A new SCO 'milestone' in the making

By Sun Zhuangzhi | (China Daily)| Updated : 2018-06-05

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The upcoming Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit aims to deepen regional cooperation in order to overcome the political, economic and security challenges created by the fast changing regional situation. To achieve the goal, the SCO member countries will work on a five-year outline for the implementation of the Treaty of Long-Term Good Neighborliness, Friendship and Cooperation and formulate a three-year program of cooperation to fight the three evil forces of terrorism, separatism and extremism.

Cooperation in economic, security and cultural fields has been the focus of the SCO. But given the fast changing regional and global situations, the June 9-10 SCO Summit in Qingdao, Shandong province, will attach greater importance to political cooperation, the basis of all forms of cooperation.

To lay a solid foundation for political cooperation, the SCO member states should prepare mutually acceptable and legally binding documents, including intergovernmental agreements. For that, of course, they first have to deepen mutual trust, by developing strategic coordination and deepening legislative and judicial cooperation.

In recent years, the SCO member states have seen an increase in security and economic risks, as quite a few security problems facing Middle East countries have spread to the East. For instance, after the fall of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, the remaining Islamist terrorists have fled eastward. Other nontraditional security problems, such as local extremism and drug trafficking, as well as social, environmental and cybersecurity issues, pose a big threat to the SCO region's stability.

As for traditional security problems, the intensifying dispute between Russia and the West in Syria could cause geopolitical instability not only in Eurasia but also the rest of the world.

As such, the SCO member states need to shift their attention from internal security problems to the intensifying external security threats. They should strengthen cooperation in more areas, especially on hotspot issues, and make the best use of the regional anti-terrorism mechanism.

In terms of the economy, the SCO member states face both domestic and global pressure. The global financial crisis slowed their respective industrial transformation, while the faltering global economic recovery created difficulties for many of them affecting their cooperation with other countries. The harsh international sanctions against Russia, for example, have dealt a big blow to its economy and prevented it from deriving optimum benefits from economic cooperation with other countries.

In the background of such opportunities and challenges, India and Pakistan became full members of the SCO in June 2017. Their inclusion added more weight to and injected new vitality into the SCO. But the traditional hostility between India and Pakistan could affect the efficiency of the SCO's decision-making process. Besides, the SCO cannot establish efficient mechanisms to help resolve the disputes between India and Pakistan, even in security and economic matters, which has been the SCO's forte.

India and Pakistan have to understand and abide by the established principles of the SCO. In return, the SCO should improve the existing rules to adapt to the needs of the new members, so as to make the organization more cohesive.

And for greater mutual benefit, the SCO can synergize its programs with the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative. Many of the SCO members and observers are already involved in the Belt and Road Initiative at different levels and have enjoyed the early harvests of cooperation. A synergy between the SCO's programs and the Belt and Road projects makes perfect sense, because the initiative, being a regional interconnectivity and cooperation plan, needs the support of SCO mechanisms and platforms. This would be a truly win-win cooperation.

It seems the Qingdao summit is set to be a new milestone in SCO history as it is expected to help achieve almost all the above goals.

The author is secretary-general of the SCO Research Center affiliated to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.