SCO Summit Closes in Beijing

The 12th summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) came to a close on Thursday in Beijing. Caspionet gives a summary of the SCO’s membership and goals:

Made up of Kazakhstan, China, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, the SCO has become an authoritative structure in the years of its existence, combining more than 3 billion people or nearly half the world’s population. India, Iran, Mongolia and Pakistan are among the SCO observers, with Belarus and Sri Lanka being the Organisation’s dialogue partners. Leaders of the SCO member-states keep repeating that the SCO is neither a military bloc nor a closed alliance. The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation is an open organisation whose main goal is to act in the name of peace, cooperation and development.

The SCO is often characterized as an attempt to limit NATO influence in central Asia. A China Daily commentary explains how non-intervention is a primary tenet of the SCO, using recent NATO behavior to set itself apart:

According to a statement that came after the summit, all SCO member countries oppose military intervention in Syria and reject the idea of a regime change in the country.

The leaders also rejected the idea of using military means to solve the Iranian nuclear dispute, instead choosing to support dialogue and other diplomatic methods.

[…]More than a year has passed since NATO air forces began to drop bombs on Libya in order to drive its previous government out of power, but the country is still in chaos.

Additionally, over ten years have passed since the United States and its coalition partners ousted the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, a country that shares borders with a number of SCO countries.

[…]Therefore, the time has come to say “no” to military intervention, as the painful experiences of the past should not be allowed to repeat themselves.

A piece from Xinhua sums up the organization’s 10-year history in a positive light, and outlines President Hu Jintao’s proposal for the future of the SCO:

The SCO has achieved remarkable accomplishments in its first 10 years, Hu said. In that time, member states of the SCO have adhered to the “Shanghai Spirit” and signed the Treaty on Long-term Good-neighborliness, Friendship and Cooperation.

They have promoted the ideal of lasting peace and friendship, which has been widely accepted and supported by people of all member states, he said, adding that the organization’s international prestige and influence has also grown significantly.

[…][Hu] called on the member states to make joint efforts to build the SCO into a harmonious community, a fortress of regional security and stability and a driving force to boost regional economic development, as well as an effective platform for increasing international exchanges and influence.

While the “Treaty of Long-term Good-neighborliness, Friendship and Cooperation” and Hu’s description of the SCO as a “harmonious community” do much to favorably portray the internal relations of SCO members, the New York Times tells of hidden tension sparked by China’s growing influence in the region:

Since the financial crisis, China has displaced Russia as Central Asia’s leading trading partner, and Beijing would welcome using the S.C.O. framework to further boost regional economic integration and investment. But both Russia and the Central Asian countries fear the political repercussions of Beijing’s growing economic weight.

[…]Beijing’s pledge to offer 30,000 government scholarships and train 1,000 teachers for the Confucius centers sprouting up throughout Central Asia clearly undermines the soft-power monopoly that Russia traditionally has enjoyed.

[…T]he thorny question of the S.C.O.’s membership expansion also divides the core members. No new member was admitted at the summit, and none is likely to be in the near future. Russia would prefer to expand the organization so as to dilute Beijing’s leading influence and is especially keen on supporting India’s membership bid. But China is wary of allowing a regional rival full-blown membership and so has devised an elaborate set of accession rules and technical criteria that it will use to stall on Delhi’s request.

For more on tensions within the Sino-Russian relationship and the possibility of their building a “NATO of the East” see Al-Jazeera’s Inside Story.

No new state was granted full membership at the summit, but, as speculated prior to the summit’s commencement, Afghanistan achieved observer status. China Daily relays President Hu’s comments on what Afghanistan’s new status will mean for China-Afghan relations, and continues with Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s comments on the future of the relationship:

“The Chinese government will continue to encourage capable Chinese companies to invest in Afghanistan,” he said.

On people-to-people exchanges, Hu added China is willing to strengthen education, culture, media and personnel training cooperation with Afghanistan.

He urged the two sides to enhance security cooperation and jointly combat the “three forces” of terrorism, separatism and extremism as well as trans-boundary crimes, including drug trafficking.

[…]”China will continue actively participating in international and regional cooperation concerning Afghanistan,” said the president, adding that China respects Afghan people’s independent choice of national development path.

Iran has been an SCO observer since 2008, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was in Beijing for the summit. Reflecting the SCO’s commitment to non-intervention, the summit’s concluding statement expressed opposition to any military intervention in Iran. AFP reports:

Leaders of a regional grouping led by Russia and China issued a statement in Beijing Thursday opposing any use of force in Iran, saying it could threaten global security.

“Any attempts to solve the Iranian problem with force are unacceptable and could lead to unpredictable circumstances that threaten stability and security in the region and the entire world,” said the statement signed at the end of a Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit that was attended by Iran’s leader.