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July 11, 2011 |  10 comments |  Print  Your Opinion  

Dmitri A Titoff

Why the Shanghai Cooperation Organization is Important

Dmitri A Titoff: When the SCO emerged at the turn of the century, Western observers worried that its key founders, Russia and China, plotted an anti-NATO bloc. It turns out, however, that the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s primary objective is to keep the status-quo in Eurasia.

SCO stands for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization-a political grouping of China, Russia and Central Asian republics. In case you have never heard of it, last month it celebrated its anniversary summit in Astana, Kazakhstan's majestic capital.

When SCO emerged at the turn of the century, some Western observers worried that its key founders, Russia and China, plotted an anti-NATO bloc. They didn't. SCO's primary objective has always been to preserve the status quo in Eurasia, which is threatened both by fundamentalist currents and rapidly changing balance of power amidst Russia's decline and China's expansion. Should the region explode with Islamic violence, Russia risks great instability near and within its borders (in Chechnya), whereas China is at risk in the Xinjiang autonomous region. SCO's anti-terrorist/extremist body works to make sure that this does not happen. In the meantime, both states are concerned that U.S. military that moved in to Afghanistan does not intend to move out completely. The Astana declaration, signed at the summit, calls for a "neutral" Afghanistan.

In early 2000s SCO provided Central Asian republics with an institutional platform that balanced Russia's clinging grip on its sphere of influence. Nowadays the SCO helps to ameliorate Central Asia’s and Russia's fears that China might be scheming to envelop Eurasia with its economic prowess. This concern is signified, for instance, by the completion of the Turkmenistan-Uzbekistan-Kazakhstan-China gas pipeline in 2007 that erased Russia's monopoly on gas purchases from the region. China is already Kazakhstan's major export market. Just a day before the summit, Chinese and Kazakh leaders discussed doubling their trade volume to $40 billion by 2015 and building joint infrastructure projects, such as high-speed rail and technology parks.

As much as Central Asian states and Russia benefit from SCO, China benefits the most. The Celestial Empire has used the organization to manage its expansion in a way that does not elicit excessive fears from other members. One of SCO's key successes was to oversee the demarcation and demilitarization of borders, among other borderline issues. For example, in a century-long border dispute between China and small Tajikistan, the latter ceded only one percent of its land to China, which initially claimed five. The deal was hailed as a "success for Tajik diplomacy".

Should China and the United States come to blows over something in the future, China would want Russia and the Central Asian republics to assume benevolent neutrality in that circumstance. It is in China's interest to maintain cordial relations with the region's countries, which it can do by issuing generous unconditional loans. Given that China's trade with Russia is relatively low despite their proximity, the former has the economic space to butter up the Russian elites. Presently, Russia supplies only 10 percent of China's oil imports.

Richard Weitz of the Hudson Institute, who probed numerous officials in Moscow at the meeting of the Defence and Security section of the Valdai International Discussion Club, noted that they do not at all view China as a threat, even though China has copied much of Russia's exported weaponry and now can manufacture its own. At least in public they continue to say that China's rise is a stabilizing factor in Asia. What worries Moscow the most is the risk of instability in Central Asia. If China's leaders are smart, they will continue supporting Moscow's concerns, reassuring the Russians of China's commitment to the preservation of status-quo.

Similar strategy was pursued by Otto von Bismarck, who managed the rise of the German state in the second half of the nineteenth century. Keeping the neutrality of Russia, who stood by as Prussia knocked out France in 1871, was one of his greatest achievements. In 1863, he assisted Russia in quelling a Polish rebellion. Later, Bismarck tried to keep Russia from aligning with France by forming the League of Three Emperors and then by signing the infamous (and secret) Reassurance Treaty.

The United States would want to see China and Russia resume their rivalry and SCO fall apart. Washington would wish that China accumulated as many enemies as possible. What the United States could do to facilitate the Sino-Russian rivalry is a question that professional diplomats should be thinking over. It is interesting whether the potential entrance of India, Pakistan and Iran into SCO can strengthen or weaken the organization. Perhaps that is why leaders did not come to any decision on that at the last week's summit.

