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SCO outshines NATO in valuing cooperation

By Sun Zhuangzhi | China Daily | Updated: 2014-09-11 07:11

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit on Sept 11-12 in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, is likely to see member states issue a joint statement to boost multilateral strategic cooperation.

The SCO was designed to promote open, pragmatic and transparent cooperation among member states for regional development, rather than as a political or military group. In its approach to cooperation, the SCO is fundamentally different from the US-led NATO, which was founded during the Cold War. NATO, an alliance borne out of the postwar confrontation between the US and the Soviet Union, was established to strengthen military ties among its member states and to serve as a joint military force to reinforce the US' leadership across the globe.

The Sept 4 NATO summit in Wales, the United Kingdom, expressed great concern over the security situation in Europe and the Ukraine crisis. Vowing to extend more support to Ukraine through the "Readiness Action Plan", the summit was actually seeking to contain Russia.

In stark contrast, the SCO summit is unlikely to focus on NATO's sanctions against Russia despite the latter being a major member of the organization. Instead, it will lay equal emphasis on economic and security cooperation, because all SCO member states - China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan - believe in cooperation rather than confrontation.

The SCO promotes economic and cultural exchanges, and accords priority to trade facilitation in the fields of transportation, energy and finance. The "New Silk Road Economic Belt" proposed by President Xi Jinping last year - which covers 40 Asian and European countries - is an appropriate example of infrastructure interconnection among SCO member states.

Russia is facing a hostile West, which is accusing it of supporting Ukrainian rebels in eastern Ukraine. And the sanctions imposed by the West are hurting Russia's economy. New Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has complicated matters further by declaring that Ukraine would like to join the European Union and NATO, because this poses an immediate threat to Russia.

Although the not-so indirect confrontation between Russia and Western powers over the Ukraine crisis is unlikely to trigger a "new cold war" because today most countries' national interests are intertwined, it could break the geopolitical balance in Eurasia. Also, Ukraine may be geographically unrelated to the SCO, but it is a member of the Commonwealth of the Independent States which also has its members as Russia and some Central Asian countries such as Kazakhstan, whose diplomatic policies can directly affect the development of the SCO.

Despite Russia attaching greater importance to cooperation with China and Central Asian countries after the outbreak of the Ukraine crisis, the SCO will neither intervene in the internal affairs of Ukraine, nor side with Moscow against the West. Instead, the SCO prefers to help resolve the Ukraine issue through diplomatic and political channels, and prevent the crisis from having "spillover effects" on Ukraine's neighbors.

Another distinctive SCO feature is that its security cooperation is not targeted at any third party. Being one of the first regional organizations against transnational terrorism, the SCO established a permanent anti-terrorism base in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, in 2004 to fight the "three evil forces" of terrorism, extremism and separatism, as well as cross-border crimes like drug trafficking. Equally importantly, the SCO-led joint anti-terrorist exercises, though frequent, are not aimed at an imaginary enemy; their purpose is to strengthen mutual trust among member states' militaries and crush the "three evil forces".

Also, the SCO values cooperation in non-traditional security fields, including environmental protection, food, epidemic prevention and cybersecurity, for which it has set up different coordination mechanisms.

The SCO is succeeding in its mission because it is committed to building a community of shared interests and destiny based on cooperation, rather than simply becoming a regional grouping. And the purpose of this cooperative mode is to create a "win-win" situation without ignoring the differences in cultures and national conditions of the member states.

The author is secretary general of the SCO Research Center, affiliated to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.


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