Chinese President Xi Jinping (second right) and other leaders of member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), pose for a group photo before the 15th SCO summit in Ufa, Russia, on July 10 (XINHUA)
After 14 years of development, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) has set its sights on goals for the next decade at the 15th meeting of the Council of SCO Heads of State that was held in Ufa, the capital of Russia's Bashkortostan Republic, on July 9-10.
The SCO, established in Shanghai in 2001, is committed to building friendly neighbor relations and maintaining security and stability in the Central Asian region through multilateral cooperation.
Leaders of the SCO member states--China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan--approved the SCO Development Strategy for 2015 to 2025 at the Ufa summit, mapping out a comprehensive blueprint for the group's cooperation in a wide range of fields of politics, security, economy and people-to-people exchanges.
Meanwhile, with the entry of India and Pakistan into the organization, SCO will become a powerful regional security and development bloc which occupies a territory of over 30 million square km, or three-fifths of the Eurasian continent, with a population of about 1.5 billion people--a quarter of the world's population. Their combined GDP exceeded $15 trillion in 2014, which also made up a quarter of the world's economy.
Roadmap for development
According to the strategy, in the upcoming 10 years, SCO member states will focus on consolidating mutual trust and friendly neighboring relations, working closely to cope with security challenges, deepening economic and trade ties, and extending cooperation to technology, health and education. In regional and world affairs, the SCO will enhance coordination with other international organizations, including the United Nations. The strategy also encourages SCO member states to promote economic cooperation through participation in the China-proposed Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road Initiatives, also known collectively as the Belt and Road Initiative.
Implementing the strategy will help lift the SCO's influence in regional affairs and guarantee that the SCO will participate in important international issues more effectively, said the SCO Secretary General Dmitry Fedorovich Mezentsev.
Sun Zhuangzhi, researcher at the Center of Shanghai Cooperation Organization Studies under the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, said to Xinhua News Agency that as the SCO enters into the second phase of decade-long development in 2016, it is reasonable for member states to consider how they will continue their cooperation more closely within the multilateral framework.
To be specific, in security, member states need to work together to fight against terror threats and transnational crimes. Regarding the economy, member states will make efforts to facilitate trade and investment. In particular, establishing a development bank for SCO member states has been discussed during the Ufa summit. Furthermore, SCO member states agreed to pay more attention to cooperation and exchange on culture and education, Sun said.
SCO leaders have ratified a resolution initiating India and Pakistan's process to full membership of the organization, another significant outcome of the Ufa summit. The summit also elevated Belarus from dialogue partner to observer and took in Azerbaijan, Armenia, Cambodia and Nepal as new dialogue partners, according to a declaration issued at the Ufa summit.
"The organization expansion shows that the SCO is attractive and cohesive," said Xu Xiujun, researcher at the Institute of World Economics and Politics under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. "With the joining of new member states, SCO cooperation will reach new heights."
The SCO is aware that some of the current problems in Central Asia extend beyond the borders of SCO member states. Moreover, terror threats have also spilled over from the Middle East to Central and South Asia. The SCO cannot tackle these challenges with cooperation limited to only six member countries. Therefore, the SCO needs to expand its membership and upgrade its mechanism of operations in order to play a bigger role in regional security cooperation, Xu said.
The SCO's membership will expand to South Asia with India and Pakistan joining in. In the future, SCO is expected to focus on building two platforms. One is to serve as a platform for promoting mutual understanding and dialogue among member states. The other is to provide help for the development of member states, Sun said.
For the last 14 years, the SCO has been recognized as a non-aligned multilateral organization without aim at any third party. The SCO's reputation is growing among neighboring countries, which are willing to carry out cooperation and dialogue with the organization. The SCO believes that a multilateral structure is a world trend. Its aims and principles have been accepted by more and more countries, which will help build a fairer and more reasonable international order, Sun said.
Chen Yurong, Director of the Department for European-Central Asian Studies under China Institute of International Studies, said to Xinhua News Agency that the SCO wants to do more to resolve regional issues, and to this end, its membership requires expansion.
But why do India and Pakistan become the first group of new members?
Wang Xiaowei, a professor at Lomonosov Moscow State University, told Oriental Morning Post that both India and Pakistan are two major countries in South Asia. They expressed their eagerness to join SCO long ago. As the SCO's influence is growing, India and Pakistan hope to participate in regional affairs through this organization more actively.
Joining the SCO will help safeguard the security interests of India and Pakistan. Currently, terrorism is rampant in both Central and South Asia and will become more serious as the United States withdraws combat troops from Afghanistan. It is expected that Taliban will rebound in the country, especially in border areas, to Pakistan. Both India and Pakistan need to enhance cooperation with the SCO as fighting against terrorism is one of their shared missions.
Becoming a member state of the SCO will also help promote economic growth in India and Pakistan, Wang said.
SCO has proposed member states to take steps to facilitate connectivity in Central Asia.
During Chinese President Xi Jinping's state visit to Moscow in May, China and Russia reached a consensus on integrating the Silk Road Economic Belt initiative with the Russia-proposed Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) framework, which is aimed at promoting economic integration in the region.
Apparently, India and Pakistan don't want to miss the opportunity, Wang said.
In recent years, India has embraced rapid growth and has become a major market for energy consumption. After joining the SCO, Indian could better pursue cooperation with Russia and Central Asian countries, which have abundant energy resources. As for Pakistan, it has strong needs for cooperation with the SCO on countering terrorism and economic development, Wang said.
Furthermore, as is known to all, territorial disputes have not been fully resolved between India and Pakistan. The SCO could serve as a dialogue platform for the two countries to alleviate border tensions and improve relations in a multilateral framework, said Hu Jian, researcher with Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.
However, the SCO faces new challenges as the organization expansion starts, Sun said. For example, the SCO must reform its infrastructure to prepare for new members. In particular, the organization needs to find a better way to set agenda and make policies more efficiently, Sun said.
SCO After Expansion
Member States: China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan
Observer States: Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran, Mongolia
Dialogue Partners: Azerbaijan, Armenia, Cambodia, Nepal, Turkey, Sri Lanka
Copyedited by Eric Daly
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