On June 10, 2018, at the 18th summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), as Chinese President Xi Jinping handed over the chairmanship to Kyrgyzstan’s President Sooronbai Jeenbekov and promised China's full support in preparing the next summit, his short but succinct opening speech had already outlined how China will continue to play a leading role in the construction of the SCO's community of shared future.
What made this speech of President Xi especially noticeable was that, Canada on the same day was hosting the industrialized nations G7 summit which made this expanding leadership vacuum all the more glaring, creating grounds for SCO nations to accept their expanded responsibilities in formulating global discourses and initiatives. Juxtaposed with President Xi's January 2017 speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, his words at the SCO Qingdao summit appeared almost prophetic, forecasting evolving global geopolitics and the SCO's role in it.
While photographs of these two leadership huddles showed the SCO summit full of enthusiasm and bonhomie, the body language of G7 leaders betrayed their anguish and anxieties. Most G7 nations blamed it on President Trump’s whimsical policies towards his allies, the most recent being his arbitrary raising of trade tariffs. Refusing to sign on their joint communique, Trump had called host Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau "dishonest and weak." The Qingdao Declaration on the other hand reflected consensus, confidence and commitment about various time-bound plans of action. Meanwhile, China hosting dozens of year-long SCO meetings and its summit has further cemented President Xi’s credibility as a global leader in ensuring equitable, free and open trade for shared prosperity.
Xi's Qingdao speech included three broad themes:
First, his message was clear that the time is up for any "self-centered, short sighted and close-door policies" which left no doubt that it was directed at President Trump’s recent protectionist policies. He underlined the need to "reject Cold War mentality and confrontation between blocs and oppose the practice of seeking absolute security on oneself at the expense of others." Vibrations of this message were felt worldwide as the contrast was clear in the exclusive nature of G7 and the inclusive approach of the SCO.
Second, Xi outlined several generous offers that will keep China integral to the SCO community building. China will train 2,000 law enforcement officers of SCO nations in next three years. For forging closer people-to-people ties for building the SCO family in sectors of education, science and technology, culture, tourism, health, disaster relief and media, Xi offered to provide 3,000 training opportunities of human resources development for SCO member countries. For supporting development projects, Xi announced setting up of a RMB 30 billion special lending facility within the framework of the SCO Interbank Consortium. Also, on the Belt and Road Initiative that he put forward, Xi underlined the new thinking of "delivering shared benefits through extensive consultations and joint contribution."
Finally, Xi here talked of the SCO's guiding Shanghai Spirit inculcating respect for cultural diversity where mutual learning will help it overcome the sinister ‘clash of civilizations theory. Xi said democracy in international relations has become an unstoppable trend of the times. This is where he called for upholding what he called "innovative, coordinated, green, open and inclusive development" as key to ensuring "common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security." Xi's Qingdao speech outlined his broad vision for future and how the SCO could emerge as a model to reckon with.
The author is a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and senior fellow at the Charhar Institute, Beijing.