The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) has withstood storms to create a cooperative platform in Central Asia that conforms to the trend of the times, meets regional needs, and serves its member states’ interests. SCO’s commitment to innovative thinking, security cooperation, and regional coordination has contributed to regional stability and development and to gaining experience in establishing regional and global order. The stages of SCO development before and during the membership expansion in 2017 can be understood. The “Shanghai Spirit,” defined as “shared trust, reciprocal benefit, equality, consultation, tolerance for cultural variety, and pursuit of common progress,” was first introduced during the establishing phase, from 2001 to 2004. The Shanghai Convention on Combating the Three Evil Forces (terrorism, separatism, and extremism) was attended by SCO member nations, who agreed on a charter and endorsed a framework for global commerce. A regional anti-terrorist structure in Tashkent and the secretariat in Beijing had both been established by 2004. The SCO’s expansion phase from 2004 to 2017 was characterized by internal construction and outward cooperation. The organization’s success is by no means a coincidence.
It was founded on a number of things, including cooperation between China and Russia, initiatives by the “Shanghai Five,” relationships among member states, and outside pressure. A strong impetus was provided by China and Russia working together. They serve as both a leadership and a demonstration engine in the growth of SCO. The organization was led to a model of state-to-state ties in partnership rather than alliance by the principles of non-alignment, non-confrontation, and non-targeting of any third party, which were drawn from historical experience and lessons learned in China-Soviet relations. Among other significant actions, China pushed the conclusion of the Convention against Extremism, advocated for a new security vision, and assisted in the establishment of a training center for SCO-China judicial interactions. In Yangling City, Shaanxi Province, China established an SCO demonstration base for agricultural technology training and exchange. In Qingdao, Shandong Province, China established a China-SCO economic demonstration zone and a technology transfer center. In Hubei Province, a demonstration base for neighborhood health collaboration is suggested.
Since the SCO was founded, China’s relations with its northern neighbors have been developing smoothly. In 2011, China-Russia relations were upgraded to “comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination,” and in 2019 to “comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for the new era.” China’s relations with SCO member states in Central Asia were continuously upgraded over the past 20 years. Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan 2013 formed strategic partnerships with China. Improvements in member-state relations catalyze SCO development. All SCO member states in Central Asia are now China’s strategic allies thanks to the comprehensive strategic relationship between the two countries, which was established in 2011 and later made permanent, as well as the strategic collaboration between China and Uzbekistan in 2012. China now has comprehensive strategic partnerships with Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan.
Deeper SCO collaboration is necessary because of the regional instability. Increasing variables of uncertainty and instability are a serious test for member nations given the fragility of both global and regional conditions. The reality of NATO’s eastward expansion and the pervasive “three bad forces,” among other things, changed the Shanghai Five into an SCO mechanism in the early years. Now that the virus is spreading and enormous changes not seen in a century are speeding up, there are significant threats to the socioeconomic progress of SCO member nations at home. As a result, the SCO is motivated to accelerate internal change, enhance collaboration and exchanges, and broaden involvement in international governance.
The SCO must be strategically oriented, stick to problem-orientation, pay attention to circumstances, and move forward to address obstacles like balancing fairness with efficiency, disparities in key countries’ interests, and external pushback. The SCO should move forward with the times in creating a new kind of international relations and a community with a shared future for humanity while enhancing the Shanghai Spirit and upholding the principles of non-alignment, non-confrontation, and non-targeting any third party.
Another SCO goal is ensuring cohesion through communication and mutual trust while respecting member diversity, differences and chosen development paths, equality of big and small countries, and consensus among member states through consultation. The SCO should strengthen strategic communication and complementarity among its members, continue to increase trust and remove suspicions, and seek common ground while shelving differences in favor of a win-win. Meanwhile, the SCO should improve the decision-making mechanism, establish corresponding supervision and working mechanisms, strengthen the building of institutions, and establish mechanisms for conflict mediation, punishment, and withdrawal to effect cooperation efficiency. For advancing regional cooperation, the SCO should stick to win-win cooperation to achieve integrated development. Among the plans are: to upgrade rules and regulations for cooperation from soft to hard constraints and establish a rule-based platform for regional cooperation; guide the transformation of project cooperation from government-led to market-led to upgrade the Belt and Road cooperation model; develop a diversified, multilateral financing and investment model; leverage members’ comparative advantages for integrated development of Central and South Asia; increase cooperation on the digital economy, and explore new areas of cooperation.
People-to-people connectivity will involve mutual learning and inclusiveness. The SCO should step up non-governmental exchanges and speed up personnel exchanges; strengthen educational cooperation and promote the SCO University; strengthen media and youth exchange to deepen mutual understanding and trust; and carry out cooperation in environmental protection, technology, and poverty alleviation enhancing cultural and people-to-people cooperation.