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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 32 New Delhi July 27, 2019

Shanghai Cooperation Organisation — China Emerging as Major Beneficiary

Saturday 27 July 2019

by R.G. Gidadhubli

The 19th Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Summit (SCO) was held on June 14, 2019 in Bishkek, the capital city of Kyrgyzstan. The Russian President, Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Kyrgyz President Sooron-bai Jeenbekov, and the leaders of other SCO member-states—Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, India, and Pakistan—participated at the Summit. It was attended by the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. The focus of the summit was to expand cooperation within the SCO on security, fighting terrorism and drug trafficking, economic development, industry, ensuring peaceful borders and humanitarian cooperation. Modi rightly highlighted the need for ensuring and building a strong security architecture in the region for which it is necessary to unanimously undertake strong policy initiatives in the interest of the entire region.

Looking back into history, China and Russia being major powers have played a pioneering role in the formation of this regional organisation in 1996 which was known as the ‘Shanghai-5’ comprising of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Subsequently, Uzbekistan took interest and became a member of the SCO which was officially formed in 2001. India had observer status in the SCO and got membership in June 2017 in this major regional organisation in Eurasia being supported by Russia and Pakistan became a member of the SCO being supported by China.

While Russia has geo-political interest, China has both geo-political and geo-economic interest in forming this regional organisation. For Russia, the Central Asian states were part of the Soviet Union and have now become Moscow’s southern underbelly. Russia’s geopolitical interest in Central Asia is also to contain the growing interest of the Western powers in this region after the breakup of the former Soviet Union. Being subjected to economic sanctions by the Western countries for annexation of Crimea in 2014, Russia has adopted a Look East policy and is promoting its interest by strengthening its ties with China. It needs to be stated that the SCO has benefited the Central Asian states (CAS) by ensuring their political stability and economic development since Russia and China are the major trading partners.

 On its part China has keen interest to secure oil and natural gas and mineral resources from Russia and CAS. Secondly, equally important for the Chinese leaders was to ensure and widen the market for its products. During the last two decades China has emerged as a major investor in Russia and Central Asia and also a trading partner enjoying huge surplus trade balance with all these countries. Thirdly, China succeeded in its strategic interest and managed to solve border disputes by acquiring few disputed border areas in Russia and Kyrgyzstan and thus achieve the SCO objective of peaceful borders. Fourthly, China has undertaken Belt and Road Initiative projects to strengthen trade and economic ties and thus to achieve the objective of the SCO and reaching out to Europe through Russia and CAS. Thus China has been the major beneficiary of the SCO. Communist China is the second largest economic powerhouse in the world next to the USA; this is superimposed by the fact that Chinese President Xi enjoys immense global political status to deal with the American President replacing the former Soviet superpower.

Dr R.G. Gidadhubli is a Professor and former Director, Centre for Central Eurasian Studies, University of Mumbai.

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