As the first international organization named after a Chinese city, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) can benefit China in many ways, helping Beijing participate in Central Asian affairs, enhance trust with Moscow and New Delhi, promote its Belt and Road Initiative, and maintain security in northwest China, according to a report by three top Chinese think tanks.
The report, which evaluates the progress of the regional bloc since its foundation in 2001, was compiled by the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China, the Institute for Central Asian Studies at China's Lanzhou University and the Global Governance Research Center at Renmin University of China. It was released ahead of the 18th SCO Summit in east China's Qingdao this weekend.
I. The SCO shows how China's visions for international relations work.
The SCO, grown from the "Shanghai Five" mechanism, has been playing important roles in China's relationship with its neighboring countries, including Russia and some of former Soviet Union republics in Central Asia.
In the 1990s, China and these newly independent countries engaged in a series of talks over border disputes and reached agreements, laying the foundation for the creation of the "Shanghai Five" mechanism and the SCO and further regional cooperation. The report describes the SCO as the first international organization originated from talks to resolve border issues.
The SCO is also the first international organization underpinned by values such as mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality, consultation, respect for diverse civilizations and pursuit of common development, known as the Shanghai Spirit.
All SCO members, regardless of size, political systems and levels of development, have equal say in the organization, which rejects power politics and advocates democratization of international relations. The countries have formed a "new community of common security and common interests" through cooperation, the report says.
The Shanghai Spirit is consistent with the China-proposed "new type of international relations" and Beijing's vision of "building a community of shared future for mankind." So cooperation within the SCO can demonstrate how China's diplomatic visions work in practice, especially after the admission of India and Pakistan as full members last year.
Besides, the SCO is "the only mature and stable multilateral cooperation mechanism through which China can participate in Central Asian affairs," the report indicates, calling the bloc an important platform for China's diplomacy with its neighbors.
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II. The SCO helps China adjust its ties with major regional powers.
"The strategic partnership of coordination between China and Russia was the foundation for the SCO's creation," says the report. The SCO in turn became a platform for the two countries to discuss their concerns, coordinate stances and expand cooperation, it adds.
In 2011, China and Russia elevated their ties to comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination. Apart from regular meetings between their political leaders, the two largest countries of the SCO have established cooperation mechanisms in areas such as energy, investment, trade, culture and security. They have also reached agreement on pairing the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative and the Russia-led Eurasia Economic Union.
The SCO has fostered and strengthened political and strategic trust between China and Russia, the report says, noting that the bilateral ties could become closer after US President Donald Trump referred to both countries as "revisionist powers" and "competitors" when announcing his national security strategy last December.
"The SCO has also become an important platform for China and Russia to resist Western pressure through coordination and cooperation," the report stresses.
Meanwhile, it believes the SCO can help China and India adjust their relations, suggesting that the South Asian power's integration into the SCO economic, trade, financial and security cooperation may ease tensions between the two countries and deepen their cooperation.
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III. The SCO is indispensable for building the Belt and Road.
Proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, the Belt and Road Initiative comprises the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, and aims to build trade and infrastructure networks connecting Asia with Europe and Africa along and beyond the ancient Silk Road routes.
As all SCO countries are situated along the Belt and Road routes, the organization is an "indispensable platform" for implementing the initiative, according to the report.
Firstly, the mutual trust that has been accumulated over the years between China and other SCO members is helpful for their cooperation over Belt and Road projects. Secondly, as a regional cooperation mechanism, the SCO can provide a number of cooperation platforms for discussing and implementing Belt and Road projects. Thirdly, in addition to its eight member states, the SCO also has six dialogue partners and four observer states, all of which can participate in building the Belt and Road.
In addition, the SCO can serve as a platform for China to align its Belt and Road Initiative with development strategies of other member states, such as Russia's Eurasia Economic Union and Greater Eurasian Partnership programs, Kazakhstan's Strategic Development Plan 2025 and Bright Path program, Uzbekistan's program for Modernization and Diversification of Production in 2015–2019, Tajikistan's National Development Strategy 2016-2030 and India's National Monsoon Mission.
All these strategies must be carried out in an open international market, the report says, noting that SCO countries can achieve win-win cooperation and coordinated development by aligning their development plans.
IV. The SCO has contributed to maintaining security and stability in northwest China.
Committed to maintaining peace, security and stability in the region, the SCO has been making joint efforts to crack down the "three evil forces," namely terrorism, extremism and separatism.
The organization has established multi-layered, comprehensive and effective mechanisms in security cooperation. In June 2001, member states signed the Shanghai Convention on Combating Terrorism, Separatism and Extremism. In January 2014, the SCO Anti-Terrorism Center opened in Tashkent, capital of Uzbekistan. At the Astana summit last year, the SCO Anti-Extremism Convention was adopted. By the end of 2017, the SCO had held over ten joint anti-terror drills under names such as "Peace Mission" and "Tianshan."
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Security cooperation within the SCO framework has helped China maintain security and stability in its northwestern region, where the so-called "East Turkistan Islamic Movement" launched more than 200 terrorist attacks from 1990 to 2001. Among the terrorist group's 50 branches in the 1990s, over 40 were active outside China. Since the foundation of the SCO, the "East Turkistan Islamic Movement" has been significantly weakened and its direct contact with overseas terrorist forces has been reduced, according to the report.
Moreover, the SCO is expanding security cooperation to battles against drug trafficking, transnational organized crime, arms trafficking and illegal migration, benefiting all member states.
SCO countries can also work together to ensure security along the Belt and Road routes, the report indicates.