Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is progressing slowly but surely. It started as a small organization, the Shanghai Five. Since its’ inception, it has covered a long distance. It is now one of the most powerful regional organizations with global relevance. Moreover, the consistency and focused nature of the organization is helping to create a sphere of influence. In fact, its enhanced importance and influence is attracting criticism from opponents.
SCO has proved its significance by delivering on the promised objectives like settling border disputes, security, extremism and separatism. SCO played a vital role during COVID-19 and it is also continuing to assist the member countries. China also extended cooperation to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19. It has launched a special forum with the name of China-SCO Digital Economy Forum. SCO has emerged as an organization which not only talks, but also delivers. As, President Xi said, there is a need that global organizations must deliver, not only talk.
The importance of the organization is on the rise, because the existing alliances and global institutions are deteriorating. The prominent examples are the undermining of the role of World Health Organizations during COVID-19 by Western countries and the recent spat among France, USA, Australia and UK.
The episode of COVID-19 is more disturbing. Global political economy of COVID-19 has resulted in many unsettling outcomes. First of all, COVID-19 is a global issue, but Western countries joined by India etc. turned it into a nationalistic slogan. They started to run campaigns to malign others. However, the most disturbing part was that many countries started to use COVID-19 as a weapon of influence and to secure economic interests. They started to hoard the equipment and protective material which was vital and urgently needed in the fight against COVID-19. Apart from the ban on COVID-19 related material, they also did not hesitate to ban the trade of daily essentials and lifesaving products like food, medicine etc even though the pandemic required global response and cooperation.
Now politics has been started on the provision of vaccine and recognition of vaccine of other countries. Many countries started to hoard the vaccine raw material or ban the export of vaccine or raw material. The U.S, the self-declared champion of humanity, followed suit, rather led it. Now some Western countries are refusing to accept the efficiency of Chinese vaccines. They are promoting only their brand and want to earn maximum economic revenue. They also tried to undermine the efforts of China to provide free vaccine to poor segments.
On the other hand, there is a rift among the existing Western alliances. The most recent event is the sudden spat between France and AUKUS. The Five Eye alliance members betrayed their NATO ally when US and UK secretly struck a deal with Australia. The new alliance hurt France on two fronts. First, France lost agreement of US$ 66 billion with Australia. Australia signed agreement with France to buy submarines; France was working on the production of submarines, but Australia suddenly abandoned the agreement. Now US will be securing the deal and earning hefty money. France’s economy is already facing problems and this incident will further complicate the situation.
Second, France is unable to absorb that its close allies were negotiating a new alliance to work in the Asia-Pacific region. They kept France completely in the dark and did not share any information with them. Although France was working hard on Asia-Pacific strategy with the name India-Pacific strategy for a long time and had started dialogues at different forums. Thus, France feels it has been back stabbed and they perceive it as a deliberate attempt to undermine the country.
The analysis of these two examples highlights one very critical lesson. The global governance structure and alliances were built on the principle of “national interest” not with the formula of win-win cooperation. Whenever the alliance members feel they can grab the maximum share of cake, they do not hesitate to sideline others. The worst part is that they even do not hesitate to snatch others’ cake which is apparent from the submarine deal. Moreover, if global institutions do not serve the interest of powerful Western countries, they in turn refuse to accept their advice on issues like COVID-19 or in voting in the UN General Assembly on Israel’s shift of capital.
In this context, the importance of SCO has become more significant since it is entirely a different entity as compared to global structures and alliances. SCO has been built on three principles. First, it is built on the principle of partnership, it is not a binding organization. Second, it is built on the principle of relationship, which encourages the members to respect each other’s interest. Third, it promotes win-win cooperation, especially in the fields of economy and trade like Belt and Route Initiative by China. Thus, it encourages the solutions which are beneficial for everyone; there should be no backdoor channels to betray others like what happened to France. It also believes in peaceful co-existence without pressurizing other countries to follow the instructions like it solved border issues with SCO members by dialogues.
In the pursuance of its objectives of peaceful co-existence and mutually beneficial development, it is now focusing on the issue of Afghanistan. The 21st meeting of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Tajikistan comprehensively deliberated on it. The heads of states also deliberated on other things including economic cooperation, connectivity, trade, climate change but Afghanistan was a key area of discussion. Afghanistan was the most discussed issue and the head of states tried to figure out, how SCO and regional countries can help to tackle the issue of Afghanistan. SCO tried to find out the solution by keeping the interest of people’s Afghanistan at the center, which makes it different from other organizations.
First, it was discussed how an inclusive government can be structured, and different players can join hands for the welfare of people. Second, they deliberated on the possible avenues of economic cooperation. China stressed that in these efforts the integrity, sovereignty and national needs of Afghanistan must be respected. There should be no dictation from outside, rather there is need to work with Afghan people according to their needs for ensuring their welfare. Russia asked the world to work with Taliban and said that there is no need to sanction them. Iran and India have different points of view and stance on Taliban. However, SCO showed unity in working with Afghan people and helping them to come out of difficult times. Pakistan was asked by SCO, especially by China and Russia, to work with Taliban and Afghan people to find solution for the establishment of an inclusive government.
In conclusion, Afghanistan presents an opportunity for SCO to further strengthen its status as a partnership-based organization with the principles of relationship and win-win cooperation. It is also an opportunity to present the world with an alternative model to alliance-based organizations like NATO, G-7 etc. These organizations focus on their own self-interest and thereby undermine the rights of other nations, even the rights of their own members. SCO can also present an opportunity to less developed countries to deal with developed countries in a respectful way.
Let’s hope SCO can live up to these expectations.
The writer is CEO, Asian Institute of Eco-Civilization Research and Development.