SCO, with 2 UNSC permanent members, 4 nuclear-weapon states, must be respected
Published: Jun 22, 2021 09:30 PM
Logo of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation's 20th anniversary

Logo of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation's 20th anniversary

Editor's Note: 

Over the past two decades, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) has grown from six to eight member states, with four observer states and six dialogue partners. The member states "include two permanent members of the UN Security Council, and four nuclear powers. It is impossible not to respect such an organization," said Rashid Alimov (Alimov ), former SCO secretary general and distinguished fellow with the Chinese think tank Taihe Institute, told Global Times. How has the SCO blazed a path of cooperation and development under a new type of regional organization? What's its future agenda or plan to engage with more Afghanistan related issues? Alimov shared his views with Global Times (GT) reporters Li Aixin and Xia Wenxin in a written interview. 

GT: This year marks the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the SCO. What do you think are the organization's achievements over the past 20 years? Have they reached, or maybe surpassed, your expectations? What are the SCO's next agenda items? 

I believe that 20 years ago, the founding fathers of the SCO did not expect that within such a short period of time, the organization would become an influential and responsible participant in international relations. Today, the SCO is one of the reliable pillars of the emerging world order that is both representative and fair. This order is based on the rule of international law, primarily the UN Charter.

Since the first days of its operations, the SCO attracted attention and respect. Today it shows no signs of dissipating, only growing. Moreover, it is important that not only countries and organizations located in Eurasia, but also those far beyond this vast region, are drawn into the partnership with the SCO. Just look at the list of countries, international and regional organizations that have so far applied to cooperate with the SCO as either observers or dialogue partners. The UN and its specialized agencies, ASEAN, the Commonwealth of Independent States and Collective Security Treaty Organization have already established (and are successfully enhancing) cooperation with the SCO.

The SCO's voice is not weakening. It is growing stronger on the international stage. It is heard and listened to attentively. This voice is irritating to some, but for many it evokes respect and hope. This is probably because the SCO is seen as a vigorously developing organization with great potential. The admission of India and Pakistan as full-fledged members of the SCO has significantly expanded the geopolitical space of the organization. Let me remind you that it includes two permanent members of the UN Security Council, and four nuclear powers. It is impossible not to respect such an organization.  

When the SCO was founded, as you know, the focus of its priority was Central Asia. In the newly emerging international relations, the tasks that the SCO faces are much broader, and hence the responsibility is higher. Thus, we can say that the SCO has "matured" over the past two decades. It has successfully accomplished the tasks it was assigned in the initial stage, reaching a new quality of performance.

It is anticipated that the anniversary summit of the SCO, which will be held in Dushanbe, capital of the Republic of Tajikistan, on September 16 and 17, 2021, will define a new vector of the organization's development. No matter what occurs at the summit, the main goal of the SCO member states will be to preserve and increase the level of trust between the partners. It will further adapt the organization to complex current realities, evolve, and increase the political weight of the SCO in international affairs. Such an approach will be dictated by the increasing speed of change in the world.

GT: It is often said that the SCO has created a new model for regional cooperation, could you elaborate on what's "new" in the SCO's cooperation? 

The SCO, as an organization, crystallized during the settlement of the remaining border issues from history that involved five countries at the same time: China on one side and Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan on the other. In other words, the "Shanghai Five" was the forerunner of the SCO. Over the period of five years (1996-2001), within the framework of the five, they adapted to one another gradually, sought and worked out mechanisms to solve complex issues based on mutual respect and trust, equality and consultation. The experience gained eventually led to an understanding of the need for a regional structure based on a multilateral partnership. I would not be wrong in saying that the SCO is one of the few international associations, perhaps the first one, in which every member has equal weight, where there are no "senior and junior" partners, "chiefs and subordinates" and all decisions are made by consensus, taking into account the views and positions of each side.

And one more important aspect. The keyword in the name of the organization is "cooperation." The founding fathers of the SCO intended to make cooperation within the organization effective, oriented to a final result for the benefit of everyone. The SCO Charter makes no provision for supranational bodies, and the organization's documents do not contain directives or instructions: They reflect agreements that are jointly implemented with each other's support. This is the main advantage and superiority of the organization, which determines its everlasting attractiveness.

Rashid Alimov  Photo: Coutesy of Taihe Institute

Rashid Alimov Photo: Coutesy of Taihe Institute

GT: The SCO has played a crucial role in maintaining regional peace and stability. What role it could play in restoring security in Afghanistan after the US withdraws its military presence there is attracting more and more attention. What's the SCO's future agenda or plan in engaging more on Afghanistan issues? 

Allow me to recall that the SCO member states were the first to "ring the bell," drawing the attention of the international community to the dangerous threats to regional and international security coming from the territory of Afghanistan that is transnational in nature. Above all, it was about stopping the "export" of international terrorism and the growing drug trafficking. It is possible to counter such threats only by joining efforts.

