Answers of the SCO Secretary-General Vladimir Norov to media questions at a press conference

1. A new type of coronavirus is now spreading around the world. How, in your opinion, should the SCO countries step up cooperation to jointly respond to COVID-19? What efforts is the SCO ready to make to combat COVID-19 in the future?

According to WHO, there are already about 7 million infected in the world and almost 400 thousand deaths from the disease.
WHO also notes that although the situation in Europe is improving, it is worsening globally. The situation in the SCO countries is comparatively more complicated in Russia, India and Pakistan. Specialists also talk about the possibility of a second wave of the virus worldwide. All this predetermines the need for precautions and prevention.

It should be said that China at the beginning of the year, at the cost of enormous efforts, helped the world to buy time to fight the virus and introduced new standards in response to outbreaks of infectious diseases.
China's experience in combating the disease has shown that "early detection, early warning, early isolation and early treatment" are the most effective measures.

Based on this experience and on their own realities, the SCO member states are fighting the virus.

If we talk about cooperation of the SCO countries, our peoples have a saying: "friends learn in trouble". The SCO countries actively support each other at this difficult time. The leaders of the SCO states in the first days of the epidemic outbreak expressed their strong and unconditional support and solidarity with the efforts of China, as well as sent various kinds of humanitarian aid. Moral support was rendered to our peoples, especially by the younger generation expressing their feelings of solidarity and empathy. The entire staff of the SCO Secretariat was with heart and soul together with the people of Wuhan City and the Chinese people.

When the virus touched most of the SCO countries, China extended a helping hand and provided humanitarian assistance to all SCO countries, and medical specialists were sent to some countries. All this testifies to the fraternal relations between the SCO member states, which have not withdrawn each in their distress, but have supported each other.
In general, the SCO will actively work to counter the spread of infectious diseases and respond to health emergencies.

I would like to particularly note that the legal framework for cooperation and available mechanisms within the SCO on issues of cooperation in the area of health care and ensuring sanitary-epidemiological well-being of the population are adequate and make it possible to carry out necessary work.

2. The SCO adheres to the "Shanghai Spirit". In your opinion, what important revelation for global development has the cooperation mechanism established within the SCO and the spirit of cooperation to which the Organisation adheres?

The Shanghai spirit embodies mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality, mutual consultation, respect for diversity of cultures and the pursuit of common development.

These principles, enshrined in the SCO Charter, have defined the ideological and political essence of SCO and outlined the mechanisms of its internal structure. Over the past 19 years, the concept of "the Shanghai spirit" has become firmly embedded in the political and diplomatic lexicon and enriched the theory and practice of contemporary international relations.

The SCO member states have been consistently building extra-bloc, non-confrontational and constructive partnership relations that are not directed against third parties.
Voluntary membership, equality of participants, and a consensus model of decision-making have shaped an attractive image of SCO and given it an appealing force. The entry of India and Pakistan into the SCO, as well as the aspiration of many countries to become members of the Organisation is an indicator of its growing prestige in the world.

The experience of SCO can be considered the first experience in the history of building an equal partnership of balanced, diverse states with different economic and political potential, cultural and civilizational peculiarities

In other words, SCO has managed to demonstrate in practice, the construction of interstate relations based on the "Shanghai spirit". The consensus model of interaction has passed the test of time and shown its viability. The value of the "Shanghai spirit" is determined by its essence, which provides an alternative to such notions as the conflict of civilizations, the Cold War, trade war, protectionism and the Zero-sum game.

The current global trends, increasing geopolitical tensions, the complex nature of threats and challenges, in fact, require collective efforts to create a more just and polycentric model of the world order.

And SCO will play an important role in this process, as a significant part of the world's population, territory, natural and economic resources fall on the SCO member states, respectively, the Organisation should become one of the main "bearing structures" of the new world order.

3. As a result of its almost 19-year development, the SCO has become a universal regional organization with the greatest geographical and human coverage. How do you assess the contribution that the SCO has made to preserving regional security and promoting joint development? What efforts should be made to enable SCO to play an even greater role in the future?