Dmitri Titoff is a foreign affairs analyst residing in Washington, D.C.

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Tags: | Shanhai | SCO | Russia | China | eurasia | Central Asia |
 
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Bernhard  Lucke

July 11, 2011

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A very interesting article that makes clear how the old power game of world diplomacy still goes on though the actors changed and that some of the most important issues are usually not presented first on our television's screen.
 
Unregistered User

July 12, 2011

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Well said Mr.Titoff.
Mr. Lucke, yes, the old power games are still on, unfortunately without an endgame.
Or perhaps we are trotting down that pass without knowing that there is an end to these
games. May be Mr. Einstein's idea that survival of mankind depends on how he maters the universe has now more merit than ever.
To go by train from Antwerp to Vladivostok or by ship from Rotterdam to the Black Sea or have
oil and gas flowing from Turkmenistan to China, there must be some sorts of Bismarck
Type Reassurance Agreements between nations to be able to manage this.
During the recent Astana meeting of the SCO some interesting ideas were offered::
With China/ Russia as a nucleus, add the "Weimar Triangle" France, Germany and Poland
on one side--, India, Pakistan and Iran on another--- and finally Japan, Korea in the Pacific region, would this be a manageable economic combination and acceptable to the SCO.
Crazy ideas?


HRF



Tags: | tx |
 
Unregistered User

July 12, 2011

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An interesting article indeed. I was wondering, Mr. Titoff, if you advise NATO to seek a partnership with the SCO.
 
Unregistered User

July 13, 2011

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First of all - what is the status-quo in Eurasia ?
 
Unregistered User

July 13, 2011

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The SCO is a really very important international institution that is able to promote security and economic development for the Central Asia. It appeared in 2001 and today it holds member states - China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and observer states - India, Iran, Mongolia, Pakistan. The main goals of the SCO are strengthening mutual confidence and good neighbor relations among the member countries, promoting effective cooperation in politics, trade and economy, science and technology, culture as well as education, energy, transportation, tourism, environmental protection, making joint efforts to maintain and ensure peace, security and stability in the region.
Thus it not in the interests of the United States “to to see China and Russia resume their rivalry and SCO fall apart”, as ague the writer of this article.
Let’s remind of the Article 52 of the UN Charter saying that “nothing in the present Charter precludes the existence of regional arrangements or agencies for dealing with such matters relating to the maintenance of international peace and security as are appropriate for regional action provided that such arrangements or agencies and their activities are consistent with the Purposes and Principles of the United Nations”. It is obvious that the more such organizations are there in the world that cover all geopolitical space, the better secure our world would be.
The main sense of the SCO is the word “cooperation”, neither a “block” nor a “ union”, or a “treaty”.
The Central Asia is a very complicated region that needs its own different multilateral institutions of security, socio-economic development, cultural ties with all countries to be involved in these process. It is clear that China and Russia are the key members (that want to be centers of power) as it was and is for Germany, Britain, France and US to found NATO in 1949 and on this security co operational basis laid economic EU. Cooperation and conflicts (better to use the term “rivalry”, as long as we recognize the competition is the main factor of development) are the both sides of one coin by the name of “struggle for power” that we have in international relations.
Russia, China, United States, EU and other nations may have their own interests. But in 21 century of interdependent world instability in one place is worse than stability of one sitting on the fence. The SCO itself is the balance of power as it keeps Russian and China on the track of mutual and bilateral cooperation to contain each other at the same time leaving room and opportunities for maneuvering today not to be involved in a confrontation with the United States.
 