Unfortunately, statistics show that Afghanistan itself remains a country most affected by terrorism. In 2019, 5,725 people died at the hands of terrorists in Afghanistan, 41 percent of all deaths worldwide. The Taliban is responsible for 87 percent of these deaths. Terrorist attacks with numerous civilian casualties occurred in 2020 and the first half of 2021. While the global economic impact of terrorism in 2019 was $26.4 billion, again, Afghanistan's economy was the most affected - nearly a fifth of its GDP. A similarly disturbing situation is emerging around drug production: 84 percent of global opium is produced in Afghanistan. It is no coincidence that Afghan opium is mentioned in all of the answers to the UN annual report questionnaire for Central Asian/Transcaucasian countries from 2014 to 2018. 

Clearly, the scope and acuteness of the growing problems, including the political and diplomatic resolution of the intra-Afghan conflict, are concerns for the entire international community. For a long time, the UN has been playing the leading role in the Afghan settlement. The SCO supports its efforts and contributes to Afghanistan's return to the path of peace and stability. Afghanistan has observer status in the SCO. The SCO-Afghanistan High-Level Contact Group operates within the organization, whose next meeting will be held in mid-July 2021 in Dushanbe. It is expected to discuss the SCO's response to new challenges and threats that may arise following the withdrawal of US troops and its coalition from the territory of Afghanistan. It is also possible to adopt a plan of practical measures to promote the socio-economic reconstruction of Afghanistan.

The main thing: the Afghan factor, given its "many-sidedness," is a serious challenge not only for the countries of the region, but also for the whole world. Experience has shown that the "Afghan knot" cannot be "cut with an ax," not even by such seemingly "indestructible" ones as modern troops of the US and its allies. There is no military solution to the Afghanistan issue. It is important for the SCO to continue working closely with the international community, especially the UN, to ensure a predictable future for Afghanistan.

GT: In a previous interview, you mentioned, Russia and China have become role models of cooperation between the world's major powers and are thus bringing stability to the world. It is worth noting, however, the US has been increasingly vigilant toward the closer China-Russia ties lately while hyping the possibility of a "military alliance" between them. How do you view the mind-set behind the vigilance and hype?

: China and Russia are two neighboring countries that have been closely linked for over 400 years. The nature and scale of their relations of comprehensive strategic partnership, especially in the last two decades, demonstrates one of the defining factors of modern international life. It is a fact. China and Russia have a tangible impact on the ratio of political forces in the world, constructive influence on the course of international events, and global economic development. This is also an undeniable fact. Strengthening relations between China and Russia is not targeted against third countries. Quite the contrary, the strategic partnership between China and Russia has a positive impact on their foreign policy, which can be called the benchmark for the quality of relations with other countries. By the way, it was the overlap of Chinese and Russian views on the situation in Central Asia that was the key factor for the creation of the SCO in 2001, in which a culture of dialogue and mutual respect prevails.

The US continues its policy of projecting its interests onto the entire world. The slogan "America is back" confirms this. However, the world has fundamentally changed and does not accept one-polar domination. The unipolar world, before it had even taken place, was gone in history, and it is already a fait accompli.

GT: You once stressed that the SCO is not a NATO in Asia. What do you think is SCO's biggest difference from NATO?

Even a blind man can distinguish sand from powder, let alone the fundamental differences between the SCO and NATO. First, the SCO statutory documents do not even hint that the organization may acquire the features of a political-military bloc, not even in the distant future. Second, none of the SCO founding states and new members has ever raised this or any other similar issue. Third, the "edge" of regular joint military exercises is "sharpened" exclusively to practice skills to counter terrorist attacks. NATO is a vestige of the Cold War. The SCO is an international organization of partnership with a constructive agenda that looks to the future.

GT: Washington has been ganging up with allies against Moscow and Beijing. Some say that the US is dividing the world into two opposing camps again. Against this backdrop, could SCO, as an open and inclusive organization, pose a hedging effect or counter measure? 

To divide the world to do what? To dominate it? These are already "archived" pages of history. There should be no return to such practices. Unification is necessary, but we need unification against the challenges and threats to humanity. An example of unification from recent history is the anti-Hitler coalition. This ultimately led to the great victory over fascism in World War II. In today's world, there are urgent problems that affect everyone on our planet - international terrorism and cybercrime, climate change and pandemics, drug trafficking and extremism, regional conflict... The list goes on. Joining efforts on these fronts is vital in the interests of all humanity.

The SCO is exactly doing this. The activity of the organization has never been, and will never be, directed against anybody. It is grounded in the SCO Charter and The Treaty of Good-Neighborliness and Friendly Cooperation between the People's Republic of China and the Russian Federation. These two documents are also the fundamental basis of the partnership relations among the SCO member states. Covering a significant geopolitical area of the planet, the organization faces many (and in fact all) known forms and manifestations of both traditional and new challenges and threats. At the same time, the SCO demonstrates an example of collective counteraction to them. It also successfully cooperates in this area with the UN and other interested international organizations.

For example, the SCO's Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure, which coordinates its efforts with the UN Counter-Terrorism Centre, works effectively to warn and prevent threats posed by extremists. There are also constructive interactions in other areas. There is every reason to assert that the SCO's contribution to global security, as well as to the global economy and sustainable development, will grow. This contribution will not be ensured through "confrontation" with anyone. It will manifest itself by the strengthening of interrelations within the organization and cooperation with external partners.