Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is progressing slowly but at a consistent pace and focused on the objectives. It started as a small organization, the Shanghai Five. Since its inception, it has covered a long distance. It is now one of the most powerful regional organizations with global relevance. Moreover, the consistency and focused nature of the organization is helping to create a sphere of influence, which has observed a rising trend in the recent past. The enhanced importance and influence are also attracting criticism from the opponents.
SCO has proved its significance by delivering on the promised objectives like settling border disputes, security, extremism, and separatism. SCO has also played a vital role during the COVID-19 pandemic and is still playing the role to assist the member countries. China has also extended cooperation to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19. It has launched a special forum with the name of China-SCO Digital Economy Forum. SCO as an organization not only talks but also acts.
The importance of the SCO is on the rise because the existing alliances and global institutions are deteriorating. The prominent examples are undermining of the role of World Health Organizations (WHO) during COVID-19 by some Western countries and recent spate among France, US, Australia, and the UK. The episode of COVID-19 is more disturbing.
Global political economy of COVID-19 resulted in many unsettling outcomes. First of all, COVID-19 is a global crisis but some countries turned it into stigma and politicization. They started to run campaigns to malign others. However, the most disturbing part was that many countries started to use COVID-19 as a weapon of influence and secure economic interests. They started to hoard vaccine, PPE equipment, and protective materials, which was vital and urgently needed in the fight against COVID-19. Apart from the ban on COVID-19 related material, they also did not hesitate to ban the trade of daily essentials and lifesaving products like food and medicine, etc.
The pandemic required global response and cooperation, but they acted in the other direction. Now politics has been started on the provision of vaccines and recognition of vaccines of other countries. Many countries started to hoard the vaccine raw material or ban the export of vaccine or raw material. The US government, the self-declared champion of humanity followed the suit. Now some Western countries are refusing to accept the efficiency of Chinese vaccines. They are promoting only their brand and want to earn maximum economic revenue. They also tried to undermine the efforts of China to provide free vaccines to poor countries. It is quite unfortunate, but a reality.
People walk across a street backdropped by the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C., the United States, on March 10, 2021. (Photo/Xinhua)
On the other hand, there is a rift among the existing Western alliances. The most recent event is a sudden spat among France and AUKUS. Five Eye alliance members betrayed a NATO ally. US and UK secretly struck a deal with Australia. The new alliance hurt France on two fronts. First, France lost the agreement of $66 billion with Australia. Australia signed an agreement with France to buy new submarines. France was working on the production of the submarines, but Australia suddenly abandoned the agreement. Now Washington will be securing the deal and earn hefty money. France’s economy is already facing problems and this incident will add a further blow.
Second, France might be unable to accept that its close allies were negotiating a new alliance to work in Asia-Pacific region. They completely kept France uninformed and did not share any information with France. Although, France was working hard on Asia-Pacific strategy with the name Indo-Pacific strategy for a long time. France started dialogues at different forums. Thus, France feels it has been back stabbed and out of the new alliance. France perceived that it is a deliberate attempt to undermine the country’s interests.
The analysis of the above two examples highlights one very critical lesson. The global governance structure and alliances were built on the principle of “national interests” not with the formula of win-win cooperation. Whenever the alliance members feel they can maximum share of cake they do not hesitate to sideline others. The worst part is that they even do not hesitate to snatch others’ cake, which is apparent from submarine deal. Moreover, the US simply disregards multilateral institutions’ decisions or resolutions, if do not serve its interests, such as WHO’s first report on the virus tracing in Wuhan, and the US unilateral move of its embassy to Jerusalem, in blunt denial of the UN resolution.
In this context, the importance of the SCO has been further enhanced. The SCO is entirely a different entity as compared to the plurilateral structures and alliances of the West. It has been built on three principles. First, the principle of partnership, not a binding organization. Second, the principle of relationship, which encourages the members to respect each other’s interests. Third, it promotes win-win cooperation, especially in the fields of economy and trade like the Belt and Route Initiative (BRI) proposed by China. Thus, it encourages the solutions, which are beneficial for everyone with no backdoor channels to betray others like what happened to France. Besides, it also believes in peaceful co-existence without pressuring other countries to follow the instruction like it solved border issues with SCO members through dialogues.
Guests visit the 2021 Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) International Investment and Trade Expo in Qingdao, east China’s Shandong Province, April 26, 2021. (Photo/Xinhua)
In the pursuance of its objectives of peaceful co-existence and mutually beneficial development, now the SCO is focusing on the issue of Afghanistan. The 21st SCO summit in Tajikistan comprehensively deliberated on it. The heads of states also deliberated on other issues including economic cooperation, connectivity, trade, climate change but Afghanistan was a key topic. Afghanistan was the most discussed issue and leaders of the states tried to figure out, how SCO and regional countries can help to tackle the issue of Afghanistan. SCO tried to find out the solution by keeping the interests of Afghan people at the center, which makes it different from other alliances or organizations.
First, how an inclusive government can be established in Afghanistan, and different players can join hands for the welfare of people. Second, the possible avenues of economic cooperation. China stressed that in these efforts the integrity, sovereignty and national needs of Afghanistan must be respected. There should be no dictation from outside, rather there is a need to work with Afghan people according to their needs for ensuring their welfare. Russia asked the world to work with Taliban and there is no need of sanctions on them. Iran and India have different points of view and stance on Taliban. However, SCO showed unity to work with Afghan people and help them to come out of difficult times. Pakistan was asked by SCO, especially by China and Russia to work with Taliban and Afghan people to find the solution for the establishment of an inclusive government.
In conclusion, Afghanistan presents an opportunity for the SCO to further strengthen its status as a partnership-based organization with the principles of relationship and win-win cooperation. It is also an opportunity to present the world an alternative model to alliance-based organizations like NATO and G-7 etc. These organizations, which were focused on the self-interests and undermine the rights of other nations, even the rights of their own members. The SCO can also present an opportunity to less developed countries to deal with developed countries in a respectful way. Let’s hope the SCO can live up to these expectations.