Secretary General of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Vladimir Norov told the about the cooperation of the SCO countries in the conditions of the global pandemic, about the unpreparedness of major international structures and alliances to crises and about the fact that no state can provide its own security by suppressing the coronavirus only on its territory. Here are excerpts from his interview.
- Dear Mr. Norov, we are well aware of the situation with coronavirus and a fight against disease in China. Could you tell us about the measures taken to combat the pandemic in other SCO member states?
— The scale of the epidemic in China in January and February has allowed many countries to assess in advance the level of the impending threat and take preventive measures.
In mid-March, the epidemic landscape began to change dramatically, and the SCO countries were also faced with this previously unknown to anyone, dangerous disease.
In order to avoid a widespread outbreak of the virus in many SCO member states, an emergency regime is currently in place, and the headquarters, committees and commissions responsible for the epidemiological situation have been established and are working systematically to mobilize the necessary resources.
I would like to highlight a few key factors.
First, the people of the SCO countries understood the forced measures to close educational institutions, to restrict the activities of enterprises, to shut down transport communications and borders, to postpone public and entertainment events.
Secondly, all government institutions, especially those responsible for healthcare, have been mobilized and are working to combat the Coronavirus epidemic in accordance with WHO recommendations. Ministries of health have demonstrated their readiness to quickly and effectively counter the virus wave, but, as everywhere else, there are cases of infection of doctors themselves in the process. In this regard, measures are taken to support healthcare personnel who are at the frontline of the fight against the dangerous virus. The already tense daily life of doctors has now turned into a real battle, they are risking their lives to treat the infected, but at the same time they remain calm and cheerful. This attitude of doctors towards their work and the sick is deeply respected and appreciated. In this regard, the governments of the SCO countries take measures to materially encourage the work of doctors and medical workers, which is quite fair and justified given the degree of danger of treating the coronavirus patients. I think that the care at the state level, unity of spirit, solidarity and moral support from the population for the efforts of doctors give them additional strength and a sense of confidence in overcoming this common threat.
Thirdly, in the fight against the coronavirus, the possibilities of foreign ministries were mobilized to the maximum extent, which did a great job on the return of their citizens from other countries.
Fourth, financial and economic resources have been mobilized. Most SCO member states have adopted anti-crisis packages of measures that define the rights and obligations of citizens in connection with the introduction of the emergency situation, and provide for measures to support public and private enterprises, preserve wages, reduce taxes and provide assistance to the most vulnerable social strata.
The law enforcement and defence forces have also consolidated all their capacities and ensure public stability, taking the necessary measures to prevent the negative trends that have been observed in some countries of the world amid the growing epidemic. Unfortunately, some citizens have shown irresponsibility, in particular, in many countries there is the spread of inaccurate information related to coronavirus, concealment of symptoms of disease or intentional infection of others, growing organized crime through the Internet, production of counterfeit medical products and medicines. There is also the risk of terrorist and extremist forces exploiting the coronavirus situation, which imposes many restrictions and pressures on the functioning of key public security services.
The epidemic is also experiencing the reliability of the widespread use of information and communications technologies in human life. The issue of information security and the security of critical infrastructure has become particularly relevant due to the increased attention paid to the coronavirus in the information space, as well as the mass transition of people to online and remote communication, which undermines established norms for the secure functioning of systems on the Internet. According to experts, the main threats are leakage of personal data, cyber-attacks on test laboratories, medical facilities, banks, financial fraud, and malicious messaging.
Given that the entire world faced an information security challenge during the pandemic, it is important to look at these experiences from an organizational and technical perspective, as there is a need for further improvements in the regulatory framework, national sustainable structures, high-tech software systems and information security tools. I think that these issues will be given special attention within the SCO as China, India and Russia have more sustainable systems and mechanisms that can be introduced in other SCO countries. I am convinced that the SCO Working Group on IT-technologies will conduct an analysis on all the positive and vulnerable factors of the new reality that lies in the practical establishment of the technological way of life.
- How do Member States help each other?
— The coronavirus epidemic has become a test of the unity and strength of cooperation within the SCO countries. First of all, it demonstrated its readiness to share not only epidemiological and organizational experience, but also to provide financial, economic and food aid to each other.
Since the beginning of the epidemic, the SCO member states have been in close contact with each other at the level of heads of state, heads of ministries and agencies responsible for healthcare and public security.
In the current difficult situation, coordination, exchange of information and mutual assistance are essential in overcoming all the negative consequences of the pandemic.
It is well understood in our countries that no state will be able to ensure its own security by suppressing the coronavirus only on its territory as long as the disease continues to spread in neighbouring countries.
