The Shanghai Cooperation Organization: What Next?

8 august 2007

Alexander Lukin is Department Head, Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs, School of International Affairs, National Research University Higher School of Economics; Director, Center for East Asian and SCO Studies, Moscow State Institute of International Relations of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Resume: The United States’ political image in Central Asia, especially after the problems with Uzbekistan, has been considerably undermined. The majority of Central Asian countries understand that political orientation toward Washington may bring about many problems at home.

RUSSIA AND THE SCO

Russia is still the largest nation in the world, yet its power and influence on the international stage has markedly decreased compared with that of the former Soviet Union. At the same time, unlike the Soviet Union, Russia is not seeking to win the geopolitical struggle and to achieve the ideological goal of reshaping the world in its own way. Like any large country, it has national interests of its own, which may or may not coincide with the interests of other countries and blocs. As a large state with its own interests, Russia is not interested in a world where one force dominates; therefore it is seeking a multipolar world. At the same time, as a state that is not powerful enough to counter negative trends in global development on its own, it needs support from allies and sympathizers.

The establishment of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) was prompted by the desire of some states, sharing Russia’s views on trends in global development, to pool their efforts in the search for common approaches to find solutions to international and regional problems, and to develop regional economic and cultural cooperation. The SCO, which is not anyone’s enemy, has become an association aimed at finding positive solutions to specific problems in the interests of its member states. This is the essence of the so-called “Shanghai spirit” which permeates the principles of international relations proposed by the organization for the international community. The declaration of the anniversary SCO summit (the SCO celebrated its fifth anniversary in June 2006) said: “The SCO owes its smooth growth to its consistent adherence to the ‘Shanghai spirit’ based on mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality, consultations, respect for the diversity of cultures and aspiration toward common development. This spirit is the underlying philosophy and the most important code of conduct of the SCO. It enriches the theory and practice of contemporary international relations and embodies the shared aspiration of the international community for implementing democracy in international relations. The ‘Shanghai spirit’ is therefore of critical importance to the international community’s pursuit of a new and non-confrontational model of international relations, a model that calls for discarding the Cold War mentality and transcending ideological differences.”

Attempts to transform the SCO into an anti-Western or anti-American bloc are doomed to failure as that would run counter to the vital interests of member states interested in cooperation with the West in many areas. At the same time, while actively working to ensure the interests of its own members in the first place, the SCO may meet – and already does – with misunderstanding and even hostility on the part of those who see the world as unipolar, while presenting their own interests as universal.

Nevertheless, the SCO’s activities do not rule out or belittle cooperation mechanisms already built by its member states with other organizations or states beyond the SCO. The SCO wants to create additional spheres for cooperation, which did not exist earlier or are impossible outside its framework. The SCO’s future will depend on how broad these spheres are and whether it succeeds in making its additional cooperation mechanisms attractive to the peoples of its member states, so that they become interested in the SCO’s strengthening and development. Today we can speak of three elements of such additional cooperation.

1. Security and Counterterrorism

Cooperation in the security field, above all in the struggle against international terrorism, has been the main area of the SCO’s activities since its establishment. Two years before the terrorist attacks in New York, the original Shanghai Five group began work on the Shanghai Convention on Combating Terrorism, Separatism and Extremism. The Convention, signed at the group’s summit in Shanghai in June 2001, contains definitions of the terms “terrorism,” “separatism” and “extremism,” which is very important, considering that problems in agreeing on definitions often prevent international cooperation in combating these phenomena.

The SCO’s approach to problems of international security, first of all, the struggle against terrorism, is much broader than that of the United States and its allies. While Washington puts emphasis on military strikes against international terrorist centers and attacks against states supporting terrorism (these may be any states unwelcome to Washington), the SCO nations see direct links between international terrorism, on the one hand, and separatism and religious extremism, on the other. So, while coordinating their actions with the U.S. in combating international terrorism, the SCO countries can act according to their own programs and in their own interests, closely linking this struggle with counteraction to separatism and Islamic extremism. Thus the SCO members seek to ensure their territorial integrity and the preservation of secular regimes in power in Central Asian countries.

