Question: Despite the complicated international situation and new challenges, after the SCO summit in Samarkand, the organisation received a new boost to its development, which was reaffirmed at the SCO Heads of Government meeting. Can we say that the SCO is reaching a new level in its development?
Secretary-General Zhang Ming: The meeting of the SCO supreme body in Samarkand in September once again demonstrated convincingly the shared desire of the member states to deepen their multifaceted cooperation in various areas. Such a unanimous spirit is especially important in the current environment, when profound political and economic changes and upheavals are taking place around the world. The eight countries’ leaders have come to a common understanding that they can meet today’s challenges only by strengthening cooperation, putting their own development at the forefront and turning challenges into opportunities. Cooperation documents signed during the summit have opened up a number of new areas for multilateral cooperation.
The participants in the recent meeting of the SCO Heads of Government (Prime Ministers) Council stated that the world was entering a new age of rapid development and major transformations. These fundamental processes are accompanied by growing interconnectedness and an accelerated pace of informatisation and digitalisation. Priority areas of practical cooperation within the SCO are clearly outlined: trade, investment, transport, environment, food and energy security. The member states agreed to encourage regional economic cooperation in various forms, promote the creation of favourable conditions for trade and investment in order to gradually pave the way to free movement of goods, capital, services and technology, and much more. They agreed to coordinate efforts to achieve sustainable development goals and further develop contacts between people, including in the fields of culture and sports.
In general, I believe that we have every reason to say that the 21st meeting of the SCO Heads of Government Council opened new horizons for trade, economic, financial, investment, scientific, technical, cultural and humanitarian cooperation within the SCO and set strategic guidelines for its development in the future.
Question: Samarkand summit participants noted the importance of reforming the SCO still further, expanding its practical agenda and vesting the SCO Secretariat with new functions. Were these aspects mentioned at the current meeting of the SCO Heads of Government Council?
Secretary-General Zhang Ming: The SCO was established in a certain political and economic environment. The past two decades have shown what organisational and structural decisions have proved to be effective. However, due to a changing environment and to the organisation’s development, certain aspects have emerged, and we need to improve and streamline them. It should be noted that the fundamental principles on which the organisation rests have been shown to be correct and viable. Thanks to these principles alone, the SCO is becoming more influential and more attractive on the international scene, and the number of SCO members continues to increase. Consequently, there can be no talk of any drastic restructuring of the SCO. Our task is to finetune SCO executive mechanisms in an optimal manner, so as to enhance its overall effectiveness.
Naturally, we pay attention to global changes that touch upon virtually all aspects of international life during this work. We also heed the aggravation of old threats and challenges, as well as the appearance of an entire array of new risks that also require an appropriate SCO response. Against this background, the leaders of the eight SCO member states met at the Samarkand summit and discussed in detail global and regional developments. They charted new guidelines for strengthening multilateral interaction in the interests of stability, security and sustainable development in the SCO region.
The planned innovations include a high-priority aspect — efforts to streamline the mechanism of interaction in the fight against international terrorism, separatism, international drug trafficking and trans-border organised crime and in maintaining international information security. The Dushanbe Declaration on the 20th anniversary of the SCO and declarations of the Samarkand summit reflect various options being discussed by the parties. Objectively speaking, the ongoing expansion of the SCO Family sets the task of enhancing the algorithm of interaction with observer states and SCO dialogue partners and more actively involving them in cooperation within the SCO still further. The SCO member states have many interesting and promising ideas in this connection.
Regarding the SCO Secretariat, the SCO Charter states expressly that the Secretariat is the organisation’s main permanent executive body, and its status is not subject to revision. This model has asserted itself among virtually all multilateral associations, beginning with the UN.
Consequently, the main projects that have to do with the modernisation of the Secretariat are aimed at expanding its capabilities in fulfilling its functions and its ability to respond promptly to any changes in the global and regional situation, including the SCO region.
The SCO Heads of Government (Prime Ministers) Council is the main body responsible for specific intra-SCO cooperation, primarily trade and economic cooperation. In this case, its agenda inevitably included issues of adapting intra-SCO business cooperation to the changing global economic situation, shielding the SCO region from negative global processes in trade and finance and ensuring economic stability in the organisation’s zone of responsibility. As you can see, participants in the Beijing meeting of the SCO Heads of Government Council meeting prioritised these issues.
I would like to emphasise the fact that this work is just getting underway, and that any haste, rash and ill-conceived decisions are absolutely out of the question.
