On September 15th and 16th, 2022, the conference of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization took place in Samarkand. Chinese President Xi Jinping, speaking to the plenary session of conference participants, said: “China stands ready to play the role of great powers and play a leading role together with Russia to bring stability and positive energy to a world shaken by social unrest.
What is the Shanghai Cooperation Organization?
The predecessor of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization was the “Shanghai 5 Group”, which was founded in 1996. With the admission of Uzbekistan, the group was renamed Shanghai Cooperation Organization in 2001.
Initially, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s main focus was on Central Asian problems such as border disputes and regional military conflicts. After 2001, combating terrorism increasingly became the focus of joint tasks.
In 2003, for example, a joint counter-terrorism center was set up in Shanghai. At the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Uzbekistan, which took place on July 16-17, 2004, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization decided to set up a regional anti-terrorist network as the “Regional Anti-Terrorism Structure” .
Since the beginning of military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization has aimed to counterbalance US influence in the region. This includes, among other things, the demand for the withdrawal of US troops from the region. A US request for observer status to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization was denied in 2005.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization sees itself as a non-aligned organization characterized by openness, without any negative attitude towards other countries or organizations, equality and respect among member states, rejection of any kind of interference in the internal affairs of other countries and prevention of political confrontation or rivalries.
Today the Shanghai Cooperation Organization includes: China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Afghanistan, Mongolia and Belarus have “observer status”. The following are referred to as “dialogue partners”: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Turkey. So-called “guest participants” are Turkmenistan, representatives of the “Association of Southeast Asian Nations” and includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
According to media reports, Turkish President Erdogan has expressed his country’s interest in joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Egypt, Qatar and Saudi Arabia want to officially become “dialogue partners” at the summit in Samarkand. The United Arab Emirates are reportedly aiming for full Shanghai Cooperation Organization membership. Azerbaijan, despite its status as the EU’s new strategic oil partner, is said to be aiming for membership. Currently there are repeated military clashes with Armenia, which is also a “dialogue partner” of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
The member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization combine almost 40 percent of the world’s population and represent around 30 percent of global economic output.
The 22nd Summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization
Which countries apart from the nine heads of state and government of the member states took part in the conference is not exactly known due to the sparse reporting in Western media. Apparently there were 14 in total. All that is certain is that Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Belarusian Prime Minister Alexander Lukashenko were present.
The host of the meeting, the President of Uzbekistan, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, announced the main priorities of the meeting before the start of the conference, namely: strengthening the importance of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, ensuring peace and stability in the region, combating poverty, strengthening interregional economic cooperation and reducing all Trade barriers with the help of technical processes and digitization. As with all conferences, there were many bilateral talks in addition to speeches in the plenary session, but only some of them were made public.
The dominant figure at the meeting was Chinese leader Xi Jinping. After his trip to Myanmar in 2020, his participation in the conference in Samarkand – due to corona – was his first stay abroad in more than two years. One could say it was “China’s visible return to the world stage”, certainly also to strengthen its position ahead of the elections for a possible third term in October 2022. Before attending the Shanghai Cooperation Organization meeting, President Xi had traveled to Kazakhstan, a country that is operating at a clear distance to Russia. Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev made it clear at the economic forum in St. Petersburg in June 2022 that he rejected Russia’s recognition of the eastern Ukrainian regions of Lugansk and Donetsk.
The country also wants to comply with the sanctions imposed by the EU and has even offered to help the EU with the energy supply. Tokayev had banned the Russian war symbol “Z”. In Kazakhstan, President Xi announced his “New Silk Road Initiative” in 2013. The country is an important neighboring country for Beijing because of its raw materials and security issues surrounding the neighboring Chinese region of Xinjiang (this is where the predominantly Muslim Uyghur ethnic group lives).
At the Samarkand conference, Xi held important bilateral talks but also delivered a speech to the plenary. In it, he urged SCO members to strengthen their cooperation and called on countries to respect each other’s core interests and chosen development paths. Xi Jinping advocated the principle of equal treatment:
” The big ones shouldn’t bully the small ones, the strong shouldn’t bully the weak”.
