Premier’s visit to enhance economic, security links of SCO

By Wang Wenwen Source:Global Times Published: 2016/11/2 22:38:39

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang's current visit to Kyrgyzstan, to attend the 15th Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) prime ministers' meeting, is set to enhance substantive cooperation between China and Central Asian countries. Economic and trade cooperation, including a free trade zone between SCO members and an SCO development bank, are expected to top the agenda.

The initial objective of the SCO, an intergovernmental organization composed of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, was to demilitarize borders and increase military and counterterrorism cooperation and intelligence sharing.

In recent years, the SCO's profile has been raised, given the new security threats faced by the member states. The SCO provides these countries with an annual cooperative forum to address their interests and ease bilateral tensions. Meanwhile, it has built up capabilities to fight against the three evils, namely terrorism, separatism and extremism.

After a suicide bomber attacked the Chinese embassy in Bishkek in late August, injuring several embassy employees, investigators from the SCO worked on the case to find out who was behind the attack.

At the same time, the SCO is eyeing going beyond security concerns. Economic cooperation, which boasts enormous potential for regional integration, has become one of the bloc's pressing tasks in recent years. At the SCO summit in the Russian city of Ufa in 2015, the SCO set out a Development Strategy that outlines the priority areas of the member countries until 2025. These include creating conditions to boost cooperation in finance, investment and trade.

The establishment of a free trade zone within the SCO is the latest suggestion proposed by China to promote the regional economy and trade. According to an Asian Development Bank-commissioned study late October, Central Asian countries will need investment in power infrastructure worth $94 billion to 2023. The overture is expected to be welcomed by these countries in need of infrastructure and energy investment.

Security cooperation and economic cooperation can be complementary. Security cooperation serves as the premise for economic cooperation, and the latter consolidates the former and enhances mutual trust between countries. Such has been the case within the SCO framework. Sometimes, political, ideology or security factors can be trumped by economic considerations. That is why some countries are cold in their political relations, while their economic ties remain solid and keep thriving.

A free trade zone that includes previous SCO members and India and Pakistan as new members will be of great value to the region, which will in turn coordinate anti-terror efforts and uphold regional security.

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