The SCO Charter identifies the joint fight against terrorism, separatism and extremism in all their manifestations as one of its important tasks. For almost two decades the organization has made a significant contribution to ensuring security and development in a vast region, which is an undeniable fact.

Despite growing challenges and threats, tensions in a number of places in the world, the SCO region has enjoyed sustainable stability thanks to effective security cooperation within SCO. Over the years, it has managed to create a solid legal and contractual framework and effective mechanisms for cooperation. Above all, practical work is being carried out on the basis of the SCO Regional Antiterrorist Structure. In order to improve practical skills, joint counter-terrorism exercises are regularly conducted by law enforcement agencies and the armed forces.

SCO makes a significant contribution to global efforts to combat illicit drug trafficking. I have already told you in detail about this area in my statement.

The current environment has fully revealed the broad potential of ICT and the benefits of digitalization of the socio-economic sphere. At the same time, cybersecurity challenges related to Internet fraud and hacker attacks on public and financial institutions have increased. In this context, the Secretariat considers it important to take measures aimed at enhancing the protection of critical infrastructure and the widespread use of new information technologies in all areas of government activity.

It would be advisable to involve in this work the leading enterprises of IT-industry of our countries, such as Alibaba Group, Group and other large companies of SCO countries, which in practice demonstrated the effectiveness of information technologies during the pandemic.

In general, the growth of new challenges and threats to global and regional security in the form of epidemics, crime in the field of information and communication technologies, bioterrorism, and transnational organized crime requires a comprehensive approach to their neutralization on an inclusive multilateral basis. That is why the issue of expanding the powers of the SCO Regional Antiterrorist Structure is currently under consideration.

4. Recently, the international community has paid great attention to the drafting of a bill to protect national security in Hong Kong. You recently attended an event in the margins of China's "two sessions". Could you share with us your views on this issue?

As we all know, on May 28, 2020, at the session of the National People's Representatives Meeting of China, it was decided to establish and improve the legal system and law enforcement mechanism to ensure security in this Special Administrative Region of China.

As far back as September 2019, in connection with the situation in Hong Kong at that time, the SCO Secretariat made a statement in which it noted that SCO was consistently in favour of strengthening the rule of international law, strict observance of the UN Charter, first of all the principles of non-interference in internal affairs, mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, and safeguarding the interests of each state.

In this regard, SCO calls on the external forces to refrain from any steps that could aggravate the situation in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, China, and not to create difficulties in restoring peace and stability in that territory.
This SCO position remains unchanged.

5. There is a growing trend in the world to build new dividing lines, to curtail international cooperation, some countries generally refuse to participate in international organizations and comply with international treaties. What is the position of SCO? Will SCO further develop cooperation with the UN, its institutions and other international organisations?

UN Secretary-General António Guterres in January this year during his speech at the UN General Assembly with a report on the results of the organization in 2019, noted 4 threats that pose a threat to the world. These are geopolitical tensions, climate change, global distrust and the misuse of new technologies.

The Coronavirus pandemic has only exacerbated these threats and posed a dilemma — to unite the entire world community and fight the disease or suffer heavy human losses. This dilemma is primarily due to the lack of global governance, failures in the system of international relations, due to the policies of individual states that openly disregard the UN Charter and international law. Despite the fact that security threats are now increasingly global in nature, and multilateral coordination mechanisms are being destroyed, leading to increased instability and unpredictability.

The most important task now is to overcome political confrontation on a global and regional scale, to abandon nationalist and populist ideas and protectionism.
Politicizing the virus is only beneficial to the virus itself, which knows no borders.

In general, in the current difficult situation, coordination, exchange of information and mutual assistance are essential. No State can ensure its own security by suppressing the disease only on its territory. In that regard, it is necessary to consolidate the efforts of all countries and international and regional organizations.

UN activities should be supported as a universal and effective platform for global cooperation. As regards SCO's cooperation with the UN, I have already told you in detail.

6. We are witnessing conflict situations between SCO member States. Does not this mean weakening of SCO as an international association? Do you rule out the collapse of SCO in this regard? Can the SCO help resolve local disputes and misunderstandings, strengthen regional stability and security in the world as a whole?

