Figure of Eight
In its enlarged format the Shanghai Cooperation Organization champions a new model of regional cooperation
By Sun Zhuangzhi  ·  2018-06-02  ·   Source: | NO. 23 JUNE 7, 2018

Military bands from Shanghai Cooperation Organization member countries perform at the opening ceremony of a military band festival at a square of the Juyongguan Pass of the Great Wall in Beijing on April 24 (XINHUA)

At the upcoming 18th Meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Council of Heads of State, the first summit since the expansion of its membership, leaders of the eight member states will map the future of a larger organization. The meeting, to be held in Qingdao, east China's Shandong Province, in June, will also see the release of milestone documents that codify their consensus. All this will further enhance the solidarity and influence of the SCO.


The SCO came into being against a distinct international backdrop in the aftermath of the Cold War. It was created as a new regional mechanism to meet the needs of countries in the region to maintain stability and promote shared development. Under the Shanghai Five grouping, predecessor to the SCO, China, Russia and countries in Central Asia not only defused risks stemming from long-term confrontation between China and the Soviet Union but also succeeded in building mutual confidence militarily and achieving disarmament in border areas. In addition, they launched joint law enforcement and border defense cooperation programs in a bid to cope with non-traditional security threats, especially extremism, terrorism and separatism as well as trans-border crimes such as drug trafficking.

After the SCO was founded in 2001, collaboration in security was expanded to cover a wider range of issues with the signing of a series of legal instruments and the introduction of several mechanisms for dialogue. The SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure was set up in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, as a standing body through which to conduct information sharing and joint anti-terrorism exercises on an increasingly regular basis. The SCO often takes a coordinated stance on security hotspots and has become a pivotal force for regional stability.

As security cooperation yields results, the SCO has begun attaching equal importance to synchronizing strategies in the economic, cultural and political arenas. Economic ties, which lay the material foundation for the SCO, are essential to the organization's growing dynamism and appeal. The Program of Multilateral Trade and Economic Cooperation was signed at an SCO prime ministers' meeting in Beijing in 2003. Later, members identified 11 priority areas and 127 key projects, and established seven working groups within the framework of the economy and trade ministers' meeting. They have made trade and investment facilitation the goal for economic cooperation at the current stage while boosting joint action in areas such as energy, transportation, finance, customs, agriculture and industrial capacity. By combining multilateral and bilateral initiatives, the SCO has contributed to its members' pursuit of mutually beneficial outcomes and common prosperity.

The organization has also inaugurated meetings of senior officials in charge of sectors such as culture, education, science and technology, health, environmental protection and tourism. The SCO University has been established involving dozens of educational institutions in member states. Various cultural, artistic, media and youth exchange programs are being held to improve cross-cultural understanding and friendship among the people of SCO nations.


The SCO has adapted to profound changes in the international landscape and spearheaded the rapid development of multilateral cooperation with an innovative approach. The Shanghai Spirit, a code of conduct characterized by reciprocal trust, mutual benefit, equality, consultation, respect for cultural diversity and pursuit of common development, as well as new concepts of security and cooperation advocated by China have become the foundational principles of the organization. These ideas are a drastic departure from Cold War thinking and power politics as they call for establishing partnerships instead of military alliances while opposing zero-sum geopolitical games. They have helped safeguard the interests of emerging economies and developing countries, representing a new direction for regional cooperation.

In the SCO, economic development varies greatly from member to member. Social systems, cultural traditions, geographic environments and national defense capabilities are also markedly different across national borders. Regional cooperation requires acknowledging these disparities before members can reach consensus, acting accordingly to define reasonable objectives and trajectories, and developing full potential for future cooperation.

Despite myriad challenges, the SCO continues to make great strides forward. This is reflected by the fact that an increasing number of countries and international organizations have expressed their intention to work closely with the organization. In 2004, Mongolia became the first observer of the SCO and in the following years five new observers and six dialogue partners were admitted, expanding the institution's geographic space for cooperation. The SCO has also become an observer of the UN General Assembly as its constructive voice on international affairs becomes better heard.

