SCO: A New Model for Close, Inclusive International Relations

—Interview of Wang Xiaoquan, Executive deputy director, Secretary General Belt and Road Research Center under Chinese Academy of Social Sciences
by Li Zhuoxi

Why does the world need the SCO?

The SCO is very important for the world because it is unique. As a new type of organization both sponsored and organized by developing countries, it follows the “Shanghai Spirit” characterized by mutual trust, mutual respect, equality, respect for diverse civilizations and pursuit of shared development The SCO operates under this principle. So it can play a major role in building a new political and economic order for the world. For example, in the sphere of politics, it stresses that all countries are equal, regardless of size and power. Members negotiate and make decisions on equal footing. It recognizes and supports the UN’s role as a core platform for handling international affairs. It supports the UN Charter and systems of International Law under the framework of UN. Considering these conditions, this organization can greatly promote more democratic international relations, In terms of security, the organization seeks mutual trust on security through exchange rather than absolute unilateral security. To solve existing problems such as border disputes and the emergence of terrorism, mutual trust can be very effective. As for the cultural exchange of the SCO, we respect the diversity of civilizations. SCO features Indian civilization, Chinese Civilization, Russian civilization and its orthodox church and Islamic civilization. With several contrasting groups included, the group should pinpoint how to be inclusive, learn from each other and promote joint development that fosters a harmonious regional order rather than attempting to unify civilizations under a single civilization. I believe that endeavors under the framework of the SCO will create a more harmonious and more inclusive world.

What are the benefits and challenges for new member India?

For India, joining the SCO was a big issue, due to the influence of the organization and India’s proximity to SCO countries. The benefits for India are obvious. First, it gets the mechanism and platform for exchange  with the original six SCO countries. India can strengthen its cooperation with SCO member states in fields including politics, economics, security, and culture. In addition, the SCO can help solve certain regional problems that continue to plague India because it cannot fix them alone. The problem of Afghanistan is one example. For a long time, India has desired for cooperation with Central Asian states and Russia. But Afghanistan is in the way. The country is a transportation junction and the gateway to Central Asia for India. In this context, how can the Afghanistan problem be solved? SCO member states surround the country geographically. SCO countries are all keen on restoring the peace and stability in Afghanistan and helping promote its growth. If the problem of Afghanistan could actually be solved through joint efforts of the SCO, India could build a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan, through Afghanistan to reach Pakistan and India. India could then also trade and conduct exchange over land-based connections with Russia and Central Asian countries. Such possibilities are attractive to India. Of course, there are still many challenges. For example, after joining in the SCO, India needs to adapt to the existing legal and cooperation framework and mechanism of the SCO. But that is just a technical problem. In my opinion, the biggest challenge for India is how to manage its relations with the U.S. America is incessantly pushing its Indo-Pacific Strategy, which obviously targets China and even Russia or the SCO as well. In this context, India hopes to avoid problems or disputes with other SCO member states. On the other hand, under the framework of Indo-Pacific Strategy, India is strengthening its cooperation with the U.S., Japan and Australia in areas including defense, which could kindle suspicion from China, Russia and other SCO member states. How to handle these relations? How to build mutual trust and cooperation of at higher levels with SCO member states? This will be a challenge for India.

How will India’s admission impact China-India relations?

India’s entry will exert a very positive influence on China-India relations. Despite the Dong Lang standoff and other problems, honestly, considering the world order and international affairs, China and India have many common interests and common ground. In fact, China and India both pursue peace. They are both ancient civilizations with no history of aggression and expansion. I believe that many problems plaguing relations between the two countries are misunderstandings caused by asymmetry on information or a lack of exchange, or seeds of doubt sown by outside parties hoping to drive a wedge between the two. Considering this situation, the SCO offers more opportunities for exchanges between China and India. Working together will likely eliminate many misunderstandings. Another major problem is that India actually doesn’t support the Belt and Road Initiative because the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor passes through the disputed Kashmir region. How can such a situation be smoothed out so that construction of the initiative goes full-throttle? I believe that the multilateral economic cooperation of the SCO offers a solution. Many multilateral economic projects under the framework of BRI can be regarded as the multilateral economic cooperation project under the framework of SCO. In this way, India can avoid the political deadlock, and the Initiative can be implemented in set terms. With India’s support, new projects can be launched and greater prosperity achieved.

Can the SCO bring India and Pakistan closer?

Definitely. When analyzing whether to invite India and Pakistan to join in the SCO, the most controversial factor is that the frequent disputes between those two countries might be brought before the SCO, which could hinder the efficiency of the organization. But we should remember that the problems wedged between them were not created by the two countries, but left by others in history. To some extent, the problem was created by colonists and is still being used to counterbalance the two neighbors. It is not a good thing for either India or Pakistan. How to communicate effectively? Actually both parties are all working on it. The SCO provides a whole new platform for them, in my opinion. With the help of the SCO, cooperation between these two countries can be enhanced. The effects are already emerging. On May 23, India dispatched a very important delegation to Pakistan to attend an anti-terrorism meeting of the SCO. Why is that such a big deal? In 2016, India refused to attend a meeting on South Asian cooperation held in Pakistan. The reason for the boycott was that India believed Pakistan was supporting trans-border terrorists groups. On the platform of SCO two years later, both countries’ participation in a meeting will be greatly helpful. Moreover, as I mentioned, SCO has successful experience in managing border disputes. I believe that SCO can accomplish this task. It can ease the tension and promote the India-Pakistan relations and deepen their cooperation.

What key topics are you looking forward to?

The summit in Qingdao will be monumental. It is the first meeting after the SCO’s expansion that gave the organization far-reaching influence in areas such as economy. A total of 43% of the world’s population resides in SCO member states. Over 20% of world’s GDP is created by SCO countries. How best to cooperate in such a huge space, especially considering that India and Pakistan’s culture, religion and political system are much different from other member states. Due to such aspects, I’m afraid new consensus should be reached. And the “Shanghai Spirit” should also be enriched. So I hope the “Shanghai Spirit” will be strengthened at this summit. Within a larger area, if political consensus and ideas for cooperation across eight member states can be made sure again, the meeting will be historic. I expect breakthroughs in this realm. On the other hand, expansion brings more opportunities than challenges. It fosters more space for cooperation. Such a big population. Big market. So many resources. How to coordinate for more cooperation and joint development? I also hope this summit will produce breakthroughs on pragmatic cooperation on security and economy.