Olga  Kolesnichenko

July 13, 2011

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Mr. Dmitri Titoff!
Thank you for deep analysis of SCO issues. I can add that it is very interesting organization because of some reasons. Terrorism become more and more dangerous threat but not only because of religious intolerance. The most factor that bolsters up international terrorism is globalization under which we have over-crowded people gathering in 'global commons'. It determines the priorities for all international organization - counter-terroristic activity. SCO also concerns about terroristic acts and organization has the attempt to develop the counter-terroristic capability or even joint forces. If joint forces would appear in SCO, it required the choice of SCO countries in terms of armies transformation strategy and capability rules. Now we have American (NATO) strategy - RMA (Revolution in Military Affaires), Russian 'model law' for all Central Asian post-Soviet armies through the Parliamentary Assembly of CIS, and also national growing China and India army powers with its rules (including nuclear power and space).
Another interesting issue that concerns SCO - Kazakhstan, it's strong development as influential power in Eurasia including South Asia. I can say that Kazakhstan is very keen to find the own appropriate place in the world scale of international organization as leader. Sometimes with rivalry with Russia. Kazakhstan has the right to be leader in Central Asia as Eurasian integrator because of very constructive and always positive point of view that Kazakhstan especially showed when USSR was broken. And today Kazakhstan is the pillar of post-Soviet CIS framework of Asian countries.
And last but not least and most important - India future. I have no doubt that India after 30-50 years ahead will become as entirely dominated nation in the world. And from what I started my comment - the possible appearance of SCO military counter-terroristic capability - makes the SCO as first organization where India would have the experiences of forces integration with another armies on the permanent base.
 
Greg Randolph Lawson

July 14, 2011

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The Bismarck reference is great but troubling. While his virtuoso performance maintained stability because he understood limitation and flexibility, his successors failed miserably. This led to WWI and, eventually WWII.

Obviously, WWI and WWII cannot and should not be laid at Bismarck's feet. Yet the parallel (a common one these days) of comparing Wilhelmine Germany to China is eerie even if the differences are profound.

To this I argue prudent hedging is necessary in an article currently here at the Atlantic Community. One hedge would likely involvemanuevering to drive wedges between SCO members, much as the Soviet Union did and Russia on occassion still tries with NATO.
 
Victoria  Naselskaya

July 15, 2011

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Mr. Titoff, thank you for this comprehensive analysis. I was wondering whether you consider Communist regime in China to a stabilising or destabilising factor in the SCO.
Tags: | China | Communism |
 
Dmitri A Titoff

July 21, 2011

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US/NATO should not feel left out by not having ties with SCO. They are already involved in Central Asian affairs in security, counter-terrorism, economic and other areas. NATO and Russia cooperate on Afghanistan (e.g. Northern Distribution Network). EU firms enjoy access to investments in Kazakhstan's oil and gas, and booming nuclear infrastructure (e.g. France's AREVA). In general, Central Asian republics welcome Western involvement that helps to balance China and Russia.

US/NATO and SCO share many common goals, such as fight against terrorism, economic development, et cetera. In March this year US diplomats discussed SCO with the Chinese, saying that they maintain good bilateral ties with all its members but that they do not know yet whether to seek an observer status or some other arrangement with SCO.

Though Afghanistan appears to be a natural area of cooperation, China and Russia have eschewed active engagement in the country from fears of provoking internal resistance and coming up with more problems than solutions. They are also wary of US continuous "hanging arounds" there.

SCO remains confined to Central Asian borders. I imagine that in the event of Iran, India and Pakistan joining as full members--which is still very uncertain---its clout would be much greater and US/NATO would need to establish some sort of dialogue with it.









 
Minhui  Jia

October 26, 2012

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Hi Dmitri!

Thanks a lot for this interesting article. SCO is very important for China's concern in regional stability. It benefits China profoundly as China's purchase in natural resource in Central Asia increases. I think China views SCO as a platform to strengthen ties with especially Central Asia countries. China has to allow Russia join the SCO together because it does not want Russia to view China as a threat. However, China will try not to let India join the SCO, although India is recently pitching hard to attain a full membership and is seeking China's support. Russia wants to India to join the SCO to balance China's influence in Central Asia.
 

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