During the 21 years of its existence, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) has successfully gone through the process of institutional building and formation of mechanisms of multilateral cooperation in priority areas. At the same time, the Organization approaches the Samarkand summit with a clear demand for reform and improvement.
The June 2002 SCO Summit in St. Petersburg saw the signing of an SCO Charter that outlined the Organization’s goals and principles, its structure and major activities. Permanent SCO bodies were later established, namely the Secretariat in Beijing and the Regional Antiterrorist Structure in Tashkent. A system of ministerial meetings was formed in the political, security, trade and economic, cultural-humanitarian and other fields.
A system of partnerships between the SCO and other international and regional organizations, including the UN, CIS, ASEAN, CSTO, CICA and other bodies, was further developed on the basis of signed memorandums of understanding between the Secretariats.
The principle of the Organization’s openness as enshrined in the Charter facilitated the development of forms of interaction with other countries interested in joining the SCO. In 2004, at the SCO summit in Tashkent, Mongolia was the first country to be granted observer status.
In 2009, at the Yekaterinburg summit, Sri Lanka and Belarus were the first countries to be granted the status of a dialogue partner.
In 2017, the SCO summit in Astana concluded the process of joining the Organization in the capacity of member states of India and Pakistan.
The SCO’s institutional development has promoted its transformation into an important platform for multifaceted interaction among member states, observers and dialogue partners, and into an influential actor in international relations.
However, as SCO Secretary General Zhang Ming believes, entering its third decade, the SCO faces new conditions and challenges. Today’s world is undergoing complex and profound changes, the international political and economic order, as well as the security architecture are faced with various crises, posing very serious challenges to peace and development.
In addition, the Organization’s activity in previous years has accumulated a number of organizational and other problems that need to be addressed, including the need to expand mutually beneficial cooperation in a number of areas, increase the level of regional connectivity, and strengthen the effectiveness of the standing bodies – the Secretariat and the RATS.
It should also be noted that the process of the Organization’s expansion is associated with a whole range of both technical and more complicated issues of mutual adaptation of the Organization’s old and new members. For example, currently the official working languages of the SCO, in accordance with the Charter, are Russian and Chinese. Since 2017, discussions have been underway to include English as well.
Even more complex problems may arise in the process of deepening practical cooperation and developing business ties with the new members of the Organization.
For example, experts in South Asia are raising issues of mutual study and harmonization of legal systems, especially in the area of commercial law, as well as the regulatory framework for trade, investment, financial and other ties.
Finally, like all countries of the world, SCO member states are facing the impact of the latest technologies (artificial intelligence, quantum computing, etc.), digital transformation and the global challenges of climate change, increasing technological threats and biological security issues, etc.
In this “multilayered” context, questions of improving the activities of the Shanghai Organization have been increasingly raised in recent years.
First, the strengthening of mechanisms and tools for the development of practical cooperation is becoming an increasingly urgent task. The development of trade, financial and investment, transport and logistics and other commercial ties is necessary not only to address the development objectives of member states, but is also becoming an important factor in their convergence and strengthening of SCO cohesion.
In this regard, Uzbekistan and other partners are in favor of creating such structures as the SCO Development Bank, developing mechanisms to promote interregional connectivity, stimulate infrastructure growth and implement major multilateral projects.
Secondly, measures are needed to further enhance the effectiveness of interaction in the security sphere. For example, Uzbekistan supports the most rapid start of the negotiation process for establishing the SCO Universal Center on Threats and Challenges to Security on the basis of RATS.
SCO Secretary-General Zhang Ming offers to “increase attention to the Afghan issue, to make efforts to make Afghanistan a constructive factor in the region. It is likely that the existing mechanisms of interaction between the countries on the issues of Afghanistan should be improved for this purpose.
Thirdly, reform of the Secretariat is long overdue. According to the SCO Secretary General, at the July meeting of the SCO Ministerial Council in Tashkent he put forward the relevant proposals, which could be studied and discussed at the Samarkand summit and at the next stage of the SCO activity.
Thus, the issues of improving the SCO’s activities have been put more and more firmly on the agenda, acquiring concrete forms and directions. This demonstrates that the Organization in its development, faced with the challenges of growth and transformation of the international system, is confidently striving to overcome them in the process of reform and self-improvement.
In this regard, the supposed discussion and adoption of decision on the improvement of the Organization’s activities at the summit could be one of the most important achievements of the Samarkand summit, opening up a new stage of institutional development and active adaptation of the SCO to the increasingly complex realities of our time.
Acting Director of the Center for International Relations Studies under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Uzbekistan