On 9 September 2020, ahead of the SCO Foreign Ministers Council Meeting, SCO Secretary-General Vladimir Norov gave a big interview with First Deputy Director General of the TASS News Agency Mikhail Gusman.
The issues discussed included the preparation of documents for the upcoming SCO summit, the fight against the novel coronavirus infection, current international developments and interaction with the SCO Family countries.
The following are excerpts from the interview.
Preparations for the SCO summit
The SCO Secretary-General spoke highly of the organisation's activities during Russia's chairmanship, such as effective use of the permanent representatives at the SCO Secretariat in Beijing. They found good solutions to a number of important current issues related to the substantive preparation of the Council of National Coordinators and the Council of Foreign Ministers meetings.
Vladimir Norov mentioned the documents related to various spheres of SCO operation, which are to be signed at the upcoming meeting of the SCO Heads of State Council. He pointed out that "the multifaceted and substantive nature of the documents prepared for the Council of Foreign Ministers meeting shows that cooperation between SCO countries has not slackened but remains on the upwards trajectory ahead of the SCO summit in St Petersburg."
The SCO Secretary-General spoke about the Action Plan for the implementation of the SCO Development Strategy until 2025, which provides for holding some 150 practical events on the entire range of SCO cooperation issues in the next few years. It is also important that the Action Plan is designed to strengthen the SCO countries' foreign policy coordination on the leading international platforms, including when it comes to sharing SCO experience of joint efforts against global and regional threats and challenges, and to enhance the SCO countries' economic achievements.
"In addition, while implementing the Action Plan we will focus on economic recovery measures in the post-pandemic period, first of all the creation of a favourable business climate plus trade and investment chains, and the further development of digital technology and transport logistics. In this context we set high value on ensuring the productive operation of the SCO Consortium of Economic Analytical Centres and on promoting the activities of the SCO Interbank Association for expanding the joint financial and investment potential," Vladimir Norov pointed out.
When speaking about cooperation in the digital sphere, the SCO Secretary-General noted that the SCO member states were ready to adopt an action plan for transition
to joint operation in the digital sphere. "We also intend to start implementing the Concept for Cooperation between the SCO Member States in the Sphere of Digitalisation and Information and Communication Technologies by drafting and adopting an action plan," he pointed out.
Vladimir Norov mentioned the member states' "clear awareness" of the importance of digital technology for sustainable economic development. "The alignment of novel [digital] technologies will be a new phase of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and the countries that are prepared for it will be the winners," he added.
The SCO member states are fighting the spread of the novel coronavirus infection more effectively than other countries and regions. "We can say with confidence that the more positive dynamics reported in many SCO states compared to some other countries and regions is proof of our countries' effectiveness in the fight against the coronavirus infection. The SCO has been closely collaborating with the WHO since the beginning of the pandemic, using its recommendations to get the spread of the infection under control," Vladimir Norov noted.
He pointed out that the pandemic threatened economic growth and human lives. "Aware of the inevitable economic hardships [of their decision], the SCO member states nevertheless made a choice in favour of saving lives. The scale of the epidemic in China in January and February of this year helped them to recognise the scale of the danger and take preventive measures."
At the height of the pandemic, the SCO countries provided moral and political assistance to each other, exchanged epidemiological and organisational experience and provided financial, economic and food aid to the hardest hit SCO countries."
Politicising the pandemic
Vladimir Norov pointed out that the pandemic had revealed the tight interdependence of the world. "However, instead of showing solidarity and joining forces against this threat, the world went over from globalisation to localisation, and international solidarity was superseded by national interests. This is having a negative effect on the efforts to stop the spread of the coronavirus infection. The only side that can profit from politicising in these conditions is the coronavirus itself."
The SCO Secretary-General noted that the key priority today is overcoming global confrontation and politicisation of the pandemic. "The international community must realise that the pandemic is not the last global ordeal. All countries must take efforts towards cooperation based on the principles of mutual support and development."
