Moscow summit and China — India Mediation
A regular meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation was held in Moscow on September 10, 2020 under the chairmanship of the Russian side. Despite the obstacles created by the pandemic situation, all parties took part at the level of heads of foreign ministries.
On the eve of the meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin held a meeting with the ministers of foreign affairs by videoconference, during which he announced that the forthcoming meeting of the SCO Council of Heads of State would be held in November 2020.
As part of the preparations for the forthcoming summit, a list of documents to be submitted for signature by the Heads of State was agreed upon. Particular importance is attached to the political declaration, which sets out agreed approaches to the priorities for promoting cooperation in key areas. Among other documents, it is important to note the draft Action Plan for 2021-2025 to implement the SCO Development Strategy until 2025, and the draft Comprehensive Plan of Joint Action to counteract the threats of epidemics in the region.
Discussing the issue of pandemics, the Ministers stated that due to many years of experience in cooperation and interaction between sanitary and epidemiological services and ministries of health, the SCO has been able to use tried and tested mechanisms of cooperation to respond effectively and adequately to a common threat. The SCO confirmed its significant potential as a serious platform for building work to overcome the political, social, trade and economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The SCO supports the efforts of the international community in the field of combating drugs and confirms its readiness to contribute to the fight against the illegal production, trafficking and abuse of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances. This is evidenced by the draft relevant statement of the Council of Heads of SCO Member States agreed by the ministers.
In the context of the need to strengthen existing mechanisms for maintaining global and regional stability, the Heads of Foreign Affairs expressed their support for the sustainable implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Action Plan on the Iranian Nuclear Programme, and called on all parties to the document to rigorously implement their obligations.
The Ministers also approved the draft statements of the Council of the Heads of the SCO Member States on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the Victory in the Second World War. At the same time, the Ministers unanimously stressed that the common victory of the peoples over Nazism, fascism and militarism, the creation of the United Nations (UN) in 1945 as a result of this victory allowed to form a sustainable and effective system of international relations which reliably guaranteed the peaceful development of mankind. The Ministers expressed strong support for SCO, the central coordinating role of the UN and its Security Council in strengthening international peace and security, stimulating global development, and promoting and protecting human rights.
With regard to the situation that took place between India and China at that time. The two countries are SCO member states, and successfully cooperate within the Organisation, the bilateral issues that exist between them. In other words, the SCO is not a platform for resolving bilateral disputes and disagreements.
The SCO has a common understanding that problems arising in relations between states, in particular, territorial and border disputes, are resolved bilaterally. However, in the event that the member states apply for mediation, there are procedures provided for in the Regulations on Political and Diplomatic Measures and Mechanisms for SCO Response to Situations Threatening Peace and Security and Stability in the Region.
The practice of recent years has demonstrated the ability of our states to solve existing problems through peaceful political and diplomatic means, without mediation. The political will of the leaders of SCO countries and the wisdom of our peoples make it possible to resolve all existing issues, including local problems of a bilateral nature, through compromise and dialogue.
Iran membership in SCO. Sooner or later?
Over the 19 years of its existence, the SCO has acquired many friends and partners, established institutions of observers and dialogue partners, signed documents on cooperation with major international bodies.
Over the last 5 years the organisation has expanded considerably. In 2017 India and Pakistan joined the SCO as full members, in 2015 Belarus became an observer, Cambodia, and Armenia, Azerbaijan and Nepal became dialogue partners in 2015 and 2016 respectively. At present, there are 18 countries to join the organisation as a full member/observer/dialogue partner.
Iran has been an observer state of the organisation since 2005. Since then, Iran and the SCO have been actively developing mutually beneficial multifaceted cooperation.
The member states believe that effective response to the challenges in the field of security and stability, active development of economic and humanitarian cooperation in the SCO region can only be achieved by combining efforts on a regional scale. The SCO countries are actively developing trade and economic cooperation with Iran and have far-reaching plans to build infrastructure projects.
