Xi calls for enhanced solidarity, mutual trust among SCO members
Iran’s accession to SCO marks second-round expansion of the organization, helps enhance its global influence: expert
Published: Jul 04, 2023 10:14 PM
Chinese President Xi Jinping and other senior officials of China attend the 23rd meeting of the Council of Heads of State of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) via video conference from Beijing on July 4, 2023. Photo: Xinhua

Chinese President Xi Jinping and other senior Chinese officials attend the 23rd meeting of the Council of Heads of State of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization via video conference from Beijing on July 4, 2023. Photo: Xinhua

Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday called members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) to follow the right direction and enhance solidarity and mutual trust, while stressing that the historical trend of peace, development and win-win cooperation is unstoppable.

Xi made the remarks while attending the SCO summit via video link on Tuesday. Meanwhile, the organization ushered in a symbolic move as Iran formally became a member on the same day, which experts said marked the second-round expansion of the SCO. Inclusion of more members can not only help elevate SCO's global influence, but also steel the organization for the impact of the ever-changing international situation, said experts. 

Observers also said that with Western countries' hostile moves, especially US' enhanced effort to disunite SCO members, it's time for the organization's member countries to strengthen mutual trust and dialogue, as well as cooperation on wider-ranging issues, including those in the economic field. They slammed Western media's hype that the Russia-Ukraine crisis might shadow the summit as "narrow-minded" perception of the SCO, an organization that focuses more on wide-range cooperation.

During the video speech, Xi stressed that SCO countries should step up strategic communication and coordination, bridge differences through dialogue, and replace competition with cooperation. 

"We should truly respect each other's core interests and major concerns, and firmly support each other's endeavor for development and rejuvenation. We should keep in mind the overall and long-term interests of our region, and make our foreign policies independently. We must be highly vigilant against external attempts to foment a new cold war or camp-based confrontation in our region. We must resolutely reject any interference in our internal affairs and the instigation of 'color revolutions' by any country under whatever pretext," Xi told the summit in his video speech. 

He noted that we should maintain regional peace and safeguard common security. Sustaining peace and security in this region is our common responsibility. China stands ready to work with all sides to implement the Global Security Initiative, promote the settlement of international disputes through dialogue and consultation, and encourage political settlement of international and regional hotspots, so as to forge a solid security shield in our region. 

Xi also said that SCO countries focus on practical cooperation and expedite economic recovery. Promoting economic growth is a common task for all countries in the region. China stands ready to work with all sides to implement the Global Development Initiative, keep to the right direction of economic globalization, oppose protectionism, unilateral sanctions and the overstretching of national security, and reject the moves of setting up barriers, decoupling and severing supply chains. We should make the pie of win-win cooperation bigger, and ensure that more development gains will be shared more fairly by people across the world.  

We need to enhance the connection of high-quality Belt and Road cooperation with development strategies of various countries and regional cooperation initiatives, according to Xi. 

Growing influence 

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who on Tuesday chaired the SCO summit virtually, said Iran has formally joined the organization and he also welcomed the signing of the Memorandum of Obligation for the SCO membership of Belarus.

Xi offered his congratulations to the two countries in his speech.

Iran is now the ninth member of the organization. 

SCO secretary-general Zhang Ming and Iranian Ambassador to China Mohsen Bakhtiar jointly participated in a ceremony marking Iran's accession to the SCO. The national flag of Iran has been hoisted at the SCO Secretariat compound in Beijing on Tuesday.

The SCO follows a rigorous process of admission; Iran originally requested to join the organization 15 years ago.

Zhu Yongbiao, director of the Center for Afghanistan Studies at Lanzhou University, told the Global Times on Tuesday that Iran's joining of the group is symbolic as it ushered a second-round expansion of the SCO. 

The organization now covers a wide range of countries from Central Asia to South Asia and now to West Asia, which will empower the organization's global influence and elevate its ability to withstand complicated global situation, said Zhu.  