Another area where the SCO member states have an approach of their own is the struggle against drug production and trafficking. These states have a strong view that the situation with drug production in Afghanistan has markedly deteriorated since the troops of the antiterrorist coalition entered the country, and that the new authorities of Afghanistan and the foreign troops supporting them do not wish or are unable to improve the situation. The inflow of Afghan drugs into neighboring countries has increased and now poses a serious threat to their security. This is why the SCO nations signed the Agreement on Cooperation in Combating Illicit Trafficking of Narcotic Drugs, Psychotropic Substances and Their Precursors in June 2004 in Tashkent.

2. Economy

Issues considered by the SCO have recently been overshadowed by economic cooperation issues. This is not accidental, as the organization’s future depends on its member states’ ability to establish economic interaction. The SCO nations, so different politically, can be united into a constant and effective cooperation mechanism only by common economic interests.

SCO officials have very high opinions on the prospects for economic cooperation within the SCO frameworks. At a meeting of SCO heads of state with members of the SCO Business Council on June 14, 2006, Russian President Vladimir Putin said: “I am convinced that partnerships between business communities will become one more factor that will strengthen the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.”

In November 2005, the SCO Secretariat, jointly with the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and the Chinese National Bank of Development, organized the first Eurasian Economic Forum in China’s Xian. Addressing the forum, Wu Banguo, chairman of the Chinese National People’s Congress Standing Committee, said that Eurasian countries have the advantages of geographic proximity and economic complementarity, as well as broad spheres and good prospects for cooperation. He called on Eurasian countries to highlight the role of the SCO and other regional organizations on the basis of mutual respect, equality, mutual benefit and openness in the interests of more dynamic and stable growth of regional economies. An article published on the official website of the Uzbek Foreign Ministry said: “Participation in the SCO has opened new opportunities for the economic integration of Uzbekistan with the member countries of this organization.” Indeed, the territory of SCO member states stretches across the European and Asian continents; the region is rich in resources and has a huge market; therefore the potential for developing trade and economic cooperation within the organization’s framework is very high. But whether this potential will be realized and how soon is still an open-ended question.

Formally, work in the sphere of economic cooperation is underway. Numerous documents have been adopted, each supplementing and following up on others: the 2001 Memorandum on the Main Goals and Areas of Regional Economic Cooperation, the 2003 Program for Multilateral Trade and Economic Cooperation until 2020, the 2004 plan of actions for implementing this program, and the 2005 Mechanism for Implementing the Plan of Actions. The SCO Council of the Heads of State, economic ministers and other high-placed officials meet annually to consider economic cooperation plans. The member states harmonize their legislation and hold economic forums. They have also established the SCO Business Council and the SCO Interbank Association, and put forward an idea to set up an Energy Club (the idea has never gone any further than an idea, however).

At the same time, one must admit that not a single project has reached the stage of implementation yet. All reports by ministries in charge of economic cooperation only enlist bilateral or (much less often) multilateral projects, which in fact are related to the SCO only because its members participate in them. Meanwhile, none of these projects is being implemented by the SCO proper; they are only included by SCO bureaucrats in the organization’s reports and would be implemented even if the SCO did not exist at all. Even the two so-called “first-priority pilot projects,” approved by SCO foreign economic and foreign trade ministers in August 2006 in Tashkent, began to be implemented before the SCO joined in them. These projects are the Volgograd-Astrakhan-Atyrau-Beineu-Kungrad highway, including an Aktau-Beineu-Kungrad leg as part of the E-40 international transport corridor. It also includes the construction of a bridge over the Kigach river (coordinator – Uzbekistan), and the development of an Osh-Sarytash-Irkeshtam-Kashgar transport route, including the construction of a transshipment terminal in Kashgar for organizing multimodal shipments (coordinator – China).

