On 20 March 2019, SCO Secretary-General Vladimir Norov met with the members of the SCO Press Club for a news conference at the SCO Secretariat.
The event was attended by journalists from 20 news agencies from China, Russia, India, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Iran.
Below is the full text of the news conference.
1. Regarding the upcoming SCO Heads of State Council Meeting in Bishkek, I would like to say that each summit opens a new page in the history of the organisation's development and sets new tasks.
During the Bishkek summit, the heads of state will sum up the results of Kyrgyzstan's presidency and consider priorities as we seek to further deepen the political dialogue, strengthen regional security, and enhance trade, economic, cultural and humanitarian cooperation. In addition, the leaders will discuss current international and regional issues. The summit will be preceded by meetings of secretaries of national security councils, ministers of defence, ministers of culture, ministers of foreign affairs and numerous expert meetings. Also planned are the Media Forum, Women's Forum, Business Forum and the SCO Marathon.
2. On the SCO's role in global governance, I can say that the accession of India and Pakistan has given the SCO a transcontinental character, and made it the largest organisation not only in the region but also in the world in terms of aggregate potential — total population, territory, natural resources, and GDP. Based on this, many experts note that the SCO should become one of the main pillars of the future world order.
In this regard, I can say that the SCO demonstrates an example of close fruitful cooperation aimed at building a more equitable and balanced world order based on equal, joint, indivisible, comprehensive and sustainable security, ensuring the interests of each and every state in accordance with the norms and principles of international law.
In addition to the various aspects of geopolitical, geoeconomic and civilisational factors, the active involvement of two of the world's largest powers — China and Russia, permanent members of the UN Security Council, that pursue a global agenda in their foreign policy — objectively brings the SCO to the forefront of international politics.
The SCO agenda has been expanding during the most recent stage of the organisation's development. The heads of state regularly discuss problems not only at the regional but also at the global level; SCO documents increasingly address topics such as countering global challenges and threats that require the development of collective and effective approaches by the international community.
A necessary prerequisite for the successful achievement of the SCO's objectives both domestically and internationally is non-bloc approaches of its participants to building cooperation in the interests of constructive and mutually beneficial relations in various fields without infringing on any party's interests whatsoever.
3. In response to the question and the opinion that the more representative the SCO becomes, the more it encounters opponents and challenges from other international organisations, I would like to say that one of the fundamental principles of the SCO is that its activities are not directed against any state or international organisation. The SCO is not a military-political bloc, and is ready to cooperate with other states and international associations on a broad agenda.
I can say that over its 18 years of development, the SCO has acquired many friends and partners. We have established the institutions of observer states and dialogue partners, signed documents on cooperation with respected international organisations, including the UN, CIS, CSTO, ASEAN, ECO, UN Secretariat, UNODC, ESCAP, CICA, ICRC, UNESCO and others. Cooperation documents are also being worked out with the World Tourism Organisation and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe. We maintain an active dialogue with the OSCE.
4. The fight against terrorism has become a key aspect of the SCO's multilateral cooperation. What has been accomplished, and what are your plans for the future?
One of the most important missions under the SCO Charter is the joint effort to counter terrorism, separatism and extremism in all its forms. For almost 20 years, the organisation has made a substantial contribution to maintaining security and development in a vast region — that is an undisputed fact.
Over these years, all members have jointly managed to create a solid contractual and legal framework and effective mechanisms of security cooperation. During the Qingdao summit, SCO member states approved a cooperation programme for combating terrorism, separatism and extremism in 2019-2021. This reflects the commitment of all of the organisation's states to countering major security threats in Eurasia. All countries signed the document, underscoring our collective interests: All of them want to live in peace and stability. The SCO's Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) conducts practical work and achieves significant results in its efforts to combat terrorism, separatism and extremism, in particular detecting, preventing and thwarting manifestations of these three forces of evil in SCO member states, eliminating their causes and the conditions underlying their emergence and spread, as well as countering the dissemination of their ideology and propaganda.
I can cite statistics that will be more convincing. In 2013-2017, over 600 terrorist crimes were thwarted during the planning phase, over 500 terrorist training camps were liquidated, and the activity of over 2,000 members of international terrorist organisations was disrupted. The authorities confiscated over 1,000 improvised explosive devices, 50 tonnes of explosives, 10,000 small firearms and over one million rounds of ammunition.