The reason why SCO's influence is growing amid complicated international situation is that it promotes cooperation to ensure security; advocates dialogue in solving disputes, which is meaningful in resolving many regional and international conflicts, Sun Zhuangzhi, director of Institute of Russian, Eastern European and Central Asian Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Tuesday. 

Moreover, members within the organization have built a new type of constructive partnership, and the organization is not exclusive, it is open to cooperate with other international organizations, said Sun. 

Apart from expansion, topics such as deepening security cooperation, jointly offsetting negative influence of geopolitical tussles, enhancing internal coordination among member states and boosting economic recovery are also expected to be next-stage major issues for SCO, Qian Feng, director of the research department at the National Strategy Institute at Tsinghua University, told the Global Times.

Qian pointed out that the organization's development has encountered various challenges, for example, the US is using its Indo-Pacific strategy to drive a wedge between China and its neighboring countries; and Washington is moving to pull over India, trying to dilute the organization's cohesion. Other issues such as Afghanistan, ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict, and terrorism also pose challenge for the SCO, said Qian.  

Modi paid a state visit to the US last month and met with US President Joe Biden. During Modi's trip, US ramped up efforts to rope in India to play a bigger role in its so-called Indo-Pacific Strategy clearly aiming to contain China.

Qian said that with Western countries increasing their attempts to disunite SCO members, it is high time for SCO members to strengthen internal coordination and mutual trust, as well as to push the cooperation in dealing with issues that of common concerns. 

Speaking at the 11th World Peace Forum at Tsinghua University in Beijing on Monday, Nurlan Akkoshikarov, permanent representative of Kazakhstan to the SCO Secretariat, said to realize economic independence, SCO members are discussing to reduce the use of the US dollar and to build the organization's own currency circulation system. 

Akkoshikarov noted that after solving the political problems the organization is facing, SCO can push forward economic cooperation. Learning from BRICS is a direction, said Akkoshikarov, opining that the BRICS countries opened a bank headquartered in Shanghai, and it is possible for the SCO to follow suit. 

Russia-Ukraine crisis not major focus

According to TASS, Russian President Vladimir Putin has welcomed Iran's accession to membership in the SCO, noting the importance of assisting Tehran in adapting to all of the organization's processes. Russia also supports Belarus joining the SCO as rapidly as possible, Putin said at the organization's virtual online summit. 

Overall, the Russian president emphasized that one cannot but be pleased with the increasing authority and clout of the SCO and the growing interest in the organization's activities on the part of other countries and international structures. "Many of them aspire to establish an equitable dialogue with the SCO and are considering the possibility of joining its work. They trust us, they want to be friends with us and cooperate with us," the Russian president stated, according to TASS.

Western media outlets have largely focused on whether the ongoing Russia-Ukraine crisis will shadow the summit. The Associated Press reported that it is the first multilateral summit Putin participates since Wagner revolt, and that "the forum [SCO] is more important than ever for Moscow, which is eager to show that the West has failed to isolate it."

Qian said those reports reflected some Western media's narrow-minded perception of SCO. "The Russia-Ukraine conflict is of global concern, thus it will be discussed among SCO members. However, the conflict won't become a major topic; as the organization will focus more on how to help the organization grow amid new, complicated environment; push for multilateral cooperation, as well as play a bigger role in regional, international governance," said Qian. 

Zhang Ming said in an interview with RIA Novosti in May that the member countries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization are ready to create favorable conditions to properly address the Ukraine crisis, and they continue to make their own efforts to overcome the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. 

None of the rest SCO members is directly involved in the conflict, thus the organization can only help to mediate the conflict, and try to prevent a spillover and escalation of the crisis, said Sun. 

In contrast to Western countries' unilateral sanctions and fueling of the conflict, SCO members are trying to offset the negative impact of the conflict to other countries by strengthening cooperation on transportation, energy, trade and investment, said Sun.