During the meeting of the SCO Heads of Government (Prime Ministers) Council, the heads of delegations exchanged views on key issues of global and regional development and discussed priority measures to strengthen trade, economic, cultural and humanitarian cooperation within the SCO. All the heads of the delegations voiced important substantive assessments, considerations and proposals. In this regard, I would not like to single out the speeches of the Premier of the State Council of the People's Republic of China and the Prime Minister of Russia.
I want to emphasise that in the context of the ongoing changes in the global economic environment, all the parties demonstrated a focus on strengthening cooperation and expanding interaction in such areas as the economy, trade, investment, innovation, environmental protection, agriculture, humanitarian and cultural exchanges, transport connectivity and the digital economy. I already drew attention to this when answering your first question.
The heads of the delegations put forward a number of major initiatives aimed, among other things, at strengthening the food and energy security in the region. The results achieved under China’s Presidency in the Heads of Government Council in various areas of trade, economic, cultural and humanitarian cooperation were highly appreciated, and the status of the SCO as an effective platform for international cooperation and its important role in maintaining mutual trust between the member states, promoting development and  peace and security in the region was confirmed.
In the conditions of the turbulent global economy, the parties reaffirmed their desire to form a more equal, representative, democratic, fair and multipolar world order based on the universally recognised principles of international law, indivisible and comprehensive security, and equal cooperation of states with the central coordinating role of the UN. They unanimously spoke in favour of strengthening global security and economic stability in the context of the statements adopted at the Samarkand summit by the leaders of the SCO member states.
Question: In recent years, the US dollar has seriously discredited its position and role in international financial life. Is there a roadmap for a gradual transition in settlements between the SCO countries to national currencies and general expansion of their use in international trade and economic relations?
Secretary-General Zhang Ming: The SCO is focusing on creating favourable conditions for developing trade and investment. This, among other factors, should be facilitated by the further expansion of the practice of using national currencies in mutual settlements. We can note the consistent strengthening of the SCO member states’ interest in cooperation in this area, which can be evidenced by the approval of a roadmap to gradually increase the share of national currencies in mutual settlements between the SCO member states at the Samarkand summit. Many leaders spoke about the need to accelerate the transition to national currencies during the Heads of Government Council meeting.
Today the SCO agenda includes the prompt practical implementation of this document while taking into consideration the SCO member states’ national interests. The expansion of the use of national currencies in mutual settlements is being actively promoted at the SCO Interbank Consortium as well.
Once again, I would like to stress that the need to accelerate the transition to national currencies does not mean a desire to artificially force how things are unfolding. The transition to national currencies in mutual settlements requires a sufficiently deep reformation of the entire payment system and the member states’ mechanism for banking transactions in order to talk about it as a matter of tomorrow. However, the SCO will face all these tasks as part of the process of gradual development of cooperation in the financial sphere.
Question: How do the SCO governments feel about the policy of sanctions pressure, which is being applied by the United States and other Western countries without any restrictions? How can this stream of sanctions be countered?
Secretary-General Zhang Ming: Unfortunately, the global economy, which has not completely recovered from the coronavirus pandemic yet, is now under the impact of a sanctions wave. The energy crisis and the impending food crisis are all a consequence of the sanctions pandemic. Development in the SCO space is also being profoundly affected.
The 2007 SCO Treaty on Long-Term Good-Neighbourliness, Friendship, and Cooperation contains an obligation not to support any actions hostile to other contracting parties.
Initially the SCO was established with life-affirming, creative goals; there are no confrontational genes in its genome. We unequivocally oppose the use of confrontation, ideologisation, and interference in other countries’ internal affairs to solve international and regional problems. The SCO countries unanimously believe that the interests of all the countries in the world today are highly integrated, and mutually beneficial cooperation is a general trend. The more we face the instability of the external environment, the more we must bring stability through the strengthening of internal mutually beneficial cooperation. We are confident in the effectiveness of this “weapon.”
Today more countries and international organisations are showing a growing interest and desire to take part in the SCO, which proves that the principles and concepts the SCO adheres to are also popular in the international community, and many countries are more willing to establish relations and develop cooperation with other countries, based on equality, mutual respect, and mutually beneficial cooperation.
Question: The SCO space is expanding by accepting Iran, which is already formalising its full-fledged membership in the SCO and Belarus, which has applied for accession. Are there any ideas for involving other members of the SCO Family, including observer states or dialogue partners, in practical cooperation within the SCO?
Secretary-General Zhang Ming: First of all, I would like to specify that the SCO and Iran have signed the Memorandum on the Obligations of the Islamic Republic of Iran in connection with its accession to the SCO. Participants in the Samarkand summit decided to launch the procedure for accepting the Republic of Belarus as an SCO member. In other words, the Iranian side is at a more advanced stage, but our Belarusian partners are working very energetically and constructively, and I therefore believe that they will not fall far behind.