In order to further deepen ties between the SCO and the SCO observers and dialogue partners, last May at the meeting of SCO Foreign Ministers in Bishkek a "Road Map for Development of Cooperation between the SCO Secretariat and Observer and Dialogue Partners" was adopted.
The SCO Secretariat works with all SCO dialogue observers and partners, including Iran, to implement this document.
The issue of Iran's full membership, along with applications from other countries, is considered in accordance with the established procedures of the Organisation.
US-China decupling in which way is affecting the SCO
Sino-American relations are one of the constructs of the modern world order. Over the past 40 years, through the joint efforts of several generations of the two nations, Sino-American relations have achieved great results in all areas. Bilateral trade has grown more than 250 times — China is one of the most important export markets for the US. Both countries are permanent members of the UN Security Council and play an important role in maintaining international peace and security. In the face of the greatest global changes in 100 years and many new threats and challenges, the international community needs close cooperation and active collaboration between China and the United States to address the most pressing issues.
As for Sino-U.S. relations, I would like to note that the Chinese government has recently repeatedly stated that Beijing is always ready to cooperate with Washington in the spirit of refraining from confrontation, mutual respect and cooperation in building harmonious, joint and stable bilateral relations. I believe that the people of China and the US will find the way to peaceful coexistence and mutual benefit. This will not only have a positive impact on promoting the interests of the two great powers, but will also help maintain peace, stability and sustainable development throughout the world, including the SCO region.
The SCO remains committed to friendship and mutually beneficial cooperation with various countries of the world as well as with international organisations. We hope that interstate relations, including Sino-American relations, can develop on the basis of multilateralism, equality, friendship, mutual benefit and cooperation with the aim of building a "community with shared future for mankind".
Singapore and ASEAN looking at Eurasia a role for the SCO
The SCO space is geographically close to the ASEAN region. In my opinion, it should be seen not only through the prism of national borders, but also as a zone of fusion of cultures, common history of interaction and trade activities over the past hundreds of years. What is now known as the Eurasian region has always been a hotbed of cultural and civilisational fusion. The commonness of our countries forms the basis of our cooperation and makes our organisation unique.
Eurasia is incomplete without the active participation of Central Asian countries, which is why the SCO is at the heart of Eurasia, and Central Asia is at the heart of the SCO and is one of the main players in the Eurasian region — the states make a great contribution to ensuring security and promoting economic development.
There are many mechanisms for cooperation within the SCO, and I am proud to say that Eurasian leaders are more likely to cooperate within the SCO than on any other existing platform. This shows that the leadership of each member state has confidence in the potential of the Organisation.
I would like to note that there are many countries and regional associations in Eurasia with which we maintain close contacts, in particular the UN and its institutions, the CIS and the CSTO. There is also a number of organisations wishing to establish and intensify contacts with the SCO — the issue of signing a Memorandum of Understanding with the League of Arab States and the Eurasian Economic Commission is currently under consideration.
I would like to emphasise separately that the partnership between ASEAN and the SCO is a win-win cooperation, especially in the areas of trade and investment, e-commerce, human resource development, start-ups, financial technology, communications, agriculture, etc. There are enough opportunities and potential in this relationship, and we must focus on expanding the interaction between our parties to make full use of the potential of this relationship. For ASEAN, and therefore for Singapore, the gateway to Eurasia passes through the doors of the SCO, and we would be happy to deepen our cooperation to a new level.
Singapore recently signed a Free Trade Agreement with the Eurasian Economic Union, and this is a very positive development that shows that Singapore is ready to work with Eurasia in search of trade and investment opportunities that go beyond its traditional markets.
Deeper cooperation with the SCO is a natural next step that Singapore should explore, as the three EAEC member states are members of the SCO family, Belarus is represented as an observer, and Armenia is represented as an SCO dialogue partner. Thus, the SCO can become the most important link between ASEAN and Singapore in establishing cooperation in building sustainable and stable development in both regions.