To hone practical skills, the armed forces and law-enforcement agencies of SCO member states conduct joint Peace Mission counter-terrorist exercises.
RATS has also established cooperation with law-enforcement agencies of SCO observer states and dialogue partners, specialised international and regional UN organisations, including the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism, UN Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia, the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs, the OSCE, the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia, Interpol, ASEAN, the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) and others.
Regarding upcoming tasks, member states consider it necessary to direct efforts toward more quickly establishing a united global anti-terrorist front, with the UN in the central coordinating role, that would act in line with international law, without politicisation and double standards.
In its activities, the SCO prioritises information security; and the organisation's development strategy to 2025, passed in 2015, devotes significant attention to it. For example, the document notes the need to strengthen cooperation in the area of internet monitoring and to disrupt efforts to use the internet to undermine regional security and stability. For these purposes, the member states affirmed their intention to streamline cooperation to combat the use of ICT for terrorist purposes and to counter cybersecurity threats facing SCO member states.
The SCO has accomplished a lot over the years on the basis of the aforementioned documents. To lay out the facts, in 2017 alone, RATS restricted access to over 80,000 online resources containing 500,000 materials as part of its efforts to prevent terrorist and extremist activity on the internet. Its operatives disrupted the activity of 360 members of terrorist and religious-extremist online communities, and over 100 criminal cases were opened against website administrators and moderators.
The SCO and its member states continue to make a substantial contribution to global efforts to fight illegal drug trafficking.
Participants in the Qingdao summit passed the anti-narcotics strategy of SCO member states for 2018-2023, an action programme to implement this strategy, as well as the SCO concept to prevent the abuse of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances. These documents serve as key tools for coordinating the efforts of SCO member states.
I would like to draw your attention to the fact that, in the past five years, law-enforcement agencies of SCO member states have confiscated about 40 percent of the total amount of heroin and marijuana confiscated throughout Eurasia. This highlights the SCO's impressive capabilities and potential for combating illegal drug trafficking and the commitment of its member states to fully meeting their international obligations.
5. Is the organisation considering Afghanistan's admission to the SCO this year? Can the country's membership contribute to solving its problem with terrorism?
The question of Afghanistan's full membership in the SCO is not currently being considered due to the country's internal situation. At the same time, SCO member states are now making efforts to normalise the situation around Afghanistan and promote the negotiating process. We intensified the SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group's efforts at the level of deputy foreign ministers; two fruitful meetings have already been held in Moscow and Beijing, with the third one currently being planned. We are now developing the Roadmap for the SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group's activities. Earlier this year, a meeting between prominent representatives of Afghan society and the Taliban movement was held in Moscow. We also launched the Tashkent process that aims to narrow the gaps in the positions of official Kabul and the opposition.
Apart from promoting the negotiating process, SCO member states are providing Afghanistan with significant material and technical assistance, especially in the sphere of infrastructure and railway construction; there also are hundreds of Afghan students studying in our universities. Every SCO member state has a significant interest in restoring peace, harmony and security in Afghanistan.
The SCO Secretariat has recently received Afghanistan's High Peace Council Secretary Mohammad Omar Daudzai, who is the Afghan president's special peace envoy. He noted the organisation's important role in facilitating the advancement of the peace process in Afghanistan.
The meeting featured a comprehensive exchange of views on the situation in Afghanistan, promoting the government's and the Afghan people's efforts to restore peace, and practical steps towards the SCO's cooperation with Afghanistan.
6. What are the SCO approaches to cooperating and developing relations with Iran?
What do think of Iran's status changing from observer state to SCO member state?
The SCO attaches great importance to interaction with observer states and dialogue partners.
The SCO member states believe it is absolutely necessary to combine efforts on a regional scale to respond effectively to challenges to security and stability, to actively promote economic and humanitarian cooperation in the SCO space.
In this regard, the SCO is interested in multifaceted cooperation with the Islamic Republic of Iran. We have very similar approaches to many issues. The SCO countries are actively developing trade and economic cooperation with Iran, and have far-reaching plans for building infrastructure projects.