What is the reason for the slow start of mechanisms for real cooperation? Government officials usually explain it by the complexity of making decisions in the international organization where each member state has interests of its own, so it takes much longer to harmonize these interests. This is certainly right, but I think there are also other reasons; furthermore, more than enough time has passed since the SCO’s establishment. Of the many factors slowing down economic cooperation within the SCO framework, I would single out the following ones.

The first one is the aggressive and selfish manner of China to uphold its trade interests, not always taking its partners’ interests into account. China views itself as the leader of economic cooperation in the SCO and therefore has taken an aggressive line in this issue. In China, the government agency in charge of economic cooperation within the SCO framework is the Commerce Ministry, which wants to stimulate Chinese exports, ensure growth in trade, etc. The ministry has set up a department for SCO affairs, which operates actively, sometimes not coordinating its efforts with those of China’s Foreign Ministry and does not always foresee the possible reaction from foreign partners. As a result, many initiatives coming from the Commerce Ministry fail to be implemented.

The Commerce Ministry does not display much interest in foreign investments or in aid and development programs abroad. Therefore it views cooperation within the SCO framework as a way to increase Chinese exports. Certainly, a growth in exports meets Beijing’s interests, but it should not be the only interest for such a large and influential country as China. China seeks full development of the SCO economic space through the establishment of a free trade zone. However, these plans cause apprehensions in other SCO member states that their own markets and industries that are less effective than in China may collapse. A $900 million financial contribution to the SCO’s activities proposed by China is intended for tied loans for the purchase of Chinese goods. Some SCO members, including Russia, consider the terms of this contribution disadvantageous for themselves.

Real cooperation would be achieved if Beijing displayed a more balanced approach and a better understanding that, apart from direct economic benefits, there are also long-term benefits based not only on economic, but also on political, civilizational and other interests. This is well-understood in the U.S. and Europe where there are numerous government programs for development, grants for non-governmental organizations, state educational funds, etc.

The second factor is the position of some Russian government agencies, first of all, the Finance Ministry, which reject the very idea of state funding for SCO economic programs. Because of this position, Russia has actually rejected an idea to establish a SCO Development Fund which would finance multilateral development programs, like, for example, the United Nations Development Program does. The SCO is seeking non-state funding through structures of the recently established SCO Business Council and SCO Interbank Association. However, it is already clear that private funds alone would not be enough to launch major multilateral projects: private structures of the SCO member states are either not powerful enough, or do not have enough interest to finance such projects in full.

Russia’s position looks strange and at odds with its own interests. China is ready to allocate money for joint programs, but Russia is afraid of it as it thinks that China will control the Development Fund if its contribution is larger than Russia’s. At the same time, Russia has declined making a contribution to the Fund, although it has enough money and its government refrains from investing it at home because of inflation fears. If so, why not use part of the money for SCO projects, which would increase Russia’s economic and political influence in Central Asia? Especially since Russia spends millions of dollars on the activities of various kinds of European organizations and contributes much less to the SCO’s small $4 million budget which is entirely used for the work of SCO structures.

Statements that the funding of economic projects is allegedly prohibited by the SCO Charter are groundless. The Charter says that the SCO budget is “drawn up and executed in accordance with a special agreement between member states,” which also determines the amount of contributions paid by each member state to the SCO budget. The Charter says further that “budgetary resources shall be used to finance standing SCO agencies in accordance with the above agreement” (Article 12). This does not mean, however, that funds from the SCO budget cannot be used for other purposes, as well.

