Drone picture taken on June 13 shows the Qingdao multimodal transportation center in the China-Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Local Economic and Trade Cooperation Demonstration Area in Shandong Province (XINHUA)
The recent meeting of the Council of Heads of State of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) demonstrates the group's commitment to world peace and development. Differences are well-managed and the organization shows unity and vision in contrast to the Western system dominated by NATO. Significantly, the SCO cooperates with the United Nations.
President Xi Jinping, at this year's virtual meeting hosted by India on July 4, emphasized that the organization was effectively carrying forward the vision of "a community with a shared future." "The concept of a community with a shared future for humanity has gained extensive recognition and support from the international community, and has been transforming from an idea to action and a vision to reality," he said.
The SCO is an intergovernmental organization founded in Shanghai on June 15, 2001, at the initiative of China. The SCO comprises nine member states (China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Iran), three observer states interested in acceding to full membership (Afghanistan, Belarus and Mongolia) and nine dialogue partners (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Egypt, Nepal, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Qatar and Türkiye). In 2008, the SCO introduced a mechanism for granting SCO dialogue partner status to any state or organization that shares the organization's goals and principles and wishes to establish relations of equitable and mutually beneficial partnership with it.
In 2021, the decision was made to start the accession process of Iran to the SCO as a full member, and Egypt, Qatar as well as Saudi Arabia became dialogue partners. Iran's accession to the SCO this year holds major strategic importance given its population, level of development and geographic location as a crossroads of major connectivity and development corridors such as the Belt and Road. The China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative aims to boost connectivity along and beyond the ancient Silk Road routes.
Since 2001, the SCO has focused on regional security issues: terrorism, ethnic separatism and religious extremism. The organization's priorities also include regional development.
Noting following "our fine tradition of standing together through thick and thin," Xi emphasized the organization's objectives, values and common action.
The national security concept of the organization focuses on "common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security," he said. This formulation is in line with collective security schemes proposed in the past century in the face of aggression and war.
In terms of development strategy, Xi pointed to new growth areas, based on past successes, for development cooperation in economy and trade, connectivity, energy, agriculture, finance and innovation.
At the international level, he emphasized the role of the SCO in promoting peaceful coexistence and the harmonious development of different civilizations.
In terms of the evolving international system, Xi emphasized dialogue instead of confrontation and cooperation instead of alliance. Overall, he said that the SCO has "upheld international fairness and justice, and opposed hegemonic, high-handed and bullying acts."
Xi's remarks, as well as the remarks of other SCO leaders, indicated not only a constructive view of the future but also a deep concern for the destabilizing behavior of the West led by the United States.
The SCO leaders, as well as leaders of other fora and formats such as the BRICS group of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, and ASEAN, a political and economic union of 10 member states in Southeast Asia, are united in their desire for peace and development. This consensus represents the trend of the times in the international community.
The U.S. and its NATO alliance seek to maintain and extend international finance capitalism. This objective runs counter to the interests of the Western public but it is aligned with the interests of cosmopolitan finance. The citizens of the U.S. and other Western(-dominated) countries seem to be unknowing pawns in the hands of a transatlantic oligarchy itself in the service of global finance capitalism.
In April 1955, representatives from 29 governments from Asia, Africa and the Middle East gathered in Bandung, Indonesia, to discuss peace and the role of the "Third World" in the Cold War. Economic development and decolonization were key topics.
The Bandung Conference also introduced the concept and ideal of peaceful coexistence, a theory that had been worked out by China and India as the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence in 1954. The Non-Aligned Movement, a forum of 120 countries that are not formally aligned with or against any major power bloc and the largest grouping of states worldwide after the UN, grew out of this consensus but lacked the power to realize peaceful coexistence on a global scale owing to the ongoing Cold War and Western imperialism.
Seven decades later, however, with the rise of China, India and ASEAN, and with the participation of various medium and small powers, the situation has dramatically changed.
The international system naturally is dynamic and ever-changing, decade to decade, century to century. Power shifts have occurred throughout the centuries and the long-time global domination by the West has ended. There are new and powerful centers of development which do not accept the hegemony of the West led by the U.S. and NATO.
Young people pose for a group photo at the Qingdao SCO Pearl International Expo Center in Qingdao, Shandong Province, on May 22. The center is situated in the China-SCO Local Economic and Trade Cooperation Demonstration Area (XINHUA)
SCO and UN
In contrast, the SCO emphasizes a concept of the international system based on international law with the UN Charter at the core. It is true that the UN needs very substantial reform. Nonetheless, it is a legitimate, integral and necessary part of the international system. Its role and effectiveness depend on the commitment of its member countries.
The SCO has been an observer in the UN General Assembly since 2005. In April 2010, the UN and SCO secretariats signed a Joint Declaration on Cooperation. The SCO Secretariat established partnerships with the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the World Tourism Organization and the International Organization for Migration. It also has active cooperation with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific and the UN Office on Counter-Terrorism.
The Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA), as well as the UN Center for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia maintain regular contacts with SCO officials. Since 2017, the DPPA has deployed a liaison officer to the SCO in Beijing. Cooperation activities focus on regional security development and key issues related to counterterrorism and the prevention of violent extremism.
The SCO on its own and working with the UN is a much-needed force for peace and development. Expanding its membership and increasing effective member cooperation will strengthen the organization in the years to come.
Managing differences, of course, is important—as in any collective endeavor. But in today's international geopolitical landscape, the advantages of unity and cooperation are overriding. A long-term perspective is called for because, at least for now, a protracted struggle is taking place over the future of the international system and thus over the future of humanity.
The author is president of the Washington Institute for Peace and Development and a former senior professional staff member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon
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