Cooperation with SCO Family countries
The SCO Secretary-General noted the importance of working with the observer countries and dialogue partners. In his opinion, these countries, which have great economic and cultural potential, are contributing to cooperation and are sharing their proposals within the SCO framework.
Vladimir Norov outlined progress in the implementation of the projects of the SCO Family countries and shared his views on the organisation's expansion. He noted, in part, that the SCO prestige was growing and more countries had expressed a desire to join cooperation within the SCO framework in various capacities, from a dialogue partner to a member state. However, expanding the SCO Family is not a goal in itself, for it is more important now to make effective use of the SCO countries' combined potential.
"Decisions on applications to join the SCO, be it as a dialogue partner or full member, are taken on the basis of consensus, and each applicant is considered separately. However, a proactive attitude is always an advantage," he added.
SCO role on the international arena
It was noted that the current global trends, such as increased geopolitical tension and the integrated nature of threats and challenges, call for collective efforts to create a more equitable and polycentric international order. In this regard, according to Vladimir Norov, the role of regional organisations, in particular, the SCO is increasing: "Given major differences in the mentality and outlook of the peoples, the experience of relations within the organisation is a fairly effective model of interaction between states on the international arena," the SCO Secretary-General said. "Our countries demonstrate in practice how to build interaction without sacrificing sovereignty or going against the national interests of each participating nation and not opposing these relations to other priorities of our countries' external policies."
The question about whether "the SCO can ever become a NATO-like organisation."
The SCO Secretary-General noted that the assumptions that the SCO can eventually turn into NATO are groundless.
Vladimir Norov pointed out that the founding states declared their commitment to the goals and principles of the UN Charter in the declaration on the establishment of the organisation, and noted that the SCO's activities are not directed against other states.
"The past years have clearly shown that the SCO is not a military-political bloc and does not seek to become an economically integrated community that is above national governing bodies," he said.
He also added that, despite the mounting challenges and threats, the mechanisms for ensuring security and stability developed within the organisation and the regulatory framework underlying cooperation based on mutual trust ensure stability in the SCO region.
SCO anti-terrorist component
Vladimir Norov stated that the SCO member states' competent authorities solved over 280 terrorist and extremist crimes in 2019 and over 3,800 people were held accountable.
"Last year alone, the member states' competent authorities solved over 280 terrorist and religious-extremist crimes. More than 3,800 individuals were brought to justice. The channels for financing terrorist and extremist organisations were severed. In addition to this, access to 23,000 websites containing terrorist and extremist material were cut off," he said during the interview.
According to the SCO Secretary-General, the SCO countries joined efforts in order to form a global anti-terrorist front under the UN aegis. "Exercises in coordinated operations and exchanges of practical experience in countering terrorism, including as part of the Peace Mission staff command exercises, which are included in the SCO defence ministers' cooperation plan for 2020-2021 remain the key items on our counterterrorism agenda," he added.
Interaction in culture, sports and work with youth
Emphasising the high level of cultural cooperation and rich historical ties between the SCO countries, the SCO Secretary-General pointed out that every ninth UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site is located in the SCO countries.
Vladimir Norov mentioned the Eight Wonders of the SCO project initiated by the Secretariat in June 2019, which included one tourist attraction from each member state.
It was emphasised that the coronavirus pandemic demonstrated the importance of a healthy lifestyle and herd immunity and promoting sports as well as sports events.
In this context, the Secretary-General said that the SCO Kunming Marathon received a silver license from the International Association of Athletics Federations. "This year, the fifth marathon to be held in December will have to be scaled down, and we are now looking into ways of holding an online marathon and mini-marathons in the member countries," Norov said.
Noting that the SCO has always focused on working with the youth, the Secretary-General spoke about the organisation's plans in this sphere. In particular, he said there are plans to hold the first online SCO Startup Forum sponsored by India in late October. Work is underway to hold an SCO forum of young researchers and innovators this year.
For the full interview follow this link