Officials from Russia’s Economic Development and Trade Ministry have recently promoted an idea that economic cooperation within the SCO framework must be limited as it is dominated by China. They propose that Russia should conduct economic cooperation with Central Asia via other organizations, such as the Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEC), while the SCO should focus on security issues. Ideas like that were voiced, for example, at a session of the Interdepartmental Commission for Russia’s Participation in the SCO Activities, held in early November 2006. Whatever is behind this approach, it fully contradicts declarations of the heads of state and government of the SCO member states (including Russia) and Russia’s national interests. True, Russia’s relative influence in the SCO is less than in the EurAsEC, for example. However, the SCO can play a unique role for Russia in having China and, later, other large regional actors join in the dialog on Central Asia. For Central Asian states, where the unilateral influence of Russia (as the successor to the Soviet Union) and China (as a powerful emerging force) is still often perceived with apprehension, their joint presence in an organization where they are equal members among the others and where all issues are decided by a consensus, is much more attractive. At the same time, it is obvious that without a serious economic basis the SCO cannot become an influential and effective regional force.

3. Science and Culture

There are good prospects for cooperation in the fields of science, education, culture and public health. The SCO Forum, established in May 2006 in Moscow, can play a major role in scientific research. This is a multilateral public consultative and expert mechanism intended to promote interaction between research and political analytical centers of SCO member countries. As regards education, it is generally known that the Soviet educational system served as the basis for the educational systems of all SCO member states; therefore they still have many common features. Now Russia has joined in the so-called Bologna process and is seeking to unify its educational standards with those in Europe. However, the old educational system had many advantages. This is why it is a common task for all SCO members to harmonize their educational standards with international ones, while preserving the advantages of the old system.

The same refers to culture. Central Asian countries, China and Russia have ancient and unique civilizations. As these countries become increasingly open and as they make the best achievements of world culture an integral part of their own culture, they are being faced with a problem of preserving their national traditions in the face of an inflow of low-standard mass culture from abroad. However, little has been done in this sector yet.

DOES RUSSIA BENEFIT FROM SCO MEMBERSHIP?

Some experts in Russia are apprehensive that there is a dominating force in the SCO, namely China, which is allegedly seeking to solve its own strategic tasks in the organization at the expense of its partners, first of all Russia. Such views are absolutely groundless. Procedures for occupying leading posts in the SCO provide for a regular rotation between representatives of the member countries. Russia’s contribution to the SCO budget equals that of China. The SCO members have agreed that the SCO Secretariat is based in Beijing as China has offered better conditions for that. At the same time, another major body of the SCO – the Executive Committee of the Regional Antiterrorism Structure (RATS) – is based in Tashkent. And in general, the location of a headquarters does not matter much. After all, one cannot say that the United States dominates the United Nations because the majority of UN agencies are located in New York. On the contrary, the U.S. views the UN as an inevitable evil, while the New York-based UN Security Council and especially the UN General Assembly often take positions that differ from that of the U.S. Of course, the economic and political weight in the SCO of such a powerful state as China (just as the weight of the U.S. in the United Nations) is great. But this is why membership in the SCO, which proclaims equality for all its members, is advantageous to the weaker members because it gives them equal rights with the stronger ones. In the same way, membership on the UN Security Council makes the political weight of Russia (and its other members) equal with that of the U.S., which often annoys Washington.

THE U.S. AND THE SCO

During the first few years of the Shanghai process and the SCO’s existence, the United States did not take the organization seriously. Some American analysts did not believe that the SCO would develop into anything more than a discussion club. Others regarded the SCO as a hopeless attempt by Russia and China to increase their influence in Central Asia, as both countries did not have sufficient resources and had to face numerous domestic problems. However, after the SCO had become consolidated enough and many states in the region had expressed a desire to join it, this attitude changed. The SCO first attracted serious attention from Washington in 2005 when its close partners India and Pakistan and one of America’s major adversaries, Iran, were given observer status in this organization (Mongolia, another state closely cooperating with the U.S., received this status in 2006, and even U.S. allies South Korea and Turkey have expressed their interest in it). However, a declaration adopted by the SCO Council of the Heads of State in Astana in June 2005 caused serious concern in the U.S. as it urged members of the antiterrorist coalition to “set a final timeline for their temporary use of … objects of infrastructure and stay of their military contingents on the territories of the SCO member states,” “considering the completion of the active military stage of the antiterrorist operation in Afghanistan.”