We seek full consensus on Iran's full-fledged membership in the SCO, especially given that international sanctions have been lifted from Iran. The positive attitude of the SCO member states is also stated in the Qingdao Declaration, which stipulates support for the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on the Iranian nuclear programme, and also urges its participants to strictly comply with their obligations to ensure its full and effective implementation, and to advance the cause of peace and stability around the world and in the region.
7. Over the 18 years of its existence, the SCO has achieved quite good progress in economic and humanitarian cooperation, but even that cannot be compared with the impressive results that have been achieved through synergy in the field of security. As the new SCO Secretary-General, what are your thoughts on this? Will you focus on the economic track in the SCO's work, so that it doesn't lag behind? And if so, what are you planning to do?
Without doubt, all the SCO member states are interested in the harmonious development of the organisation. I believe that the focus on political and security cooperation at the first stage was due to the need to maintain stability and security; it was effective at countering the "three evils," drug trafficking and other challenges and threats, and did a great deal to guarantee sustainable development in the region.
The SCO landscape today includes a vast consumer market, an abundance of natural resources, as well as advanced production facilities, with great promise for implementing major cross-border projects and new ideas due to its stability, dynamic development and constantly emerging new opportunities.
At the SCO Summit in Qingdao, the leaders of the member states expressed unanimous support for creating favourable conditions for trade and investment in order to gradually achieve the free movement of goods, capital, services and technology. In this connection, the Joint Statement of the Heads of SCO Member States on Trade Facilitation was adopted. The package of Qingdao Summit documents also included solutions to stimulate micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, customs cooperation, development of the tourism industry, and cooperation in the food sector.
Work is currently underway to develop a new version of the comprehensive programme of multilateral trade and economic cooperation.
Its key goals relate to further intensifying the process of creating favourable conditions in trade, investment, infrastructure, transport, agriculture, media and communications.
A new vector will be promoting interaction between the regions of the SCO member states. In the near future, a programme to support interregional cooperation between SCO member states will be developed, and a Forum of Heads of Regions of the SCO member states will be established.
8. Is the SCO reviewing any specific economic cooperation projects currently? Is the agreement to facilitate road traffic in the SCO region being fulfilled? Is it possible to make any further headway in this area?
The SCO's main economic task is to create favourable conditions for trade and economic cooperation. To this end, we are working to draft plans and programmes in close collaboration with the SCO's Business Council and Interbank Consortium.
The agreement between SCO member states on the facilitation of international road transport is the most important transport document being implemented in the SCO region. In effect, the document has created a uniform foundation for facilitating international road traffic. Its main routes form the common regional system of commodity and passenger traffic using motor vehicles.
According to experts of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, the agreement opens up over 15,000 kilometres of high-speed roads for unimpeded vehicle and freight traffic. The longest route is over 9,000 kilometres long. On the whole, the agreement's routes provide landlocked countries with new opportunities in the area of trade and economic cooperation and transport infrastructure cooperation, and promote greater regional interconnectivity.
Over 244,000 kilometres of railways have been built and currently operate in SCO member states. Looking ahead, this makes it possible to draft and sign an agreement on railway traffic similar to the road traffic agreement. Experts are now actively working on it. SCO member states are jointly implementing infrastructure projects — building motorways and railways, bridges and transport checkpoints. The number of regular flights between SCO member states has increased many times over in the past 18 years. For example, the number of weekly China-bound flights from Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Uzbekistan has increased more than four-fold, with that from Tajikistan and Kazakhstan soaring eight-fold and twelve-fold, respectively.
9. Some believe that the Belt and Road Initiative is opening up new opportunities for the SCO's development. Almost all its member states, observer states and dialogue partners are located along the Belt and the Road. What are your thoughts on the SCO's role in linking that initiative with the development strategies of different countries?
The Belt and Road mega project implies mutually beneficial cooperation, deeper mutual trust and a commitment to joint development. All this corresponds to the spirit of the SCO, its goals and principles.
The SCO can play a major role in the implementation of this initiative owing to the geopolitical and geoeconomic location of the SCO countries and their membership in the organisation. The SCO is a guarantor of peace and stability in its zone of responsibility, without which it is impossible to ensure the sustainable development and prosperity of the region's nations.
In addition, in May 2015, President of Russia Vladimir Putin and President of China Xi Jinping signed an agreement on linking the Chinese initiative with the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). It was noted in the agreement that the SCO will be the main venue for discussing all related issues.
