membership of the 83-million-nation would be finalized in 2023.
Iran had already applied for full membership in 2008, which back than was refused due to existing US sanctions against the country. But in 2021, the Russian President Putin stated that Iran “plays an important international role and cooperates closely with the SCO”.
Furthermore, the SCO will accept the application of Belarus for full membership on the summit, and admission procedures will begin on the summit. Belarus also has currently observer status.
Besides of Iran and Belarus heading from observer to full members, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Qatar will become official dialogue partners of the SCO. Their formal introduction as dialogue partners has the perspective of full membership, as some observe. Bahrain and the Maldives are also expected to receive this status.
Ahead of the summit, Foreign Ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council held a joint ministerial meeting of strategic dialogue with their Central Asian counterparts, discussing, among other topics, the situation in Afghanistan and combating terrorism.
Noting that this event marked the first multilateral meeting between the GCC and Central Asia, the GCC’s assistant secretary-general for political affairs and negotiation, Dr. Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg observed that “Enthusiasm abounds”.
President Erdoğan at the summit will represent Türkiye, which as a dialogue partner since 2012. Ahead, the SCO’s Secretary General Zhang Ming spoke to Turkish state television TRT, saying his organization “is looking forward with enthusiasm to Ankara playing a more active and constructive role” in the organization.
Besides, several countries including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Syria, Iraq, Nepal, Vietnam, Bangladesh and even Israel are considering becoming observers or dialogue partners of the SCO.
In a recent interview, the Secretary General Zhang said “there is a long queue outside the door” of the organization.
The summit agenda
The members and invited Heads of State of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization convene on the background of global, multilateral and bilateral conflicts.
Concerning matters of global governance, the SCO has long been advocating multipolarity as rejectiong of hegemonic tendencies. In February 2022, the leading members Russia and China have in a joint declaration declared the begin of “a new era in international politics”.
In April, Chinese President Xi Jinping proposed a Global Security Initiative, highlighting the importance of the “indivisible security”. In his speech, Xİ stated that “Cold War mentality would only wreck the global peace framework, hegemonism and power politics would only endanger world peace, and bloc confrontation would only exacerbate security challenges in the 21st century”.
This warning was directed – obviously – at the United States, but the Chinese President’s proposals on what to do focused merely on – Asia: “First (…) we should resolutely safeguard peace in Asia; (…) vigorously advance Asian cooperation; (…) jointly promote Asian unity.”
Then started the “special military operation” in Ukraine, as Russia calls the conflict in the country – a proxy war between Russia and the US, accompanied with increasing tensions between China and the US over Taiwan.
Hence, the summit is expected to present a position on these erupting conflicts that tackle the entire global political system.
Rashid Alimov, former Secretary General of SCO, says:
“The importance of the SCO as an independent factor in the global political landscape in the context of the formation of new international relations and a multipolar world will only increase. The summit in Samarkand will confirm the existing prominent international authority of the organization.”
Alexander Vorontsov, Head of the Korea and Mongolia Department, Institute of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences, discusses in an article the question whether the SCO will turn into an anti-American bloc. Vorontsov says that Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev Russia’s aspiration to make the SCO the center of resistance to the US and its allies and turn it into a union of its soul-mates, reflected in a speech in the meeting of the SCO security council secretaries in Tashkent on August 19, received criticism from Central Asian countries.
He quotes Central Asian experts with the words: “The intention to turn the SCO into an anti-American platform, as Moscow wants it, is not going to work out.”
Given that Chinese diplomacy also traditionally prefers inclusive statements instead of Cold War speech, this might become true for the statement or the final declaration. But the content proves that the SCO already is uniting in rejecting US hegemonism.
Most important indication are the Hindu-Chinese relations ahead of the summit. Ahead of the summit, both sides continued their disengagement from disputed border regions, as reports the Hindustan Times.
Moreover, India has refused to participate in sanctions against Russia and being used against China within the US-initiated QUAD. Some observers argue that India’s elite considers its place in the world not as a pawn of US hegemonism but an independent and self-confident actor in a multipolar world.
Just recently, on September 10, India has decided to opt out of the US-led Indo-Pacific Economic Framework’s trade chapter.
Summit of conflicting parties
India-China relations are not the example, the summit is a theater for different, conflicting parties to engage in direct or indırect bilateral contacts. India-Pakistan relations, the recent clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan, whose presidents will be at the summit present other cases.
In these, the SCO will also prove its capacity to negotiate between conflicting members.
Broad internal agenda
The summit will also discuss a broad range of SCO-intern topics. the participants will discuss and adopt economic agreements in energy, digitalization, transport, communications, innovations, cutting-edge technologies, and healthcare, as well as a big package of humanitarian initiatives on culture and sports.
Trade in national currencies
A roadmap for gradually increasing the share of national currencies in mutual settlements and cutting down on the use of the US dollar is expected. SCO banks have already boosted cooperation in a recent agreement.
Uzbekistan’s President, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, outlined the priorities and tasks of the chairmanship. These include efforts to raise the potential and authority of the organization, ensure peace and stability in the region, reduce poverty, and ensure food security. Furthermore, he urged putting together a plan for the development of intraregional trade, which will include measures to eliminate trade barriers, align technical regulations and digitalize customs procedures.
The summit will discuss and adopt economic agreements in energy, digitalization, transport, communications, innovations, cutting-edge technologies, and healthcare, as well as a big package of humanitarian initiatives on culture and sports.
Further cooperation with CSTO
The will also concentrate on further advancing the SCO’s cooperation with the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Their secretariats have signed cooperation memorandums. At present, it is essential for the SCO, CIS, and the CSTO to harmonize their efforts in the fight against terrorism, drug trafficking, and organized crime.
This comes along with attempts to better coordinate the SCO members’ positions in international organizations, such as the United Nations.
Thirty coordinated documents have already been prepared, which are aimed at strengthening the multifaceted interaction of the SCO to bring its internal cooperation to an entirely new level, reports New Europe.
The debates will result in a Samarkand Declaration to be published at the end of the summit.
Given that US hegemonism encircles and pressures two members – Russia and China – the Shanghai Cooperation Organization will demonstrate whether it is capable to pave the road to a multipolar world.