SCO’s expansion underscores growing regional cooperation


By Saddam Hussein

With the inclusion of Pakistan and India, the Chinese and Russian leadership on Sunday commended the expansion of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) at a summit which demonstrated unity, contrasting with the recent dissenting G7 meeting. The expansion will confer greater legitimacy on the SCO and yield security and economic benefits for its members, ensuing regional development with positive spill-over effects globally.

Incorporating Pakistan and India is a major move that changes global geopolitical and economic patterns, turning the SCO into a regional alliance of global significance. It now accounts for 40 percent of the world’s population and 20 percent of the global economy.

Chinese President Xi Jinping gave the leaders of Pakistan and India a “special welcome” to their first summit as members of the SCO, in the eastern Chinese city of Qingdao, since the duo joined the group last year. Further, cautioning that “unilateralism, trade protectionism and a backlash against globalization are taking new forms”, Xi spoke up for the “pursuit of cooperation for mutual benefit”. While never mentioning the United States by name, he added: “We should reject the Cold War mentality and confrontation between blocs, and oppose the practice of seeking absolute security of oneself at the expense of others, so as to obtain security of all”.

Russian President Vladimir Putin also on the occasion, addressing the SCO leaders, stated the addition of Pakistan and India means that the organisation “has become even stronger”. Putin said trade and investment among SCO countries was growing and Russia and China would propose a Eurasian economic partnership for all member states.

It is noteworthy that no dissonance was evident during the 2-day summit in the picturesque port city Qingdao. Not to forget, SCO members have their own disagreements. India has concerns about Beijing sponsored China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) – trade and infrastructure project in disputed territory (as India claims) in arch-rival Pakistan. China and India also had their own heated border dispute last year.

In another spectacular move, hours before Donald Trump stunned the G7 with a friendly overture to Russia, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping sealed their status as BFFs (Best Friends Forever). The Chinese president even gave his Russian counterpart a large gold necklace – technically a “friendship medal” – as a symbol of their growing bond. Putin also gave Xi some fancy neck ware – the Order of St. Andrew the Apostle earlier in 2017.

Chinese Premier was also quoted by state news agency Xinhua as saying: “No matter how international situations change, China and Russia always firmly support each other in defending their respective core interests. President Putin is the leader of a great country who is influential around the world,” Xi said on the occasion. “He is my best, most intimate friend”, he continued. The two have met more than 20 times.

On the other hand, the Russian strongman reminisced to a Chinese broadcaster early this week about celebrating his birthday with Xi in 2013: “I won’t hide it, we had a shot of vodka and sliced some sausage. We finished the day’s work and he celebrated my birthday with me … I’ve never established such relations or made such arrangements with any other foreign colleague, but I did it with President Xi.” Beijing and Moscow also signed a raft of deals, including for nuclear cooperation projects totaling 20 billion Yuan (US$3.13 billion) and a US$1 billion industrial investment fund.

It is very obvious that Xi and Putin are strategizing how to reposition themselves for a new, more powerful future amid a rapid deterioration of the US-led global order. China and Russia have been moving closer amid heightened tensions between Beijing and Washington on economic and military fronts, and as Moscow struggles with US-led sanctions.

Many analysts, particularly in the West, are casting doubts on the Xi and Putin’s bro-mance, as they think the partnership between the two is not sustainable due to hostile legacy. The reality is that Russia and China have, for obvious reasons of history, culture and above all geography, faced through most of their history in different directions: China towards Asia (where it is the supreme East Asian civilization) and Russia towards Europe. That should not however disguise the fact that their interaction has been very prolonged (since the 1680s), – longer in fact than that of China with any of the major western powers – and generally peaceful and mostly friendly. Periods of outright hostility have been short lived and rare.

Xi Jinping following quote envisages a future of cooperation denouncing uni-polarity of the US or the possibility of any other uni-polar system for that matter:

“while we keep hearing such rhetoric as the clash of civilizations or the superiority of one civilization over another, it is the diversity of civilizations that sustains human progress. Indeed, mutual learning between different cultures is a shared aspiration of all peoples”.

The philosophy of regionalism or blocs will act as a self-enforcing mechanism to ensure peace, stability and sustainable development, because a state opting for an exit will have to let go of all the economic and security benefits it can have while being part of the regional bloc. The presence of two military and economic giants like China and Russia in SCO further consolidates its viability. Though, expansion is seen to be positive, however, SCO should refrain from considering further expansion for a while. It should try to digest the newly added complexities, and concentrate on enhancing economic interactions, so as to maintain a balance between its two engines, security and economics.

The author Saddam Hussein is a Research Fellow/Program Officer at Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS), Islamabad. He graduated from School of Public Policy, Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE), Islamabad. He tweets @saddampide


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