One can predict that the number of SCO member states will reach ten soon. Doubtless, this will considerably increase the organisation’s prestige and its potential for development. The admission of these two countries will add new colours to the organisation.
Regarding observer states, current regulatory documents do not stipulate any special obligations for them. Their main task is to observe, analyse life in the SCO, and draw conclusions. I would like to mention Belarus as an example. First, this country received the status of a dialogue partner, later rose to observer, and eventually decided that full-fledged SCO membership met its fundamental national interests.
While signing a memorandum to obtain their status as an SCO dialogue partner, the concerned countries set forth in such documents the relevant areas in which they intend to interact as part of the SCO. I would like to note that the number of these areas is not limited in any way. In other words, the institute of SCO dialogue partners has tremendous potential, which will probably be realised in full in the foreseeable future.
The SCO is currently planning to make its work more effective. For example, we will study the possibility of creating the relevant working mechanisms that would make it possible to interact with observers and dialogue partners more closely in the most diverse fields, thereby realising the potential of SCO cooperation in full measure.
Question:  Some SCO countries devise bilateral or trilateral transport projects and in order to receive assistance from the SCO they make these projects more ambitious and involve partner countries in their implementation. How does the organisation feel about such forms of interaction? Is it possible to integrate group projects (projects that are implemented only by some of the organisation’s participants) into the organisation’s more general plans?
Secretary-General Zhang Ming: The Charter and other normative and international legal documents of the SCO, in particular the aforementioned Treaty on Long-term Good-Neighbourlines, Friendship and Cooperation, which is based on the principles of searching for common points of view and based on mutual understanding and respect, are aimed at maximising the potential of the countries of the region in order to form a broad, open, mutually beneficial, and equal partnership in the SCO space. In particular, Article 16 of the Charter provides for the possibility of implementing individual practical projects on a group basis, without requiring the mandatory participation of all member states without exception. This is completely logical and expedient, because it is objectively difficult to find an economic project that would be equally needed by everyone. On the other hand, if it is a project that is promoted only by some member states, then its benefits will undoubtedly extend to the entire space of the organisation or even beyond it.
SCO Interbank Consortium mechanism, which is an important platform for financial cooperation within the organisation, is also formatted according to this model.
At present, the number of SCO member states has increased from six to eight, and soon there will be 10 of us. In this context, finding the optimal algorithm for combining and harmonising individual, group, and overall interests is of particular relevance.
In general, any projects aimed at deepening interaction between the member states are welcomed by the leaders of the SCO countries. Therefore, while observing the fundamental principles of the organisation, bilateral, trilateral, and greater projects, provided they are transparent, may well develop into a format of cooperation within the SCO.
Question: The 20th Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) took place not long ago. Could you talk about the importance of the Сongress from the SCO’s point of view. What significance does the Congress have for the future development of the organisation?
Secretary-General Zhang Ming: China is one of the founding states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. The 20th Congress of the Communist Party of China is an important event, one that was held at a critical moment as China embarks on a new path toward the comprehensive construction of a modern socialist country and moves towards its goal of the second century.
The Congress outlined the goals, objectives, and major policies of the CPC and China’s development for the next five years and beyond, which is an important milestone on China's journey into a new era.
I listened to General Secretary Xi Jinping's report at the 20th Congress and later studied it carefully. The report emphasised that China has always adhered to its foreign policy goals of safeguarding world peace, promoting joint development, and has been committed to building a common destiny of humanity and new-type international relations, while calling upon on all countries to promote the universal values of peace, development, impartiality, justice, democracy and freedom, as well as to respect the diversity of world civilisations.
From this we can see that the main directions elaborated by the 20th Congress coincide to a high degree with the Shanghai spirit, which is associated with “mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality, mutual consultation, respect for the diversity of cultures, and the pursuit of joint development.”
Thanks to the 20th Congress, we see that peace, development, cooperation, and mutual benefit are the aspirations of all mankind, an inevitable trend of future international cooperation, and an inexhaustible source of healthy and sustainable development of the SCO.
Since the establishment of the PRC, especially over the 40-plus years of reforms and a policy of openness, the Communist Party of China has led the Chinese people to great achievements in development that have attracted the attention of the whole world.
Since the 18th Party Congress, China has made significant historic achievements in building a moderately prosperous society and comprehensively eliminating poverty, which has not only made huge changes to the face of China, but has also opened up opportunities for development and prosperity for the SCO region and the world at large, allowing many countries around the world to share in the success of China’s socio-economic development.
The SCO countries attach great importance to China’s significant role in cooperating within the organisation in various fields and are willing to do more to maintain regional security and stability, while promoting prosperity and development in the region.