First, I would refrain from using the words "conflict situations among SCO member States".
You may be referring to certain facts that have taken place in the border areas between some SCO countries.

There is a common understanding in the SCO that problems arising in relations between states, in particular territorial and border disputes, are usually resolved bilaterally through bilateral mechanisms designed for this purpose. These are, of course, cases where these States do not seek mediation from the Organization or other Member States. In situations where the member States apply, the procedures provided for in the Regulations on Political and Diplomatic Measures and Mechanisms for SCO Response to Situations Endangering Peace and Security and Stability in the Region are applied.

I would like to note that the experience of recent years has shown the ability of our states to solve existing problems by peaceful, political and diplomatic way, without interference. In response to the readiness of other member states to aid, the sides responded with gratitude and assurances that the existing problems will be solved independently. The political will of the leaders of SCO countries, wisdom of our peoples makes it possible to solve all existing issues, including local problems of bilateral nature through compromise and dialogue.

Accordingly, SCO is not a platform for resolving disputes and disagreements of a bilateral nature. It was created for higher goals related to strengthening peace, ensuring security and stability in the region in the context of developing processes of political multipolarity, economic and information globalization. Interaction within SCO fully contributes to unlocking the enormous potential for good-neighbourliness, unity and cooperation among States and their peoples.

7. The epidemic has had a negative impact on economic development in the world. In your opinion, how should the SCO member states strengthen cooperation in order to respond to the global economic downturn?

On 13 April this year the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the SCO member states discussed the issues of joint overcoming social and economic consequences of the epidemic via videoconference.

The parties noted the importance of efficient use of the potential of the Program of Multilateral Trade and Economic Cooperation of the SCO Member States until 2035, particularly in transport and transit, infrastructure, agriculture and other areas.

In the opinion of the majority of parties, the issues of uninterrupted supply of food products, medicines and medical devices to the population of SCO member states in the conditions of the ongoing pandemic remain topical today. In this context, proposals were made to create a special mechanism of the "green corridor" for transit cargo transportation for the free passage of imports and exports of socially important products and personal protective equipment. In order to ensure food security, proposals have been made to establish a "flexible system" of food reserves.

The Chinese side expressed readiness to continue implementing the targeted credit program within the SCO interbank association in support of economic development of the SCO countries, and noted the importance of implementing the SCO Cooperation Program on food security, expanding new forms and ways of modern agricultural cooperation, ensuring stability of supplies and market of agricultural products in the region.

The parties noted the importance of comprehensive measures to create new growth points, including through accelerated introduction of scientific and technological innovations. A number of parties expressed the need to expand the share of settlements in national currencies in order to counter financial risks.
COVID-19 has broken the usual mode of functioning of national economies and has become a serious challenge for the global economy, provoked an increase in unemployment and supply chains, instability of the world food market.

One of the consequences of the pandemic may be a food crisis, this has already been stated by the UN Secretary General, in this regard, and considering the goals and objectives of the SCO Cooperation Programme on Food Security (12 October 2018, Dushanbe), the SCO Secretariat has developed a draft Concept of Cooperation of the SCO Member States on Ensuring Food Security, which is currently under consideration by the parties.

8. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted systemic weaknesses in global public health governance. Will the 2020 SCO summit pay particular attention to public health and security? In what main areas will the SCO member states cooperate in this area?

The pandemic highlighted the importance of cooperation in health care and sanitary and epidemiological well-being.
As regards the existing norms in SCO, cooperation is carried out in accordance with the Agreement between the governments of SCO member states on cooperation in the sphere of health care signed in 2011.

Moreover, during the Bishkek SCO summit on 14 June 2019, the Plan of Basic Measures for Development of Cooperation in the Sphere of Healthcare for 2019-2021 was adopted, which contains a number of tasks for cooperation in the sphere of sanitary-epidemiological well-being of the population, improvement of prevention and management of infectious diseases.

Currently, within the framework of the Russian Federation's presidency in the SCO in 2020, work is underway to develop a Plan of Joint Action for the implementation of the Statement on Joint Counteraction of Epidemic Threats in the SCO Region adopted at the June 2018 Qingdao Summit.