The world is anything but peaceful at the moment. The struggle between unity and division, cooperation and confrontation is getting stronger. He called on the member states to expand their security cooperation. Terrorist and extremist forces should be denied the ability to disrupt regional security. Xi called on the participating leaders to work to ensure that “the international order develops in a more just and reasonable direction.” He also warned of popular uprisings and interference from abroad:
“We must prevent foreign forces from starting ‘color revolutions’.”
It is time to reshape the international order and abandon the “zero-sum game and bloc politics”. Trade must be supported and facilitated. At the same time, Xi Jinping promoted the infrastructure initiative to build a “New Silk Road”. He called on the organization’s members to fight drug smuggling, other transnational crimes and the “three evil forces”: terrorism, separatism and religious extremism. China is willing to train 2,000 law enforcement officers from Shanghai Cooperation Organization member states and set up a counter-terrorism training center. To meet the world’s needs, China will provide 1.5 billion yuan worth of food and humanitarian supplies to needy developing countries, Xi Jinping also announced.
In his speech, Xi Jinping further said that the Shanghai Cooperation Organization should be expanded and improved. Other countries should join it.
The Sino-Russian Relations
Certainly the most significant bilateral conversation at this conference took place between President Xi and his Russian counterpart Putin, during which Xi called the Russian President “an old friend”. Parallel to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization conference, joint maneuvers by China and Russia took place in the Pacific. Ahead of the summit, China’s head of state Xi Jinping vowed the “comprehensive strategic partnership” with Russia, which he believes is on the right track and not only serves the people of both countries, but also peace, stability and prosperity in the region the official Chinese news agency Xinhua quoted him as saying.
In recent months, China – unlike the West – has used diplomatic means to position itself on the Ukraine war. On the one hand, the People’s Republic avoided criticism of Russia and did not describe the war in Ukraine as such, but on the other hand, it deliberately held back, which could have been interpreted as direct support for Russia. Beijing called on all parties involved to cease hostilities, instead of using armed force, a way should be found through dialogue that coordinates the “legitimate security interests” of all parties to the conflict, said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning, emphasizing:
“The international community should also work to enable the conditions and space for this.”
Xi and Putin last met in person on the sidelines of the Winter Olympics in Beijing. At the time, Xi had promised the Russian President “borderless partnership.” On a recent visit to Moscow, Chinese Parliament Speaker Li Zhanshu, Beijing’s Protocol No. 3, said China supports Russia’s interests, “particularly in the situation in Ukraine.” Russia has hit back in Ukraine “to protect its national interests.” Beijing admits Moscow backed the Ukraine war, has never officially condemned it and portrays the US and NATO as the main culprits. In return, Russia positions itself behind China on the Taiwan issue.
At the beginning of the bilateral meeting, the Chinese President did not mention the war in Ukraine at all. Later in the conversation, of course, the topic was discussed, although, as already mentioned, Xi, out of consideration for Putin, did not use the term “war”. There was no talk of possible military support. President Putin specifically emphasized China’s balanced position on the situation in Ukraine and said:
” We appreciate the balanced attitude of our Chinese friends in the Ukraine crisis. However, we also understand your questions and concerns in this regard.”
Russia and China obviously maintain a “win-win partnership”. China is compensating for some Western sanctions for Russia by supplying urgently needed components such as microchips. In return, Russia exports gas and oil to China on favorable terms. On the fringes of the conference, the Russian Energy Minister Alexander Nowak explained the latest developments in gas exports to China.
Gas has been flowing from Yakutia to China since 2019 through “ Siberias 1 ”. The pipeline is expected to reach full capacity by 2024. Then 61 billion cubic meters of gas per year should flow through this pipeline, 38 billion cubic meters of it to China.
Now Russia also wants to channel the natural gas that it has previously sold to Europe to China . This is 50 billion cubic meters of gas annually. The contracts would be signed shortly. The planned pipeline ” Siberias 2″ will replace the Baltic Sea pipeline ” Nord Stream 2 “.
The Russian energy minister also announced the construction of another line to northern China. It should start in Vladivostok and bring around ten billion cubic meters of gas to China. In the first eight months of 2022, trade in goods between China and Russia has risen to almost 120 billion dollars; for the whole of 2021 it was 150 billion. China pays Russia partly in Chinese currency, the yuan.
