On 4 March, SCO Secretary-General Vladimir Norov took part in a roundtable discussion on the subject of "The SCO's role in promoting peace and security," which was organised in cooperation with the Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy (AIES). AIES president Werner Fasslabend made a welcome speech at the meeting.
Representatives of the diplomatic missions of SCO countries and experts from various Austrian research and analytical centres that deal with security issues attended the event.
Mr Norov told the attendees about the goals and principles of the SCO, its charter bodies and cooperation mechanisms. He drew their attention to existing threats and challenges affecting the common interests of the SCO and EU member states and potential areas of cooperation between SCO and EU research and analytical institutes.
The participants made a number of specific proposals in this respect:
— to hold talks with the participation of experts from competent bodies with the view of discussing issues concerning the prevention of terrorism and using best practices in this area with the participation of representatives of international organisations, namely the EU, the SCO, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and Central Asian countries;
— to promote EU-SCO-OSCE cooperation on preventing and countering transnational threats in Central Asia;
— to draft joint measures by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, the SCO and the EU to combat illegal drug trafficking and reduce demand for drugs;
— to exchange best practices for the enhancement of international information security and the countering of ITC extremism in the EU-SCO-ASEAN format.
The participants generally supported Mr Norov's idea to step up cooperation between analytical institutions of the SCO and the EU and to use the venues of the SCO forum and its Economic Analytical Center Consortium in this regard.
During the online part of the roundtable discussion, Mr Norov answered questions on various aspects of SCO activities. The audience was mostly interested in learning what efforts have been made to ensure security and stability on its territory, what influence geopolitical processes have had on the general situation,
both in the region and across the world as a whole, as well as mechanisms for improving trade, economic, cultural and humanitarian cooperation between SCO member states and potential areas for concerted efforts by the SCO and EU member countries.
Excerpts from SCO Secretary-General Vladimir Norov's speech are cited below:
Mr Norov said the current event is one of the first steps towards developing cooperation between research and analytical SCO and EU centres with a view to drafting proposals and recommendations on countering new challenges and threats that concern common interests.
He emphasized the importance of using the EU and SCO's potential for developing large-scale, open, mutually beneficial and equitable cooperation in Eurasia. By adopting its revised strategy on Central Asia on July 17, 2019, the EU confirmed that it has serious intentions to develop a true partnership with the region's countries, and to help them in their state building. The EU also reaffirmed its commitment to expand mutually advantageous cooperation in political, economic, cultural and humanitarian fields.
In a historically short span of time, the SCO has become a reliable platform for cooperation for maintaining peace and security and has occupied a befitting place among authoritative international and regional associations.
With new energy after the entry of India and Pakistan in 2017 and having become a transnational association, the SCO has increased its political influence and economic potential and has become an effective facilitator in a new era of international relations, which are based primarily on the principles and norms of international law, justice, equality and mutually beneficial cooperation.
Relying both on the Shanghai spirit, which embodies reciprocal trust, mutual benefit, equality, consultations, respect for cultural diversity and commitment to joint development, as well as on the goals of its Charter, the SCO is consistent in nurturing productive cooperation in security and the economy, as well as in its cultural and humanitarian contacts.
The SCO is neither a military-political alliance, nor an economic integration association with supranational decision-making bodies. No country dominates the SCO. It has neither elements of pressure nor coercion, nor winners or losers. All countries are motivated to reach common results based on the principles of full equality and consensus. In Mr Norov's opinion, these principles evoke keen
interest from the international community. The number of countries wishing to join it is steadily growing.
Terrorism, extremism, drug trafficking and cybercrime are the most urgent problems facing not only the SCO but also the world as a whole. There is not a single country that has not been affected by these dangerous phenomena.
It is necessary to settle the conflict in Afghanistan as soon as possible. This is a major factor for the preservation and promotion of stability on the territory of the SCO member countries. The SCO proposes that all interested countries and international organisations step up cooperation with the central, coordinating role of the UN, to stabilise and develop Afghanistan. The SCO member states are confident that there is no alternative to the political settlement of the Afghan domestic conflict and to the inclusive peace process, which should be carried out by the Afghans themselves and under their guidance.
The SCO's cooperation with Kabul is based on the roadmap endorsed at its summit in Bishkek in 2019. It is aimed at facilitating the economic recovery of Afghanistan, helping it curb the activities of international terrorist groups based in that country and eliminate threats posed to the SCO member states emanating from them. The SCO is also cooperating with Kabul in countering illegal drug trafficking and illegal migration.
Mr Norov also noted that the conclusion of an agreement between the United States and the Taliban on 29 February 2020 in Doha, capital of Qatar, was an important event for the peace process in Afghanistan. That the SCO was invited to attend this event confirms its growing international prestige and influence. Mr Norov said that after the conclusion of this agreement, representatives of the Taliban expressed their willingness to start direct inclusive inter-Afghan talks with other political forces, including the Afghan Government. He called this a gesture that inspires optimism. The Taliban pledged not to use terrorism as a method of political struggle and to prevent Afghanistan from turning into a haven for the Islamic State and al-Qaeda.
The SCO Secretary-General told the audience that the organisation has a solid contractual foundation, one that ensures effective cooperation in countering terrorism and extremism. Currently over 600 multilateral documents have been adopted. Many of them, including the Convention Against Terrorism, and the Convention on Countering Extremism, are open for signing by any interested countries.
The SCO advocates active cooperation in sharing international information at the global and regional levels. Owing to the SCO's efforts, rules of the responsible conduct of states in the information space are being consistently elaborated under
the aegis of the UN. The aforementioned EU strategy for Central Asia prioritises international cooperation in fending off extremism and radicalism and preventing the funding of terrorism, as well as encourages the development of an open, free and safe cyberspace, while also promoting cyber security.
The rapid development of the information and communication space and technology makes it easier for terrorists to broaden the geography of their destructive ideology, recruit new members from among the younger generation and support the planning and implementation of acts of terror. In this context, it is important to adopt common positions to prevent internet's use by terrorists and extremists. These positions should be based on the equal participation of states in drafting rules and standards on how it should function.
The implementation of the programme of action formulated from the joint addresses of the presidents of the SCO member countries and intended for the younger generation, has a special role to play in this respect. Adopted at the Qingdao summit in 2018, this programme is aimed at pursuing educational and information policy that can expose terrorist ideology, create conditions for young people's successful socialisation and the implementation of their creative potential in order to develop inter-cultural and inter-civilisation dialogue in the Shanghai Spirit.
In this context, the SCO pays special attention to cooperation with civil society and the mass media in order to counter terrorist propaganda and the extremism feeding it, while preserving the leading role of state institutions in carrying out counterterrorist policy.
In conclusion, Mr Norov emphasised that the SCO will continue being a reliable foundation of common and indivisible Eurasian security system, effectively contributing to global efforts to combat ideological and material-technical support for terrorism. The SCO is open for constructive dialogue with European structures and institutions in building a common safe and prosperous future.