This provision was included in the declaration at the request of Uzbekistan, whose leadership was disappointed with a U.S. proposal to launch an independent investigation into the unrest in the Uzbek city of Andizhan in May 2005. However, concern over the American presence in Central Asia is shared by all the SCO members. They view the introduction of foreign troops on the territory of Central Asian countries pragmatically, as a measure required for fighting terrorism. Yet, they are apprehensive that the U.S. may use its unlimited military presence in Central Asia not only for this struggle, but also in its own interests at the expense of the states of the region. Tashkent even decided to change its policy of cooperation with the U.S. and the West and to reorient it toward Moscow, Beijing and the SCO, which show less concern over human rights. The Uzbek government demanded that the U.S. withdraw its military base from Khanabad, which had been deployed there at the peak of American-Uzbek rapprochement following September 11, 2001 for supporting actions by the antiterrorist coalition in Afghanistan. As a result, there was an impression that SCO decisions were effective.

Washington’s reaction was prompt. On July 19, 2005, the House of Representatives adopted a resolution expressing concern over the SCO declaration. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, worried about a possible marginalization of the United States in Central Asia, visited Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in October 2005. During her visit to Bishkek, she convinced the Kyrgyz leadership to keep the military base of international forces in Manas and even to allow the transfer of U.S. troops, to be withdrawn from Khanabad, to Kyrgyzstan (for additional payment, which was much needed by the new Kyrgyzstan leadership).

Yet, that visit had, perhaps, an even more important result – the idea of a Greater Central Asia. The origins of this concept are believed to be rooted in an article by the Chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, Frederick Starr, published in the influential Foreign Affairs journal in July/August 2005. Its main idea was “the establishment of a Greater Central Asia Partnership for Cooperation and Development (GCAP), a regionwide forum for the planning, coordination, and implementation of an array of U.S. programs.” According to Starr, such a partnership, which would promote trade, cooperation and democratization in the region, is becoming possible as “recent progress in Afghanistan has created a remarkable opportunity – not only for Afghanistan but for the rest of Central Asia as well. The United States now has the chance to help transform Afghanistan and the entire region into a zone of secure sovereignties sharing viable market economies, enjoying secular and open systems of government, and maintaining positive relations with the United States.”

Russia and China would have an insignificant role in such a partnership (although Starr wrote that they could join it “if they are donors”); Iran’s participation was completely ruled out; Pakistan would be a member, while India and Turkey “would, along with the United States, become the unofficial guarantor of sovereignty and stability in the region.” In this way, Central Asian states would establish close ties with India and Pakistan via Afghanistan, which would help diversify their international cooperation and (although this was not said openly) weaken their unilateral orientation toward Moscow and Beijing.

As if she were carrying out Starr’s recommendations, Rice reorganized the Department of State’s Bureau of South Asian Affairs into the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs in October 2005. In April 2006, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs’ subcommittee on the Middle East and Central Asia held hearings on U.S. policy in Central Asia. Speaking at the hearings, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Richard Boucher, the main executor of the new Greater Central Asia policy, obviously was guided by Starr’s ideas, but went much further, making these ideas into an undisguised ideological cover for the promotion of American influence in the region. In his report, he made no mention of the SCO (which could be a result of his lack of knowledge, though, because when asked by a subcommittee member, the U.S. diplomat failed to even correctly name the SCO’s members). While formally recognizing the historical ties between the Central Asian states and Russia and their growing cooperation with China, Boucher made it clear that he did not consider Russia and China to be leading actors in the new American plan for the establishment of close ties between Central and South Asia via Afghanistan.

On June 13, 2006, just a few days before a SCO summit meeting in Shanghai, the United States Trade and Development Agency held an Electricity Beyond Borders Forum in Istanbul. At the forum, participants from Central and South Asia presented new large infrastructure projects in the field of power engineering planned for Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. Representatives of Russia and China were not invited to the forum. Obviously, the forum was intended to demonstrate the new role of the U.S. and Turkey in the development of cooperation between the states of Central and South Asia.