After the meeting of the two heads of state, China released a statement which stated, among other things :
“China is ready to support each other in key areas.”
The statement was probably kept rather general because Russia accounts for only 2.4 percent of China’s foreign trade, but exports to the USA are 12.5 percent.
The Sino-Indian Relations
The Chinese President also held bilateral talks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It was the first meeting between the two since fighting between soldiers from the two countries on the disputed border around the Ladakh region in the Himalayas in 2020. Currently there is apparently calm in the area. On September 12 this year, the Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs declared that the Indian and Chinese soldiers would withdraw from the border area, which also happened on September 13, 2022 and was confirmed by China. Xi and Modi met for the first time at the 2019 BRICS Conference in Brasilia.
India and China together have 2.8 billion inhabitants. According to a report by the International Monetary Fund, the Indian economy has now overtaken Great Britain and is currently ranked 5th among the world economic powerhouses. The US is still number 1, followed by China at number 2, Japan at number 3 and Germany at number 4.
There are now increasing economic ties between the two countries. For example, the Indian smartphone market is firmly in Chinese hands.
The Sino-Pakistani Relations
In his bilateral meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, President Xi said that despite the changes in the international situation, “China and Pakistan are strategic partners with mutual trust”. Both sides should continuously strengthen their mutual support and deepen the connection of their development strategies. In this context, the role of the joint committee of the bilateral economic corridor should be fully emphasized in order to ensure the rapid construction and operation of large-scale projects. Cooperation in industry, agriculture, science and technology and society should be expanded to give new impetus to the economic corridor. Pakistan should ensure the safety of Chinese citizens and institutions and guarantee the legitimate rights and interests of businesses.
After Chinese President Xi, Russian President Putin was certainly the most important participant at the conference.
In his plenary speech, President Putin, like the Chinese President before him, advocated a new multipolar world order. Among other things, Putin said:
“The growing role of new centers of power that cooperate with each other is becoming increasingly evident.”
At the same time he condemned “instruments of protectionism, illegal sanctions and economic selfishness”. Putin praised the growing influence of non-Western countries. The SCO is now the largest regional organization and is open to new members. He once again accused the West of making mistakes, saying the world was undergoing a transformation that was “irreversible”.
Putin criticized the sanctions imposed on Russia: he also underlined that they would prevent Russia from being able to take an active part in solving world problems. Above all, he called on the UN to enter into dialogue with the European Union:
“I informed Mr. Guterres the day before yesterday that 300,000 tons of Russian fertilizers have accumulated in the seaports of the European Union. We are willing to send them to developing countries free of charge. In addition, I would like to note that Russia is increasing grain exports to world markets.”
At his press conference concluding the summit, the Russian President announced further military operations in eastern Ukraine:
“Our offensive operations in Donbass are not suspended, they are progressing at a slow pace.”
The Russian-Indian Relations
Like the Chinese President, President Putin also held bilateral talks, which, however, were only reported to a limited extent. In addition to the Indian Prime Minister and the Turkish President, there were also meetings between Putin and his colleagues from Iran and Pakistan.
President Putin met Indian Prime Minister Modi for bilateral talks. India is now Russia’s largest oil customer, and India is known to resell Russian oil bought at a “friendly price” on the world market at a substantial profit, thereby partially circumventing the embargo imposed on Russia. Many of India’s fertilizers also come from Russia, and 60 percent of the Indian army is armed with Russian weapon systems. Nevertheless, the Indian prime minister allowed himself to criticize the Russian president. According to a report by the Indian broadcaster Doordashan, the Indian prime minister said on the situation in Ukraine that now is “not the time for a war”.. Modi has called for an end to hostilities, but his government has so far shied away from condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Putin replied that Russia would “do its best to end the special operation as soon as possible “.
The Russian-Iranian Relations
Iran’s acceptance as a full member of the SCO not only significantly strengthened Iran’s position, but also the importance of the organization.
Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi said Iran wanted membership to be part of a fair and balanced world order. At the same time, Raisi made serious allegations against the USA, saying:
“Our region has tasted the bitter taste of foreign intervention over the past few decades – and the result has been nothing but the creation of terrorism and the spread of insecurity.”
