The First Ten Years of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)

Ten years after its establishment on June 15, 2001, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), successor to the original Group of Five (Shanghai Five), is still in a state of flux. Its continued existence though has resulted in it becoming largely entrenched in the political-economic landscape of Central, South and East Asian countries. The SCO acts as a regional security organization, whose members include China, Russia and the four Central Asian republics (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan), covering an area of 30 million square kilometers with a population of 1,455 billion people, or one quarter of the world‟s total population. It is governed from Beijing and it operates in a highly diverse political environment. Its activities are highly diverse. It also serves as a forum for maintaining relations with other major Asian countries in various spheres. It has accepted a few new members since 2001. Mongolia has held observer status since 2004, and India, Iran and Pakistan became also observers the following year. Diplomats from Afghanistan and Turkmenistan regularly attend its conferences as guests, while Belarus and Sri Lanka are also now affiliated with the organization as dialogue partners. In recent years the SCO has developed relations with regional and international institutions, such as the European Union, the Commonwealth of Independent States, the association of South East Asian Nations, the Collective Security Treaty Organization and others. The SCO has also an observer status at the UN General Assembly. The SCO is more than an instrument for the consolidation of political and economic relations of its member states; the organization represents a Chinese attempt to create a system of regional cooperation that it can use to further its foreign policy objectives in its neighborhood. As it operates in an area with amble room to engage in strategic maneuvers, the SCO is seeking ways to enhance its already considerable sway by admitting new members, discussing how to deal with the war in Afghanistan and developing energy cooperation. These issues continue to be high on its current discussion agenda. The future will demonstrate whether or not it will have to adopt an operational plan agreed upon by both Russia and China in order to fulfill its ambitious program. The delicate balance of interests between Moscow and Beijing significantly affects the group‟s ability to act in a concerted fashion and an incisive way.

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Published in Political Reflection Magazine Vol. 2 No. 2

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