As part of the 2nd China International Import Exhibition in Shanghai last year, I met with Mr Chang Chung Sing, Minister of Trade and Industry of Singapore. We exchanged views on strengthening SCO's relations with ASEAN, of which Singapore is a member, including through establishing contacts between foreign ministries, conducting joint activities to combat modern challenges and threats, as well as developing trade and economic, transport, logistics, cultural and educational ties. Special emphasis was placed on cooperation in the field of communications and economic efficiency of the ASEAN countries engaged in railway freight transport to Europe and the Middle East through the SCO member states.
The SCO is striving to promote electronic trade, which should significantly facilitate trade between the countries, and also have a positive impact on transport and logistics. And Singapore, we believe, can become a major partner in this process.
Many SCO member states have very close and strong partnerships with ASEAN, including China, India and Russia. In addition, Cambodia is both an ASEAN member state and an SCO dialogue partner.
The SCO region has huge economic potential, a resource base, a large skilled labour force and a huge market for goods and services. Our organisation also contributes to the conjugation of well-known economic and logistics projects such as the Eurasian Economic Union, strategies for the economic development of Central Asian countries, "One Belt, One Road", and the North-South Transport Corridor project.
Combining the efforts of the SCO and ASEAN in this area can lead to mutually beneficial results. The SCO's interconnected infrastructure can also serve the interests of ASEAN countries. The SCO Member States themselves can provide a very large market and transit hub for goods in the SCO region. The SCO countries account for almost half of the world's population. It covers 60% of the territory of Eurasia and today generates about a quarter of world GDP. This figure is expected to reach 35-40% of world GDP by 2030.
SCO expansion a NATO of the East or something different?
Almost immediately after the establishment of the SCO in 2001, the international community, primarily represented by the Western expert community and the media, became concerned about the goals and objectives of the new organisation. Throughout this time, various assumptions have periodically emerged that one of SCO's main missions is the military and political confrontation with NATO in the East, or its transformation into "NATO in the East".
This issue is becoming even more relevant in the current, difficult times, at a time when the international situation is complicated and the confrontation between the major powers that are members of certain world political alliances and military-political blocs is intensifying.
At the same time, the answer to this question is very clear and concrete — SCO is not an analogue of NATO in the East, we cannot talk about such a transformation by definition — neither now nor in the foreseeable future.
These assumptions are unfounded and have neither political justification nor legal basis.
According to its statutes, the SCO is neither a military bloc, nor a military-political structure, nor a full-fledged institution of regional security. The mechanism of interaction between the SCO member states is limited to the security, economic and humanitarian spheres and, in accordance with its statutory documents, provides for the non-use of force or threat of force and excludes the conduct of military activities.
The Declaration on the Establishment of the SCO clearly states its commitment to the purposes and principles of the UN Charter and notes that the SCO activities are not directed against other states.
The past decades of our Organisation's activities clearly demonstrate that SCO is not a military-political bloc and does not seek to become an economically integrated community over national governments.
The security and stability mechanisms developed within the organisation and the legal and regulatory framework for cooperation based on mutual trust ensure, despite growing challenges and threats, sustainable stability in the SCO region.
The SCO countries work together to promote the formation of a global anti-terrorist front under the aegis of the United Nations. The SCO counterterrorism agenda includes issues related to the development of joint actions and exchange of practical experience in countering terrorism, including within the framework of the "Peace Mission" command and staff scientist, which is envisaged in the plan of cooperation of the SCO defence ministers for 2020-2021. Annual anti-terrorist exercises on the territory of one of the SCO member states fit into the scheme of the SCO's main priorities: countering terrorism, extremism and drug trafficking.
SCO activities in this area are primarily based on the development of common political approaches to the most pressing issues of international and regional policy.
The military component is not envisaged in any form in the SCO basic documents. The SCO does not possess any joint defence structure necessary for such a case. Cooperation through the defence agencies of member states is carried out on a bilateral basis, and some of them within the CSTO.
In conclusion, I would like to note one more significant difference: NATO is mainly focused on external security risks, while the focus of the SCO is mainly on the territory of its member states.