The political will of SCO leaders is a primary factor in the institution's growth. Bilateral relations of a strategic nature, especially effective communication between heads of state, are conducive to executive decision-making in favor of multilateral cooperation. A solid legal foundation has also played its part. The SCO has signed a number of important agreements including the SCO Charter, the Treaty of Long-Term Good-Neighborliness, Friendliness and Cooperation, and the Shanghai Convention on Combating Terrorism, Extremism and Separatism, establishing the basic principles for cooperation.

Last but not least, the leading role of major countries is aptly recognized. Indeed, the extension of the China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination on a regional dimension makes it possible for the SCO to engage in extensive multilateral collaboration. China's contributions are considerable, including the provision of more than $22 billion concessionary loans to other member states as well as the funding of training sessions and exchange programs.


The SCO upholds the principles of openness and transparency while emphasizing the importance of not inciting rivalries with other organizations and states. Having entered into partnerships with many international organizations, the SCO is not exclusive of other multilateral mechanisms that exert influence in the region. It supports the implementation of various transnational initiatives with the belief that regional issues should be resolved politically through collaboration.

A symbol of this vision came as the SCO held an international conference on Afghanistan in 2009, to which delegates from many nations and international organizations including the United States and European countries were invited. After China proposed the Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road Initiative in 2013, which aims to enhance connectivity along and beyond the routes of the ancient Silk Road, the SCO provided a platform for countries in the region to align their development strategies. It has offered assistance to several transnational projects and multilateral initiatives in Central Asia, such as the EU-led construction of highways and the nuclear-free zone initiative put forward by Central Asian states.

The maneuvering of some major world powers has fueled tension between nations as well as generating instability within certain countries themselves, exacerbating the complexity of the region's security landscape. Anti-terrorism efforts in Syria and Iraq are plagued with new uncertainties. The SCO calls for respecting the authority of the UN and norms of international law while standing against intervention into the domestic affairs of countries in the region by external actors.

Since its inception, the SCO has been harried with questions as to its mission and function. Critics have been vocal in their prejudices, primarily by way of cynical predictions and pejorative rhetoric. Some Western scholars have gone so far as to claim that the SCO intends to act as an "eastern NATO" ready to confront the West, while some analysts speculate that competition between China and Russia in Central Asia will undermine the organization's internal unity. Since the accession of India and Pakistan last year, the number of doubters has increased. They argue that conflicts between India and Pakistan, and China and India will make it difficult for the SCO to operate, and that the organization may even face the risk of collapse.

These arguments are not grounded in fact. Cooperation has always been the defining feature of relations between China and Russia as well as between China and India, which is in the interest of all three countries.

The SCO will not become a military or political alliance, nor a bloc that is antagonistic to the West and competes with it for spheres of influence. The Qingdao Summit will illustrate the commitment of SCO members and observers to building a community in which countries across the region share the same future, with interests intertwined based on extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits. Their cooperation can not only change the outlook of Eurasia, but is also indicative of how global governance can be improved and how China's vision for a community with a shared future for mankind can be turned into reality.

Timeline of Previous SCO Summits


Date: June 9, 2017

City: Astana, Kazakhstan

Leaders present at the meeting signed the Astana Declaration of the SCO Heads of State, the SCO Convention on Countering Terrorism, Separatism and Extremism and other documents.

India and Pakistan were formally granted SCO membership at the meeting.


Date: June 24, 2016

City: Tashkent, Uzbekistan

The Tashkent Declaration on the 15th Anniversary of the SCO was signed, along with a resolution on the approval of the Action Plan for 2016-20 on the Implementation of the SCO Development Strategy Toward 2025, among other documents.


Date: July 10, 2015

Date: Ufa, Russia

The Ufa Declaration was issued, a series of documents including the SCO Development Strategy Toward 2025 were approved, and the Agreement on Border Defense Cooperation among SCO Member States was signed.