In addition, the SCO Secretariat submitted to the parties for their consideration a proposal to establish a Coordinating Council on Joint Counteraction of Epidemic Threats in the SCO Region.
Since the pandemic has affected all the SCO member states, its spread is precisely the reason for determining how effective multilateral cooperation in the sphere of public health and ensuring sanitary-epidemiological well-being of the population of the SCO countries is. The Organization has shown a high level of cooperation in the fight against coronavirus.

Within the Organization, during the pandemic, there was a shift towards online cooperation on ongoing and new projects. The first attempts to hold online conferences under the conditions of the epidemiological crisis proved to be successful, and now almost all mechanisms of practical interaction among SCO member States are held in the format of video communication.

A meeting of health ministers of the SCO member states and consultations of experts and heads of services of the SCO member states responsible for ensuring sanitary and epidemiological well-being are planned to be held in mid-June in the same format. In addition to the Organization's permanent members, the consultations are planned to be attended by representatives of the SCO observer States and dialogue partners.

I would also like to highlight the dedication and professionalism of doctors and medical personnel of SCO member States, who risk their lives to treat those infected, while at the same time maintaining calm and vigour. This attitude of doctors to their work and to the patients is deeply respected and appreciated.

9. The pandemic has dealt a blow to humanitarian cooperation between countries. Is the Shanghai Cooperation Organization ready to contribute to the restoration and further development of cultural, educational and sporting contacts between the "SCO family" countries? Will there be an SCO Marathon this year?

In the situation of fighting the coronavirus, it seems to me that the civilizational, cultural level and social stock of stability of the SCO member states turned out to be high and stable. It manifested itself more strongly both in the organizational sense, in terms of combating new challenges, and in the moral and philosophical sense. Unlike other countries and international associations, the pandemic has strengthened the atmosphere of mutual trust in the SCO region, while economic difficulties are overcome by governments and combined with humanitarian and social measures, and have not led to internal economic and political conflicts. The member states did not solve their problems at the expense of others, but instead extended a helping hand to each other and proved to be more united by common problems and achievements.

Cultural, educational and sporting events, in particular the SCO Marathon, have not been cancelled, but only possible adjustments will be made based on the development of the epidemiological situation. By the way, in April this year the SCO Marathon received a silver license from the International Association of Athletic Federations. Considering that the Kunming Marathon is quite young, granting of the silver license testifies to the great potential of the SCO Marathon, its demand and high level of organization.

Our social structures such as the Chinese Committee for Friendship, Good Neighbourliness and Cooperation and the SCO Centre of People's Diplomacy in Tashkent also make a significant contribution to the development of cultural and humanitarian contacts.

On the occasion of International Children's Day, which is annually celebrated on June 1, the SCO Center for Public Diplomacy in Uzbekistan organized an online exhibition of children's drawings "Wonderful World of Colors", which became a great opportunity to recharge a good mood and share it with others in quarantine and self-isolation. Each SCO country is represented by 10 works of gifted young artists aged from 5 to 14 years, who presented an artistic vision of the culture, history, traditions and nature of the SCO countries.

The Chinese SCO Committee, with the support of the SCO Secretariat, is now preparing an online exhibition entitled "Uniting against the epidemic, protecting the common home". The event will be attended by children from SCO countries, who will show their views on the spread of coronavirus and the fight against it through paintings.

The opening of the online exhibition will take place on SCO Day — 15 June 2020.
In addition, this Committee in honour of the 19th anniversary of the SCO, together with the All-Chinese Philatelic Federation, is preparing to issue commemorative envelopes on the theme "Strengthening the Shanghai spirit and unity in the fight against the pandemic". Today you have the opportunity to see their sketches.

10. How has the coronavirus epidemic affected the SCO summit schedule when it is planned, will the format change?

The epidemic has made a number of changes to the schedule of events under the Russian presidency. But all of them will take place in one format or another, some are already held online, some are being postponed to a later period. As I have already said, the SCO Summit will be held in St. Petersburg in the autumn of this year.
Leaders of all SCO member and observer states, as well as heads of international and regional organizations will take part in the Summit.

At present, work is underway to prepare the substantive part of the SCO Summit.