Expanded SCO bloc looks to boost growth and security

From left: Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Mongolian President Khaltmaagiin Battulga at a meeting on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Qingdao, China. PHOTO: REUTERS

An expanded Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) began its two-day summit yesterday with a spectacular light and fireworks display and a promise of growth even as a less-than-harmonious Group of Seven (G-7) summit was drawing to a close in Canada.

In his speech at yesterday's welcome banquet, Chinese President Xi Jinping noted that the Eurasian bloc has delivered "fruitful outcomes" in security, economic and cultural cooperation and made historic strides in institution building.

"The SCO has become an important force for upholding regional security, promoting common development and improving global governance," he said.

Noting that this summit was the first held after the admission of two new members, India and Pakistan, Mr Xi said it will be drawing up a new blueprint for future growth.

The economic and security bloc now has eight members with the inclusion of India and Pakistan last year. The others are key drivers, China and Russia, and the Central Asian states of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

There are four observers, including Iran and Afghanistan, and six dialogue partners.

This is the 18th summit of the SCO, which began life as the Shanghai Five in 1996 but took on the current name in 2001 when it added a new member, Uzbekistan, and also expanded its activities.

The current confab takes place at a time when the United States has decided to pull out of a multilateral nuclear deal with Iran, putting into jeopardy the agreement that limits Iran's nuclear programme and lifts sanctions against it.

This may be discussed at the summit, with Russia and China as signatories of the deal. There is also speculation that Iran might be admitted to the SCO as a full member as a show of solidarity with Teheran.

The summit is also expected to affirm multilateralism just as US President Donald Trump - with his unilateral decisions - has put his country at odds with other members of the G-7 advanced nations at its summit that ended yesterday.

India's participation, in particular, could affect the dynamics of the SCO. Indian media report that New Delhi's inclusion will give the bloc heft in regional politics as well as trade negotiations, and India could emerge as part of the core of the bloc together with Russia and China.

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi yesterday met Mr Xi in their second bilateral meeting in two months after their two-day huddle in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in April.

The two leaders affirmed the success of their meeting in Wuhan, and expressed willingness to build on the foundation of that meeting to boost political trust and further develop bilateral ties.

Bilateral relations between the two giant neighbours hit a rough patch last year with a stand-off between their militaries in a border dispute involving China and Bhutan. India is also wary of China's growing clout in South Asia, India's traditional sphere of influence.

Mr Xi also met President Mamnoon Hussain of Pakistan, India's rival and China's partner in South Asia.

Ahead of this weekend's summit, Mr Xi met Russian President Vladimir Putin in Beijing last Friday.

Russia and China are expected to use the SCO as a platform to cooperate to resist pressure from the West, particularly after the US named the two countries as its strategic rivals and as revisionist powers.

The summit will get down to brass tacks today, with discussions to include a new consensus to promote unity and mutual trust, a new economic cooperation blueprint and new moves on security building.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 10, 2018, with the headline 'Expanded SCO bloc looks to boost growth and security'. Print Edition | Subscribe