Date: September 12, 2014

City: Dushanbe, Tajikistan

The Dushanbe Declaration and the Agreement among the Governments of SCO Member States on International Road Transport Facilitation were signed, while amendments to the Procedures of Granting SCO Membership and the Memo Template of Obligations for Applicant States to Join the SCO were approved.


Date: September 13, 2013

City: Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

The heads of state present at the meeting jointly signed and issued the Bishkek Declaration of the Heads of State of the SCO and approved the Guidelines for the Implementation of the Provisions of the Treaty of Long-Term Good-Neighborliness, Friendship and Cooperation Among SCO Member States (2013-17).

The SCO Good-Neighborliness, Friendship and Cooperation Committee was established.


Dates: June 6-7, 2012

City: Beijing, China

Leaders present at the meeting signed 10 documents including the Declaration of the Heads of State of the SCO on Building a Region with Lasting Peace and Common Prosperity.

It was unanimously agreed to admit Afghanistan as an SCO observer and Turkey as an SCO dialogue partner.


Date: June 15, 2011

City: Astana, Kazakhstan

The Astana Declaration on the 10th Anniversary of the SCO was signed, creating a strategic plan for the development of the organization over the next 10 years.


Date: June 11, 2010

City: Tashkent, Uzbekistan

The Declaration of the 10th Meeting of the Heads of State of the SCO was issued and the Regulations on the Admittance of New SCO Members and the Procedures and Rules of the SCO were approved.


Dates: June 15, 2009

Date: Yekaterinburg, Russia

Documents including the Yekaterinburg Declaration and the Counterterrorism Convention were signed.

Belarus and Sri Lanka were granted status as SCO dialogue partners.


Date: August 28, 2008

City: Dushanbe, Tajikistan

The meeting produced documents including the Dushanbe Declaration of the Heads of State of the SCO and the Regulations on the Dialogue Partner Status of the SCO.


Date: August 16, 2007

City Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

The Treaty of Long-Term Good-Neighborliness, Friendship and Cooperation Among SCO Member States was signed, providing a legal form to the idea of "friendship for generations and peace forever" among the peoples of SCO member states.


Date: June 15, 2006

City: Shanghai, China

A long-term plan on the development of the SCO in accordance with the principles of the Shanghai Spirit was put forward, aimed at deepening pragmatic cooperation and promoting peaceful development.

Documents including the Declaration on the Fifth Anniversary of the SCO were also signed.


Date: July 5, 2005

City: Astana, Kazakhstan

The Declaration of the Heads of State of the SCO was signed, and participants decided to give observer status to India, Iran and Pakistan.


Date: June 17, 2004

City: Tashkent, Uzbekistan

Leaders present at the meeting officially launched the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure of the SCO, signed and approved documents including the Tashkent Declaration and the Anti-Drugs Cooperation Agreement, and decided to take new initiatives to promote pragmatic cooperation on security and the economy, as well as establishing a cooperative mechanism between the ministries of foreign affairs of member states.

The Tashkent Summit marked the end of the three-year founding stage of the SCO and entry into a new period of development.

Mongolia was inducted as an SCO



Date: May 29, 2003

City: Moscow, Russia

Important issues were discussed on how to seize opportunities, meet challenges, strengthen coordination, expand cooperation and promote regional peace and development, reaching broad consensus.

The Declaration of the Heads of State of the SCO was signed.


Date: June 7, 2002

City: St. Petersburg, Russia

Three important documents were signed, namely, the SCO Charter, the Agreement on the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure and the Declaration of the Heads of State of the SCO, laying an institutional and legislative foundation for the organization.


Date: June 15, 2001

City: Shanghai, China

At the meeting, the heads of state of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan signed the Declaration on the Establishment of the SCO.

(Compiled by Beijing Review)

Timeline of Previous SCO Summits

Copyedited by Laurence Coulton

Comments to yulintao@bjreview.com


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