The Greater Central Asia idea caused a mixed reaction in Central Asia, indifference in Moscow, and anxiety in China. Kazakh Foreign Minister Kasymzhomart Tokayev took a favorable view of its possible role as an incentive for scientific discussions, yet he emphasized that his country gave priority to cooperation within the SCO frameworks. Kyrgyz expert Muratbek Imanaliyev concluded that Central Asia viewed the project as American and capable of causing worry in Moscow and in Beijing. Yet, the sharpest reaction came from Beijing. A commentary by the official paper of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, Renmin Ribao (People’s Daily), said that the reason why the U.S. had brought up this plan was that “it is determined to use energy, transportation and infrastructure construction as bait to separate Central Asia from the post-Soviet Union dominance. By doing so, it can change the external strategic focus of Central Asia from the current Russia-China oriented partnership to cooperative relations with South Asian countries. It can break the long-term Russian dominance in Central Asia, it can split and disintegrate the cohesion of the SCO and gradually establish U.S. dominance on the new plate of Central and South Asia. However, in the long term, the United States may make a strategic misjudgment of other large countries by ‘setting up another cooking stove’. It may also disrupt the existing cooperative mechanisms and put Central Asian countries into a choice dilemma.”

The situation in Afghanistan has recently become aggravated, which has required more coalition troops in the country. These developments have complicated the implementation of the Greater Central Asia concept in its pure form. At the same time, the invigoration of U.S. policy in Central Asia and the active participation of Central Asian representatives, including high-ranking officials, in activities obviously conducted in the vein of this policy, show that a new situation is taking shape in the region. Paying insufficient attention to the new situation may result in the marginalization of the SCO and a reduced interest in cooperation within its framework among some SCO member states, which may choose other partners in the hope of receiving more economic assistance. Such developments would complicate Russia’s general foreign policy aimed at building a multipolar world and stepping up cooperation with Asian states.

Of course, the situation should not be dramatized. The United States’ political image in Central Asia, especially after the problems with Uzbekistan, has been considerably undermined. The majority of Central Asian countries understand that political orientation toward Washington may bring about many problems at home. At the same time, the image of the U.S. and other Western countries is still strong that they are successful and rich states capable of allocating significant financial and economic aid. Thus, they are more effective than Russia and China, even though politically these two countries are closer to Central Asia. Some public quarters in Central Asia also have a favorable view of economically effective, politically secular, and heavy-handed regimes in such culturally similar countries as Turkey and Pakistan, as well as of the emerging Indian economic powerhouse, capable of becoming an alternative to a rapidly growing China. The SCO’s insufficiently active economic policy, its sluggishness in making decisions, and its tough stance regarding the admission of new members complicate the situation.

REQUIRED MEASURES

The following measures should be taken for the achievement of Russia’s foreign-policy goals and to invigorate the SCO.

1. Make India, Pakistan, Mongolia and Turkey more interested in cooperation with the SCO. This interest has recently diminished due to the SCO’s unclear prospects. India, Mongolia and, possibly, Pakistan must be admitted into the SCO as full members, while Turkey must be given observer status. India’s admission is particularly in Russia’s interests. Giving membership to such a large and authoritative state as India would make the SCO into a very influential international organization; it would boost economic cooperation within its framework due to India’s potential, and would increase New Delhi’s interest in political cooperation with its eastern and northern neighbors. Besides, such a move would also be geopolitically advantageous to Beijing, which has recently solved many of its problems with New Delhi.

There is an opinion that it would be difficult to admit India without Pakistan. Of course, the admission of Pakistan as a full member would bring some problems into the SCO. However, considering the secular nature of the Pakistani regime and its active struggle against terrorism and religious extremism, that is, the actual coincidence of Islamabad’s interests with the SCO’s political goals, such a move should not be feared (this move may have to be made if, for example, Beijing conditions India’s admission to the SCO on a simultaneous admission of Pakistan). Benefits from involving Islamabad in the counterterrorism struggle within the SCO framework and from making Pakistan interested in cooperation with Central Asia, together with Russia and China, would outweigh possible negative effects.

