Meeting regional challenges
Updated: 2013-09-11 08:13
By Sun Zhuangzhi (China Daily)
Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit will seek pragmatic approaches to security and economic issues
The 13th Meeting of the Council of Heads of Member States of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization will be held on Friday in Bishkek, capital of Kyrgyzstan, in the presence of senior officials from member and observer states. The Bishkek summit will once again show the SCO's pragmatic attitude toward regional security challenges, the Afghanistan rebuilding process and the economic security of member states.
Kyrgyzstan, as the host country, has lived through two violent regime changes, one in 2005 and one in 2010. With a population of about 5.5 million, it is the only country in the world to host both US and Russian military bases, and it faces ethnic violence, drug-related crimes and economic troubles. The country is the epitome of the region-wide economic stagnation and security challenges.
Whether the SCO can come up with new approaches and concrete action to facilitate multilateral cooperation in security and boost the economy is of most concern to Kyrgyzstan and other countries in the region. Given the volatile security situation, the SCO advocates a new security concept featuring regional cooperation that focuses on combating the "three evil forces" - terrorism, separatism and extremism - and other unconventional security threats. Its strict adherence to the principle of non-alignment and non-confrontation has countered the decade-old claim that the bloc is sliding toward a political-military alliance, or the so-called NATO of the East.
Although the SCO member states remain cautious about expansion considering some mechanism shortcomings, it finalized the rules for the admission of new member states in 2010, which has cleared the way for more countries to join the emerging bloc. The reason why membership expansion has not been on the SCO's agenda is also because the relevant countries that have expressed interest in becoming members have not yet met the minimum eligibility for full membership. For instance, as an SCO observer since 2005, Iran has been denied member status, since the SCO will not admit as a member any state under UN sanctions.
However, observer states are given adequate opportunities to participate in multilateral cooperation within the SCO framework, and the SCO will continue to make legal and technical preparations for the admission of new members in the future.
The forthcoming summit will demonstrate the bloc's determination and efforts to assist the Afghan people in rebuilding peace and stability in the war-torn country. The political upheaval, the religious extremism, drug trafficking and other problems afflict not only Afghanistan but also pose the biggest security threats to Central Asia.
Over the past 12 years, the SCO has paid continuous attention to the situation in Afghanistan, more than any international body.
It was the first multilateral mechanism to advocate joint efforts against terrorism in Afghanistan, with its member states offering the country both material and financial aid. In 2009, the SCO held a special international conference on Afghanistan in Moscow, and the conference adopted the statement of the SCO and Afghanistan on combating terrorism, illicit drug trafficking and organized crime. In 2012, Afghanistan received observer status at the SCO summit in Beijing.
The withdrawal of US and other NATO troops in 2014 will leave the future of Afghanistan uncertain, and it is impossible for the SCO to sit out. But the SCO will not step up to the plate and take over from NATO as some analysts predict. The SCO will assure Afghanistan of support and help in its reconciliation and reconstruction process, however, the Bishkek summit will reaffirm the bloc's position that the future of Afghanistan should be decided by its people.
Aside from regional security and Afghan issues, economic cooperation is of great concern to the SCO summit. The domestic markets of the landlocked countries in Central Asia are vulnerable to external shocks and having lurched from crisis to crisis, especially in their food and energy sectors, countries in the region are tasked with defending their economic stability.
As a new type of regional cooperation mechanism, the SCO has the core task of ensuring the long-term stability and common development of all member states, and lifting struggling economies like Kyrgyzstan out of stagnation. Within the SCO framework, multilateral cooperation has been under way with efforts made to prioritize transportation, energy and telecommunications, and other key economic projects that will boost the economic growth of the region.
Political stability is the premise for economic development. For Central Asian countries, political challenges arise from not only poverty, corruption and other domestic woes, but also from the pressure of the political turmoil in the surrounding area and the imposition of democratic models by external forces. How to ease social tensions by meeting people's needs and how to respond to emergencies through diplomatic and political consultations are the questions the latest SCO summit cannot afford to overlook.
Central Asian countries are eager to foster closer economic ties with China. Xi Jinping's attendance at the Bishkek summit and his maiden trip to Central Asia as Chinese president demonstrate the consistency of China's good-neighborly policy and that the new leadership values ties with the region. The Bishkek summit will unfold a new chapter of strategic cooperation between China and Central Asian countries and testify that the SCO has become a paradigm of a new type of regional cooperation.
The author is secretary-general of the SCO Research Center of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
(China Daily USA 09/11/2013 page11)