According to some experts, this linking will enable Russia and other EAEU countries to establish an enormous transit zone for cargo traffic travelling from Europe to Asia, and reach new markets in China and other Asian states with their products. For its part, China will gain additional opportunities to reach new markets for its products and gain access to sources of raw materials.
Considering that three EAEU countries are also SCO members — Russia Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan — linking the two aforementioned projects will significantly expand trade and economic cooperation between the SCO countries. It also has the potential to promote the growth of economic relations between Russia and China and between SCO countries in general.
10. Could SCO mechanisms be used to settle the recent discord between India and Pakistan? Do the disputes between these two countries pose a serious challenge to the SCO's harmony?
Regarding the Indo-Pakistani tensions that resulted in loss of life, I would like to note that they were triggered by a direct provocation by the opponents of Indo-Pakistani accord and peace.
As you know, before joining the SCO as full members, India and Pakistan assumed commitments to strictly abide by the legal regulations drafted by the SCO member states.
One of these vital commitments is to abstain from bringing bilateral contradictions and disputes into the SCO because it does not settle disputed bilateral issues, be they related to borders, water or anything else in relations between individual SCO member states.
These issues must and are being resolved through bilateral consultations and dialogue, goodwill and reasonable compromises. In addition, the commitment to unconditionally and consistently combat terrorism, separatism and extremism is a major condition for taking part in multifaceted cooperation within the SCO framework. Otherwise, the participation of these two states in SCO activities would be impossible. And so we are truly glad that both sides heeded the appeals of all SCO member states for restraint and for political and diplomatic solutions to bilateral disputes.
In addition, the whole world heard the clear signals that both sides were determined not to aggravate relations and ready to fully accept and adhere to the principles established in the Organization.
As for the refusal to accept mediation proposals from member states Organization, we see in this an intention to resolve emerging disputes in the bilateral format and through dialogue.
India and Pakistan have points of contact and are ready to work in the SCO to ensure regional security and sustainable socio-economic progress and to jointly address comprehensive challenges and threats.
The Indian and Pakistani leaders made statements to this effect at the Qingdao Summit. They announced their intention to play an active, constructive role in the SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group because peace and stability in that country is a source of common concern of all SCO member states.
Importantly, for 12 years India and Pakistan participated in the SCO's activities as observer states and there was a fairly long stage to their accession to the organisation.
At present, representatives of India and Pakistan are actively working in the SCO's two permanent agencies — the Secretariat and the Executive Committee of the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS).
India and Pakistan are also taking part in the activities of all of the SCO's 29 working mechanisms. Moreover, over 300 Indian and Pakistani servicemen took part in the international counter-terrorism exercises Peace Mission 2018 at the Chebarkul training grounds in the Chelyabinsk Region in late August 2018, which underscores the effective joint efforts of these two countries in the SCO.
The accession of these two large and influential South Asian states to the SCO is of special significance for the organisation, Eurasia and the countries themselves.
Sitting at the same negotiating table on a regular basis and in different formats, India and Pakistan are now taking part in continuous dialogue on all current items of the SCO agenda.
It is common knowledge that continuous dialogue facilitates mutual understanding, trust and new points of contact, all the more so if it is based on overlapping long-term strategic interests.
11. How do you see the further expansion of SCO influence in the world? Can new formats of cooperation with other countries emerge, given that the lists for gaining observer or dialogue partner status are already long? Do Syria and Saudi Arabia have a chance of gaining dialogue partner status before the end of this year?
The SCO's role in creating a new system of international relations will only grow because SCO member states account for a significant share of world population, territory, and natural and economic resources.
The fundamental principles of SCO activities are clear and transparent, embodying as they do the "Shanghai spirit" based on mutual trust, equality, mutual benefit, equal rights, mutual consultation, respect for cultural diversity, and a commitment to joint development.
All of this contributes to the SCO's appeal in the region and the world, with a growing number of countries wishing to join the organisation or enhance their status in it. The SCO is also expanding its cooperative ties with other international organisations.
Currently, the member states are considering numerous applications filed by states seeking to join the cooperation within the SCO with different statuses, from dialogue partner to permanent member.
