SCO was founded on April 26, 1996 by leaders of the above mentioned five countries with Uzbekistan joined on June 15, 2001. SCO is a political, economic and security organization linking Eurasian nations to cooperate in security (intelligence sharing, counter-terrorism, separatism and extremism), economy (free trade area, cross-border routes and financing) and culture (culture ministers meeting and Arts Festival and Exhibition). SCO holds annual Summits of the Council of Heads of State and Foreign Ministers hosted by the original six member states. Counter to Western media observers’ claim that SCO is a ‘NATO like’ organization, SCO’s activities remained as cooperation in the above stated three areas with no hostile or military action against any other nation. However, when the U.S. applied for observer status, she was rejected in 2005, mainly because of her indefinite military presence in Afghanistan and Iraq. SCO had requested the U.S. to set a clear timetable for withdrawing her troops in SCO member states, namely Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Otherwise, SCO has not made any direct remarks against the U.S.
The strategists in the U.S., namely led by Zbigniew Brzezinski, believed that the key to global domination is the control of Central Asia and the Eurasian landmass. Thus, the U.S. political commentators (perhaps some political analysts in Russia and China as well) view SCO as a counterbalance of the NATO and the U.S. in Central Asia. However, the most direct action of SCO in this regard has been a declaration stating SCO’s principles at the 2005 Summit in Kazakhstan: (paraphrased as) Member states (shall) have the ability and responsibility to safeguard the security of the Central Asian region, and calls on Western countries to leave Central Asia, demand non-intervention in internal affairs of sovereign states, non-confrontational way of thinking and consecutive movement towards democratization of international relations, and call upon the international community, regardless of their differences in ideology and social structure, to form a new concept of security based on mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality and interaction. Therefore, SCO has been a non-aggressive international body different from the NATO. Based on SCO’s history, SCO deserves the above positive statement.
In the 2017 SCO Summit, China’s leader Xi Jin Ping has made a five-point proposal to further advance the goals of SCO. First, he proposes strengthening solidarity and coordination quoting a Kazakhstan saying, “Where there is solidarity, happiness will follow.” and urging all member states, old and new, to work in close coordination, to deepen mutual trust and to increase mutual support in their endeavor to build a community of shared future featuring equality, mutual support, solidarity and sharing of prosperity and misfortune. China proposes a 5-year outline for implementation of the TLGNFC Treaty to set the direction for SCO cooperation in all fields in the next phase, raising high expectation of SCO achievement now with India and Pakistan getting on board. The TLGNFC Treaty should lessen conflicts between these two countries.
Xi’s second proposal is to join hands to tackle challenges on security issues. China calls for SCO to strengthen regional counter-terrorism institutional building and to crack down resolutely on illicit drug manufacturing and trafficking. China is willing to host again the SCO joint counter-terrorism cyber exercise and proposes to hold a defense security forum and to formulate a three-year program of cooperation to fight the three forces, terrorism, ethnic separatism, and religious extremism. Since the three forces are the common concern of SCO member states, any strengthening cooperative efforts among SCO members are welcome news not only to SCO but to the world facing such challenges.
Xi’s third proposal is to deepen practical cooperation citing One Belt and One Road (OBOR) being synergized and Kazakhstan’s $9 Billion infrastructure project, a path to future (Nurly Zhol). China suggests to gradually putting in place institutional arrangements for regional economic cooperation, beginning with a SCO trade facilitation agreement and opening of the cross-border routes per SCO agreed schedule on Creating Favorable Conditions for International Road Transportation. China supports sub-national cooperation in small and medium enterprise through think-tank and e-commerce alliances. China suggests exploring establishing SCO development bank in addition to utilizing existing financing platforms. Stable financial support will certainly bring a brighter future for SCO member states.
For enhancing people-to-people bond, Xi’s fourth proposal is a practical one, to ensure the success of the SCO University, as well as SCO's brand projects such as the youth exchange camp and the summer camp for elementary and middle-school students, to host cultural and art festival, women's forum and skills contest of workers, and to strive for solid progress of SCO cooperation in health, disaster relief, environment protection, sports, tourism and human resources development. Xi has made a penetrating point that closer people-to-people ties would not be possible without the positive role of the media. Hence China suggests setting up a mechanism for media cooperation, and would like to host the first SCO media summit. It is certainly true that the media has not reported very much SCO’s progress in the past two decades. We look forward to reading more success stories about SCO.
Finally, the fifth proposal in Xi’s speech is on upholding openness and inclusiveness as a feature of SCO. Thus China supports SCO carrying out cooperation of various forms and areas with its observer states and dialogue partners as well as other countries and cooperating with the United Nations and other international and regional organizations. China will make an additional contribution of RMB10 million to the SCO Secretariat for improving its working conditions and undertaking more activities. It is this openness, practical benefit and non-invasive approach distinguishes SCO from say the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) which has failed before it begins. SCO’s future outlook is destined to be bight especially when China is putting money in SCO’s mouth!
China will take over the rotating presidency of the SCO and hosting of the next summit in June 2018. We can expect China to make best efforts to fulfill the SCO goals of cooperating with all other parties to usher in a brighter future for the SCO in 2018!
Ifay Chang. Ph.D. Producer/Host, Community Education - Scrammble Game Show, Weekly TV Columnist, www.us-chinaforum.org . Trustee, Somers Central School District.