As it is known, in the midst of the epidemic in China, the SCO member states provided assistance to the Chinese government. Currently, China, where the virus has gone down, is providing necessary assistance to the SCO countries by sending humanitarian aid. Chinese and Russian specialists are working on developing the vaccine. Back in February Russia transferred test systems for laboratory diagnostics of coronavirus to Central Asian countries. China, Russia, and Uzbekistan, despite the tense process of containing the epidemic, are now sharing available food supplies and medicines with the most needy countries in the region. In particular, Uzbekistan has provided humanitarian assistance to Kyrgyzstan. According to Kyrgyz experts, this noble step shows that today relations in Central Asia have a completely different face. Assistance at such a difficult time indicates brotherly relations in the region, which seeks cooperation, integration and improvement of mutual relations, which will also have a beneficial impact on the SCO.
Russia, China, Uzbekistan have also sent assistance to Iran and Afghanistan, our observer states. Kazakhstan expressed willingness to help Central Asian nations in case of need. China has sent doctors and specialists to Iran and Kazakhstan.
All this demonstrates the commitment of SCO nations to mutual support and cooperation in order to jointly overcome this emergency.
I am fully convinced that our countries will withstand this ordeal with dignity and emerge from the situation with even stronger spirit and consciousness to build a new future on the basis of their experience.
- What efforts should the international community make to combat the Coronavirus pandemic?
— The proliferation of coronavirus has become a global problem that deserves attention at the highest international level. The efforts of one or more countries are definitely insufficient, as experience shows. In this regard, the practical implementation of the proposals and initiatives voiced at the recent meeting of the G20 heads of state, including leaders of SCO member states — China, Russia and India, is very important.
In particular, President Xi Jinping's proposal on consolidation of forces to accelerate vaccine development, introduction of drugs and test systems seems important from the point of view of concrete definition of the most effective treatment and prevention methods.
President Vladimir Putin, in his proposal to create so-called green corridors, free of trade sanctions, for mutual supplies of medicines, food, equipment, as well as a solidarity moratorium on the restriction of essential goods, as well as financial transactions for procurement against the countries most affected by the pandemic, rightly noted that this is a matter of life and death, and it is entirely a humanitarian issue.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has noted a paradoxical statistic that 90% of COVID-19 cases and 88% of deaths were in G20 countries, despite owning 80% of world GDP and living in 60% of the world population.
It should be said that the coronavirus has seriously tested the national health systems of all countries of the world and their ability to withstand epidemiological shocks. The disease caused problems not only in the sphere of health care, but also provoked the economic crisis, revealing all the imperfections of the social sector responsible for the welfare of elderly people and people who do not have a permanent job.
In general, the coronavirus has endangered the constantly circulating mechanism of globalization by halting the international flow of finance, goods and people.
It is important that China's economy has begun to recover. As you know, China is one of the few countries in the world that has all the chains of real production. Now more than 90% of China's major industrial enterprises have restored production, and under current conditions of shortage of medical protective equipment, basic necessities and food, China's powerful production and supply capacity has become even more important.
The coronavirus has also shown that major international structures and alliances are not prepared for emergency and crisis situations requiring joint action.
The virus has also affected the global balance of power, but the attempts to use the pandemic to increase sinophobia have not been particularly successful. I support the UN Secretary-General's opinion that the cause of the pandemic should be sought after it has been overcome.
This is a time for unity, solidarity in order to save lives and reduce devastating social and economic consequences. We need to support the work of the UN as a universal and effective platform for global cooperation. Politicizing the virus is of no benefit to anyone but the virus itself.
- I would like to ask if there are any changes in the schedule for the SCO summit in St. Petersburg today?
— No changes have yet taken place in the date of the meeting of the Council of Heads of SCO member states in St. Petersburg, and we are still planning to hold it in July this year. At the same time, the measures taken to limit transport communication objectively force us to postpone the dates of preparatory events or to switch some of them online, to the format of videoconferences.
On April, 1 a meeting of experts from the healthcare ministries of the SCO member states was held in the format of a videoconference, during which the participants reviewed the epidemiological situation in the SCO countries, discussed the issues of enhancing cooperation on strengthening control over the development of the situation with COVID-19 and finding an effective method of treating patients with confirmed diagnosis. The experts agreed on the need to develop methodological recommendations on the safety of medical personnel at the national level in SCO member states.
We intend to continue consultations on the fight against coronavirus at a higher level and to take decisive action together to counter the spread of the disease.
Moreover, to agree on a large package of documents we plan to maximise the contacts of the SCO Permanent Representatives to the SCO Secretariat in Beijing. Thus, on April, 9, they held a meeting and considered draft documents such as a statement by the Heads of SCO member states on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the Victory Day and a statement by SCO member states on cooperation in ensuring international information security.