At the same time, expanding the SCO Family is not an end in itself. Our main goal is to ensure dynamic development based on respect for the interests of all stakeholders, without disrupting internal harmony. But we maintain dialogue with states aspiring to a status or a higher status in the organisation. All applications for accession should be considered in a thorough, even-handed and consistent manner.
12. What major SCO meetings are planned this year? Are any new initiatives being considered for the upcoming CHS and CHG meetings and at ministerial meetings? Will any defence-related events (meetings, exercises) be held this year?
The most important of these are certainly the Bishkek Summit and the Council of Heads of Government meeting in Tashkent, which will be preceded by meetings of security council secretaries, foreign ministers, defence ministers, interior ministers, and others, who are responsible for the details of the Bishkek and Tashkent meetings.
I will not speak about the breakthrough decisions that are being prepared. This falls within the purview of the heads of state and government, but I am sure that these decisions will be approved. Many expect the SCO to set the agenda on global and regional issues as well as on the entire range of matters in its field of view.
As far as cooperation between defence ministries is concerned, I can say that it has an entirely counter-terrorism agenda and the defence ministers are due to meet soon to coordinate the details.
13. How do you plan to promote cooperation on humanitarian issues?
Humanitarian cooperation is key to strengthening mutual trust, friendship and neighbourliness between SCO member states. The stable dialogue between different cultures and civilisations within the SCO is facilitating mutual awareness, enrichment and ultimately better mutual understanding between the SCO member states. This is the organisation's main civilisational mission.
The SCO today is a vast ethno-cultural region at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. It accounts for nearly 44 percent of the world's population and boasts historical traditions of multiethnic dialogue and cultural interaction, as well as a huge natural, cultural and historical heritage.
Therefore, I regard the expansion of internal and external tourism in the SCO space as an important practical focus area. Today, 135 out of 1,092 (12.4%) sites on the World Heritage List are located in SCO member states. Apart from that, SCO countries have the biggest number of natural landmarks in the world, cultural sites, and recognised masterpieces of human genius. All these factors make the SCO tourism market a very interesting and promising one.
The SCO is focusing on youth policy in its people-to-people efforts. There are over 800 million young people living in the SCO space, or almost half of all young people in the world. We have witnessed in recent years a burgeoning pro-SCO youth movement, whose representatives are nurturing the "Shanghai spirit". The SCO Qingdao Summit in June 2018 adopted an Appeal of the Heads of State to Young People, and its provisions are being actively implemented at the present time.
14. Do you plan to hold talks with other international organisations (the UN and ASEAN, to name a few)? What is the agenda of these meetings?
In its efforts to counter terrorism, the SCO closely cooperates with international, regional and related national organisations, with a focus on the UN and specialised institutions and agencies.
Incidentally, every two years the UN General Assembly adopts resolutions on UN-SCO cooperation, which call for formats and areas of joint efforts to be updated.
Cooperation with UN subdivisions that coordinate security issues, like the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and the UN Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee, has also been formalised. The SCO maintains contacts with the UN Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy.
On the whole, I believe it is important to maintain the pace at which relations with the UN and its specialised agencies have been developing, all the more so since the UN considers the SCO to be a major regional player and seeks to engage in practical work.
In the first quarter of this year alone, the SCO had contacts with UN agencies on information security, combatting terrorism and countering illegal drug production and trafficking.
On 14 March 2019, a joint event "UN and SCO in the fight against drugs: Cooperation for strengthening international drug control" was held on the sidelines of the 62nd session of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs. It was attended by all key international and regional agencies.
During this event I had the honour of making a special joint statement on behalf of the SCO member states to express their collective position in favour of waging a relentless, uncompromising struggle against the global drug challenge.
During this visit I also met with OSCE Secretary General Thomas Greminger who reaffirmed OSCE interest in strengthening cooperation with the SCO to address common challenges and threats in the vast territory of Eurasia.
I would also like to mention my visit to the ASEAN Headquarters in Jakarta in February. The SCO and ASEAN are major neighbouring regional organisations. The visit demonstrated the common ground in our positions and views on issues related to addressing new challenges and threats, ensuring reginal stability and security and promoting trade and economic cooperation.
We will meet with representatives of the CIS and CSTO in the near future. So, we have a busy schedule on the international track.