SCO – way forward for regional connectivity

  • Good neighbours and trading partners

It was a cold winter morning in Sochi, Russia, when top leaders of 18 Asian states gathered to further synergise their respective strategies of trade and development through regional connectivity.

The occasion was the 16th meeting of the Council of the Heads of Governments of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) held in Sochi in first week of December as prime ministers of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, India and Pakistan attended the moot as full members of the organisation.

Moreover, four observer states – Iran, Afghanistan, Belarus and Mongolia; and six dialogue partners – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Turkey also attended.

The SCO meeting is the first of its kind after the organisation’s expansion in June this year to include India and Pakistan as full members.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang stole the centre-stage as he pledged China’s continued support to build friendship and partnership with its neighbours, and work with fellow SCO members to build a ‘community of shared destiny’.

Interestingly, all the SCO members are major countries in China’s neighbourhood and along the Belt and Road routes. From theory and planning to practical implementations, cooperation in strategic alignments between China and other SCO members has come to a new stage, Li said in his speech.

“By synergising our development strategies, we will be able to better leverage our comparative advantages in resources, technology, talents and capital to generate a multiplying effect on development,” said Li, noting that SCO members are all at a crucial stage of national development, and have each formulated development strategies suited to their respective national conditions.

The SCO meeting is the first of its kind after the organisation’s expansion in June this year to include India and Pakistan as full members

Development is regarded as an effective way to settle regional conflicts and instability, Li said, adding that the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative is a platform for practical cooperation instead of a geopolitical tool.

Delegates from member-states, dialogue partners and observers included Mian Abrar from Pakistan, Krivosheev Gennady from Russia, Sagimbekov Assyl from Kazakhstan, Alive Baktiiar from Kyrgyzstan, Nurkhanov Daler from Tajikistan, Usmanov Jaloliddin from Uzbekistan, Manish Shrivastava from India, Chuluuntsetseg Chimedregzen from Magnolia, Mahdi Zalzadeh from Iran, Mohammad Reza Huwaida from Afghanistan, Drigina Marina from Belarus, Zachi Ali Jabbar from Sri Lanka, Tuncay Guven from Turkey, Asadova Qizi Irada from Azerbaijan, Hrant Melik Shahnazaryan from Armenia, Kol Phanna from Cambodia and Ameet Sharma Dhakal from Nepal.

Ahead of the SCO moot, China hosted a detailed briefing-cum-conference for leading journalists working on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in ministry of foreign affairs, Beijing where Mrs Piao Yangfan, the Counselor of Department of Affairs of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, ministry of foreign affairs, China briefed the delegates about the SCO’s transformation from a regional conflict resolution mechanism to a vehicle of regional integration and development.

The delegates were ensured immaculate hospitality by senior Chinese officials led by Mrs Jiang Na, Counselor of department of affairs of Eastern Europe & Central Asia, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, China. Yang Fan and Gao Shan, the officers of the MoFA escorted the delegation to ensure best possible support to the delegation on the trip to Suzho and Nanjing.

Upon arrival at China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mrs Piao Yangfan, the Counselor of Department of Affairs of Eastern Europe & Central Asia, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, China, briefed the delegates about the SCO’s transformation from a regional conflict resolution mechanism to a vehicle of regional integration and development.

She was of the view that the SCO has become a constructive force with important influence in safeguarding regional security and stability, promoting the common development of all countries.

In the political field, member states have profound mutual trust, have signed the Treaty of Long-term Good Neighboring Friendship and Cooperation and fixed important legal principles such as the principle of friendship from generation to generation and mutual respect for their core interests.

Moreover, the SCO has established more than 50 cooperation mechanisms of different levels and fields. For instance, in the field of security, the Shanghai Convention on Anti-Terrorism, Separatism and Extremism has been signed to establishing a regional anti-terrorism agency (RATS). Moreover, deeds have been inked information sharing to holding joint military exercises, the SCO countries would make joint efforts in fighting against “three evils” – drug smuggling and transnational organized crimes and jointly resist the spread of non-traditional security threats to SCO. It has become an important security cooperation platform in the region.

In the field of tangible cooperation, all countries actively cooperate in the area of the economy, trade, transportation, agriculture and finance and to further strengthen trade and investment facilitation and establish a larger interconnection layout.

The SCO has become an important engine for regional economic development. In the field of people-to-people exchanges, various countries have conducted cooperation in education, culture, disaster relief, medical and health care, youth and media, and held hundreds of cultural exchange activities with extensive participation by all countries. In terms of organizational construction, the SCO, in an open and inclusive spirit, constantly welcomes new forces to participate.

In the history of its development, this year is particularly extraordinary. At present, the SCO region covers vast areas in Eurasia, and its space for foreign exchanges has gradually expanded to show its vigor and vitality for further prosperous development.

The past 16 years have witnessed complicated and profound changes in the international and regional situations. SCO has grown from promise to prominent. Key to achieving the above-mentioned achievements of the SCO lies in the “Shanghai Spirit” of mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality, consultation, respect for diverse civilizations and seeking common development.

The “Shanghai Spirit” has been written into the founding documents such as the “SCO” charter and the treaty on long-term good neighbours and friendships and cooperation among SCO member states.

All countries uphold the “Shanghai Spirit”, adhere to dialogue and cooperation, seek cooperation for security, take advantage of complementing each other and seeking common development. The SCO and its member states have pursued the principle of non-alignment, non-confrontation, non-opposition to third parties and opening up to the outside world.

They have conducted various forms of dialogue, exchange and cooperation with other countries and relevant international and regional organizations and started a series of the non-aligned new model of regional cooperation and establish a new model of international relations based on mutual respect, fairness and justice and win-win cooperation.

China believes the SCO countries will form a closer community of shared future for all mankind and create better beings of people worldwide. The pragmatic cooperation will enrich the connotation of the organization and benefit all parties and the Belt and Road Initiative is just a case in point.

BRI was first proposed by Chinese visionary Xi Jinping during his visit to Central Asia in the autumn of 2013. China aims to complement each other’s advantages and promote win-win cooperation by strengthening international cooperation. In more than four years, more than 100 countries and international organizations have actively supported and participated in reaching broader consensus on international cooperation and achieved a number of important phase achievements.

From 2014 to 2016, the total volume of trade between China and the “Belt and Road” countries exceeded $ 3 trillion. China has totally invested over $ 50 billion along the BRI as Chinese enterprises have set up 56 economic and trade cooperation zones in more than 20 countries, creating nearly $ 1.1 billion in revenue and created 180,000 new jobs for the countries concerned.

Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank has provided $ 1.7 billion in loans to nine projects under the BRI, while “Silk Road Fund” has invested $ 4 billion. BRI hence has become an open and inclusive platform for international cooperation and a universally welcomed global public product, following the principle of jointly building and sharing.