The SCO’s Importance in the Russian-Chinese Geopolitical Partnership

The SCO is not a military-political bloc or a military alliance, but a multi-purpose regional organization active in three main fields: economic, military-political and humanitarian.

Rossiya Segodnya International Information Agency hosted a Moscow-Beijing video conference titled “Russia-China: Regional Security and Cooperation within the SCO Framework”. Experts exchanged views on cooperation between the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) member states, regional and international security issues and prospects for the SCO’s expansion.

In 2015, Russia holds the SCO presidency. April saw a number of SCO events in Moscow: a meeting of the National Security Council secretaries of the SCO member states, a meeting of the heads of SCO sanitary and epidemiological control services; and a meeting of the SCO Expert Working Group on Cultural Cooperation, among others.

Taking part in the video conference from Russian side were Sergei Luzyanin, Deputy Director of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and a professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), and political analyst Sergei Mikheyev, General Director of the Institute for Caspian Cooperation.

Sergei Luzyanin emphasized that the SCO is not a military-political bloc or a military alliance, but a multi-purpose regional organization active in three main fields: economic, military-political and humanitarian. As a regional organization, the SCO obviously faces challenges and threats emanating from Afghanistan. The rapid spread of ISIS into Afghanistan has supplanted the Taliban as the main threat. The need for closer military-political cooperation within the SCO is growing, especially considering what has happened in Afghanistan since the withdrawal of the bulk of NATO forces in 2014. As a result, the SCO’s responsibility for security in Central Asia and the neighboring regions has grown dramatically. Among the common goals for Russia and China, Mr. Luzyanin singled out their mutual desire to maintain stability and security in Central Asia.

The expert reminded his colleagues that Russia’s SCO presidency will culminate in a combined SCO-BRICS summit in Ufa (July 8−10, 2015). Aside from showcasing the strength of the SCO, the Ufa summit will also attest to its quantitative and qualitative expansion, with two new countries – India and Pakistan − likely to receive permanent membership status in the SCO. The list of observer countries may also grow, possibly to include Belarus.

The previous summit in Dushanbe gave rise to speculation that India and Pakistan could be admitted to the SCO around the summer of 2015. If this is the case, the SCO has every chance to emerge as a powerful platform for promoting international relations and cooperation both region-wide and globally, becoming an indisputable leader in terms of the combined territory, resources and populations of its members.

In addition to the SCO, there is the Silk Road Economic Belt, a Chinese mega-project that was launched two years ago and could potentially involve more than 20 Eurasian countries. For the SCO, which is constantly being upgraded, it’s a good opportunity to make new contacts and formulate new objectives, including in the security sphere.

Mr. Luzyanin believes that the SCO’s enlargement will demonstrate its openness and dynamism to the world, while also strengthening its regional and global prestige.

Sergei Mikheyev, for his part, said that the SCO should not confine itself to the narrow framework of regional cooperation, but should strive to become a global player, a true global heavyweight.

The expert fears that Central Asia might become a “major point of tension” in the coming years. There are plenty who wish Russia ill, and some countries aren’t thrilled about integration in the first place, so they will, no doubt, attempt to make course corrections and alter the trajectory.

Moreover, in Mr. Mikheyev’s view, the SCO remains a framework organization with huge potential but not enough real work.

Sun Zhuangzhi, Secretary General of the Center for Shanghai Cooperation Organization Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, who also took part in the video conference, called for revising security cooperation to include issues related to economic, environmental and social security, with special bodies created to deal with them. He believes that the upcoming summit in Ufa should give a powerful impetus to the military-political development of the SCO and clearly state the organization’s position on current problems and crises in other parts of the world.

Of course, it’s hard to know whether all of the SCO member countries will successfully work out their problems, but obviously, this should not result in the SCO’s role diminishing, because it is a rare example of an organization with two strong leaders. The SCO is, on the whole, a useful and important tool in the geopolitical partnership between Russia and China. What’s more, at present, it has no alternative. It is clear from observing how Russian-Chinese cooperation is developing that both countries are interested, as never before, in preserving and growing the significance of the SCO. But interest alone is not enough: after programs are drafted, they have to be implemented.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.