SCO Summit

 

Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Summit

The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Summit is part of the SCO structure since 2001, when the organization itself was created. It brings together heads of state to discuss regional security issues and inter-regional cooperation, to determine strategies and goals to promote development and, above all, to discuss the role of the SCO in the current international system. Despite being a meeting of the highest national authorities, the Summit does not impose biding resolutions, instead aiming to promote dialogue.

The Summit, as the Organisation, facing the dawn of its second decade, has evolved from the post- Cold War to the contemporary scenario. This way, since its creation, different countries and institutions have joint the Summit, as observers, dialogue partners and special guests of the SCO, converting the event into an internationally respected multilateral forum.

 

TOPIC A: The SCO and Post-War Afghanistan: New Challenges to Regional Cooperation

                                                                       “The very composition of the group points to both its strength and weakness. But broadly speaking, despite its inherent contradictions, the SCO has managed to stand the test of time, and is now gearing up to assume a bigger role by expanding its membership and agenda.”
Sanjay Kumar, “Why the SCO Matters”, 2011.

In 2013, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization is completing twelve years of existence. During this period, it has accumulated a wide range of successes and realizations. But now it is time for asking some conceptual questions: what is the SCO going to be? Which is the focus the organization should have? New full-members should be admitted? All these questions are about the main focus of the organization and the way it is going to act in the next years. At the 2011 SCO Summit in Astana the need for a phase transition was admitted, and the implementation of a strategy for the next years was encouraged (Vorobiev 2012).

In this regard, Afghanistan’s question is a key point to be debated. The country has observer-state status in the organization and its stabilization matters for future relations in the bloc, since the country represents a serious focus of terrorism and both guns and drugs traffic. In fact, the spill-over effects of its non-stabilization can negatively affect practically all SCO member states. This way, there are concerns on what will happen when the United States completely withdraw its forces from the country (Syroezkhin 2012). Can Afghanistan keep itself peaceful alone or it is going to fall into a civil war again? If not, who will provide this kind of security? Some projects for the region’s stabilization are already being planned. One of them is transforming Afghanistan a hub for pipelines and trade lines, which materializes in a United States version of the New Silk Road (Starr and Kuchins 2010). This creates the possibility of increasing dialogue between SCO and the United States, but if this is something desired by all organization members is something still in debate (Goncharov 2012).

The expansion of the SCO core, by adding members, is a particularly controversial matter in SCO, since any organization’s enlargement is subject of conflicting interests among its current members (Vorobiev 2012). Of particular relevance in this topic is the role of Turkey, a country with strong partnerships with Western nations – mainly with U.S, being, furthermore, a NATO’s member and which is also a SCO dialogue partner (Goncharov 2012). Iran and Pakistan were also suggested to be a part of the group, however, this might give the organization a more assertive stance against West, which is not of the interest of all members (Pantucci & Petersen 2013).
The fact is that the admission of new members, as well as some short term measures, are directly related to Afghanistan’ search for stabilization. It is time for SCO members to ask these fundamental and necessary questions. The funding SCO’s idea is in question here. Different objectives and projects are going to be debated, and interests shall collide.

 

TOPIC B: Infrastructure in Central Asia: Energy and Transportation Controversies

Until now, the infrastructure system in Central Asia has remained almost the same as in the Soviet Union period, poorly planned and focused mostly on the massive cotton production. Now, two decades later, the independent countries face great challenges: building an infrastructure network consistent with their national and regional economical ambitions, and the increasing influence (and, consequently, rivalry) of more powerful countries in the region, especially China and Russia. This way, the discussion regarding cooperation in Central Asia necessarily covers the question of physical integration in two main areas: energy and railroads infrastructure, both indispensable to the development goals of the SCO members.

In the last years, the consumption of energy has increased significantly worldwide, stirring the international competition for resources and distribution networks. Concerning Central Asia, the increasing importance of the region’s oil and gas resources has generated new rivalries among the great powers surrounding the region (Odum and Johnson 2004): Russia maintains historically the monopoly of extraction and trade of energy locally, and China is the world biggest energy consumer. International private and state-owned oil companies started investing great amounts of money to develop extraction fields and pipelines in the region (Petersen and Barysch sd). In this context, competition between different projects may cause tensions, since energy constitutes a vital fraction of any national security plan.

Regarding the railroad projects, China has as one of its major goals connecting by land its productive areas in the Pacific shore with the markets along Central Asia, the Middle East and Europe. The most practical way would be to build the railroad through Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, given the terrain problems in other countries and to take advantage of commercial and population hubs. However, this project concerns Russia, which is worried with China’s increasing influence in the region. The countries in the former Soviet Union have never shifted away from the broad-gauge rail system, which ensured the continuation of the strong commerce bonds between Russia and Central Asian countries – a rail line would further increase the Chinese presence in a way that would strongly impact the base-level economies (China 2012).

These issues polarize SCO’s members, and highlight one of the major roles of the Organization, that is to collate and harmonize the approaches to the region of the two Asian major powers, Russia and China. Both powers have interests at stake in these disputes, and the smaller countries directly involved will want to leverage their alliances to reach for better gains. The dynamics may get more complex, however, when allies in one question get on opposite sides in another.

 

References

CHINA to accelerate China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway project. Trend. September 10, 2012. http://en.trend.az/regions/casia/kyrgyzstan/2063730.html (accessed January 20, 2013).
Goncharov, Pyotr. “Afghanistan Joins SCO, Expected to Join NATO.” Info SCO, 2012: 21-22.
Kumar, Sanjay. “Why the SCO Matters.” The Diplomat. June 29, 2011. http://thediplomat.com/indian-decade/2011/06/29/why-the-sco-matters/ (accessed May 12, 2013).
Pantucci, Raffaello; Petersen, Alexandros. Turkey: Abandoning the EU for the SCO? The Diplomat, February 17, 2013. Available at: http://thediplomat.com/2013/02/17/turkey-abandoning-the-eu-for-the-sco/ (acessed March 08 2013).
Petersen, Alexandros, and Katinka Barysch. Russia, China, and the geopolitics of energy in Central Asia. London: Center for European Reform, 2011.
Odum, Justin, and Erica Johnson. “The State of Physical Infrastructure in Central Asia: Developments in Transport, Water, Energy, and Telecommunications.” NBR Analysis, December 2004: 59-114..
Starr, S. Frederick, and Kuchins Andrew C. The Key to Succes in Afghanistan: A Modern Silk Road Strategy. Silk Road Paper, Washington D.C.; Stockholm: Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, 2010.
Syroezhkin, Konstantin. “What SCO Can Do to Solve “Afghan Puzzle”.” Info SCO, 2012: 18-20.
Vorobiev, Vitaly. “The SCO as a Rising Master of the Heartland: How to Elevate the Most Promising Organisation in Eurasia to a Next Level.” Russia in Global Affairs. March 25, 2012. http://eng.globalaffairs.ru/number/The-SCO-as-a-Rising-Master-of-the-Heartland-15503 (accessed May 11, 2013).