On June 9, 2017, Chinese President Xi Jinping attended the 17th meeting of the Council of Heads of State of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Astana, Kazakhstan, and proposed building a community of shared future through construction of the Belt and Road. The summit has charted the course for the SCO by clarifying the current situation facing the organization, as well as its new tasks.
The summit witnessed a milestone event: India and Pakistan became new members of the SCO. As its membership grows, the SCO now covers not only Central Asia but also South Asia, West Asia and the Indian Ocean region, with the combined population of its members rising from 20 percent to 40 percent of the world’s total, and the GDP of its members from 16 percent to over 20 percent. The SCO now includes four nuclear nations, which shoulder a critical responsibility to maintain world peace.
The inclusion of new members will promote coordination between the SCO and BRICS countries and help form a new platform for constructive dialogue between China, Russia and India. The inclusion of India and Pakistan, however, also means future challenges for the SCO. First, the border conflict between India and Pakistan will be the biggest uncertainty. Second, the SCO’s principle of consensus through consultation in decision making could be challenged. Third, more responsibility will come with increased international influence resulting from the expanded geographic and demographic range, so the SCO members must better develop their economies and benefit their peoples. Finally, greater misinterpretation, doubt and vigilance against the SCO could arise in the West.
President Xi declared at the summit that the Shanghai Spirit has inspired a strong sense of solidarity, which ensures the growth of the SCO, and that where there is solidarity, happiness will follow. Aiming to convert challenges into opportunities with persistent solidarity and coordination, the SCO members, old or new, should stick to the Shanghai Spirit and conform to the Charter of the SCO and the Treaty on Long-term Good Neighborliness, Friendship and Cooperation.
The Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, held in China this May, was an overwhelming success. Construction of the Belt and Road is facilitating coordination of development strategies between the SCO members, such as the Eurasian Economic Union, headed by Russia, and Kazakhstan’s Bright Road. China’s cooperation with Russia and Kazakhstan has set a good example for other SCO members and observer states. The SCO has become a major platform for Eurasian countries to coordinate development strategies and jointly build the Belt and Road. India is expected to endorse the Belt and Road Initiative after its inclusion in the SCO alongside Pakistan, which will amplify development strategy coordination among countries along the Belt and Road routes.
The Belt and Road Initiative will accelerate multilateral cooperation between the SCO members via signing and enforcement of an SCO trade facilitation agreement, the formulation of a plan for coordinated development of highroads among SCO member states, and the establishment of a mechanism for sub-national cooperation. In addition, alliances will be formed in the fields of e-commerce and economic think tanks, and the establishment of the SCO Development Bank will be explored. The Belt and Road Initiative creates opportunities for the SCO to thrive, and plans and measures for cooperation will push forward integration of the SCO.
President Xi also noted that security is a prerequisite for development, and that without security, there will be no development to speak of. Since last year, violent terrorist attacks have been frequent in Europe, and terrorist forces including ISIS are expanding, which has resulted in mounting pressure and increasing challenges for SCO member states. China advocates the signing of the SCO Convention on Combating Extremism, which will help curb the expansion of extremism, and make security cooperation and coordination between the SCO members more efficient. China is willing to host the SCO joint counterterrorism cyber exercise again and to hold a defense security forum.
China supports the SCO speaking with one voice on international and regional issues, which will help the organization play a bigger and more constructive role in international affairs. The SCO members will deal with challenges through joint efforts and build a common home of security and stability.
The author is executive director of the Center of SCO Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.