The 10th Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Council summit, which began in the Uzbekistan capital of Tashkent yesterday, has acquired special importance because of the continuing global economic crisis and an even more volatile situation in Central Asia.
The summit will summarize what the SCO achieved in various areas in last year and analyze the challenges it faces in promoting further multilateral cooperation.
The summit is important for four distinct reasons. First, it will discuss a broader range of subjects.
Second, with the passage of a document on rules of procedure, the SCO's institutional structure will move toward complete maturity, and its internal operations and meeting mechanism will become more efficient.
Third, the SCO is expected to lay down the legal framework for its expansion, because a document on the admission of new members is likely to be issued in Tashkent. And though new members will not be admitted immediately, the document will help improve the organization's regional influence and tap its cooperation potential.
Fourth, the summit will give full expression to SCO's openness. Before the summit, the SCO Secretariat signed a document on cooperation with the UN Secretariat. It is preparing to establish links with the Organization of Islamic Conference, too.
Over the past year, the SCO has played an indispensable role in safeguarding regional security and maintaining stability, helping member states boost their economies amid the global economic crisis and make efforts for common development. The establishment of an emergency mechanism has improved the organization's capability to react quickly to unexpected events such as natural disasters and terrorist attacks. The member states have stepped up efforts to deepen regional economic cooperation, help the region recover from the economic crisis faster than other regions, and seek the reform of the international currency and financial system through transnational cooperation.
But the SCO faces some problems, too, such as weakening cohesiveness, because of the volatile international situation. In April 2010, the political upheaval in Kyrgyzstan leading to a regime change affected the regional situation. Some Central Asian countries are still facing problems such as sluggish economic growth, serious social differences, governance capability, food safety, and energy and water shortage. Besides, the "three evil forces" (terrorism, extremism and separatism) are still a threat in the region and that threat could intensify.
So the new task for the SCO is to help the member countries maintain political stability.
The organization is facing some other important challenges, too, with the international community divided over sanctions on Iran and an ever-deteriorating situation in Afghanistan to control which the US and NATO are deploying more troops.
In such crises-ridden times, the SCO can develop into a powerful regional bloc only if it enhances political trust, strengthens security cooperation aimed at safeguarding regional stability, and makes serious efforts to resolve the Afghanistan issue. Such a line is consistent with the fundamental interests of the SCO and all its members, too.
Contrary to some Western media reports, China has been playing a positive role in Central Asia - and there is no doubt about that. The principles advocated by China and other members countries for bilateral and multilateral relations - such as all countries, big or small, are equal, one country should not interfere with the internal affairs of another, and member states should have mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity and promote security based on cooperation - have created a new regional cooperation model which yields mutually beneficial results.
China's leaders have always attached great importance to the SCO and put forward concrete suggestions at every summit, including the advocacy of the "Shanghai spirit" and a new security outlook, and the signing of the Treaty of Good-Neighborliness and Friendly Cooperation.
China has contributed greatly in terms of security, economy, trade and culture for more than nine years to promote cooperation in the bloc.
In 2004, President Hu Jintao sanctioned $900 million in loans for SCO members. The figure reached $10 billion at the last summit, which was warmly welcomed by the Central Asian countries. Several large-scale transport and energy projects in neighboring countries are likely to become operational soon and consolidate multilateral cooperation because of China's assistance.
This shows that China, far from being the "selfish giant" that the West accuses it to be, has been the major driving force behind regional cooperation and development.
The author is a researcher at SCO Research Center, affiliated to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
(China Daily 06/10/2010 page9)