The admission of Mongolia, apart from filling the territorial “gap” in the SCO and stimulating economic cooperation owing to this country’s resource potential, would have a great demonstrative effect. Economically, Ulan Bator is now largely oriented toward the West. In addition, Washington views Mongolia as a model of post-Communist democracy in Asia, whose foreign policy must also be oriented exclusively toward the U.S. At least the partial reorientation of Ulan Bator toward cooperation with SCO member states would be very useful not only to Russia and China, but also to other members.

Granting observer status to Turkey, which is a NATO member, would also have a significant demonstrative effect, without any negative consequences for the SCO. It would show that even a close ally of the United States may be interested in projects outside Washington’s control, and would involve Ankara into strategic and economic cooperation within the SCO framework.

Afghanistan could be given observer status to make it interested in cooperation with the SCO. On its part, the SCO should step up its role in the struggle against drug-trafficking in that country and in the efforts to stabilize the situation there.

The SCO should probably enter into exploratory talks with the new leadership of Turkmenistan about its admission to the SCO as an observer. Turkmenistan pursues a policy of neutrality; however, neutrality may be interpreted in different ways: from non-entry into any organization, including the United Nations, to non-entry into military alliances only (the SCO is not a military alliance).

2. Display more caution toward Iran’s desire to step up its cooperation with the SCO and even downplay some of its aspects (for example, inviting top leaders to meetings of the SCO Council of the Heads of State). This would allay fears in the West about the SCO’s possible transformation into an anti-Western bloc and would promote the SCO’s interaction with the West in combating international terrorism and drug-trafficking, and their economic cooperation. Second, this would show Teheran that the SCO is seeking real cooperation and does not approve of its attempts to use the organization as a means of pressure on the West for achieving its own goals. Finally, it would help Teheran take a more constructive position concerning its nuclear program. That would meet the interests of Russia and China, as these countries support the nuclear non-proliferation regime and have economic interests in Iran, which may suffer from sanctions caused by Iran’s unconstructive position.

3. Step up economic cooperation within the SCO framework by means of state funds allocated for multilateral projects. The best options would be the creation of a SCO development program or fund, similar to the UNDP or programs of other international organizations, which would be financed from the national budgets of SCO member states. Naturally, this fund would not directly finance projects carried out by states, but it would provide loans on easy terms or tender-based funding to companies or consortiums of companies that would carry out the more significant projects. This would make it possible to start implementing the Program for Multilateral Trade and Economic Cooperation. The implementation of several large infrastructure projects under the SCO aegis would show to the world and, first of all, to the population of the SCO member states, that the SCO is not a discussion club, but an organization of real use.

4. Channel China’s economic activity in the SCO into a more constructive vein, explaining the necessity of a broader and a more comprehensive approach to economic cooperation, which would better meet the interests of all SCO members, including China.

5. Establish an SCO university for training specialists in a wide variety of professions. Part of the money for this could be allocated from the SCO budget (SCO Business Council experts are already working on a project to build an SCO educational center).

6. Establish an SCO International Institute on the basis of the SCO Forum, set up in 2006, for studying problems and prospects of the SCO region’s political and economic development.

7. Hold SCO sporting events and art festivals annually in each member state in turn.

The above measures would help the SCO enter a new stage in its development and would make this organization one of the more influential international organizations. These measures would also help Russia further its interests in Asia. Naturally, these proposals will meet with resistance from the bureaucracy and forces that would least of all like to see Russian influence in Asia grow. But that is a completely natural reaction that can be overcome by the political will of the leaders of SCO countries pursuing a policy that ensures the national interests of their states.

Last updated 8 august 2007, 13:58

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