Iran is ready to play an effective role in securing energy supplies. It can be assumed that economic relations between the two countries will be expanded and military cooperation will be strengthened. According to Moscow, trade between Russia and Iran grew by 40 percent in the first half of the year. Politically and militarily, Iran is on Russia’s side, including in the war against Ukraine. It is repeatedly reported that Iran is supplying drones to Russia.
According to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey wants to join the SCO. According to Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency, after the organization’s summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, Erdogan said Turkey intended to discuss membership at next year’s meeting. His country has “historical and cultural” ties to the Asian continent and wants to play a role in the organization, whose members together account for “30 percent of global economic output.”
In the event of accession, Turkey would be the first member of the group to also belong to NATO. Erdogan accuses NATO and the EU of a lack of support for his country, and relations with EU neighbor Greece in particular are strained.
The conversation between the two presidents only took place after the end of the conference.
While Turkish President Erdogan condemns the Russian attack on Ukraine, he rejects the sanctions against Russia because he blames Europe and the USA for the escalation. During his talks in Samarkand, Erdogan made no secret of deepening cooperation with Russia. Despite the sanctions, Turkish exports to Russia increased by 90 percent in August 2022 compared to the same month last year, according to figures from the Turkish Exporters Association “TIM”; tendency further increasing.
One topic of conversation between Putin and Erdogan was the grain agreement. Putin thanked Turkey for mediating the deal and praised Ankara as one of his most reliable trading partners. However, the agreement must be improved because too few shiploads go to countries where the population is suffering from hunger. Erdogan had agreed to this. The Turkish President once again announced his willingness to mediate in the export of Ukrainian grain – because the existing agreement only runs until the end of October. “We have very productive cooperation with interested parties and the UN to ensure the export of Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea. We strive to make sure that Ukrainian grain reaches our brothers and sisters – especially in Africa and especially those who need it badly,” Erdogan said.
Russian gas exports were also discussed. In a way analogous to the grain agreement, Erdogan called for cooperation with the UN to end the war.
The “Samarkand Declaration of the Council of Heads of States of the SCO”
In the final declaration of the 22nd SCO conference at the level of the heads of state and government, it was stated, among other things, that the world is facing major challenges and changes that can only be met with a multipolar and democratic new order. Along the way, each country must be assured of its national sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity. Each country is entitled to its own political, economic and social path to achieve this goal.
Interference in a country’s internal affairs is rejected and conflicts are to be resolved politically and through diplomatic channels. Terrorism, separatism and extremism are condemned and a worldwide abolition of all nuclear weapons is demanded.
After the 10th International Moscow Security Conference from August 16 to 18, 2022, the exercise “Vostock22” from September 01 to 05, 2022 in eastern Russia and the “Eastern Economic Forum” from September 05 to 08, 2022 in Vladivostok The meeting of the heads of state and government of the SCO on September 15 and 16, 2022 in Samarkand was already the fourth meeting in which the two global heavyweights China and India took part in addition to Russia and some Asian countries. If you include the 14th meeting of the BRICS countries Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, which was held on June 23, 2022 in Brasilia – albeit only virtually – there are already five meetings this year at which China, India and Russia have hit the three heavyweights in the Indo-Pacific region.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping again demonstrated fundamental unity at the SCO summit, which India and Iran evidently agree with, taking into account their national interests. This has created a power bloc that “the West” should no longer and must not ignore, because it will change the world order as a whole, to the detriment of the United States and Europe.
Of course there are also differences within the SCO and the states close to it, but these are obviously not irreconcilable because the SCO, like the EU, is ultimately a community of convenience. There are always military conflicts between India and Pakistan or fights between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Above all, it must be clearly stated that some statements by China and Russia and also passages in the Samarkand final declaration are obviously only lip service. This is especially true for the statements that one respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other countries and does not interfere in their internal affairs. The opposite is currently the case between Russia and Ukraine, and the Chinese position towards Taiwan is also difficult to reconcile with these principles.
Regardless, the key takeaways from the SCO Summit for “Western” politicians should be:
- – There is no fundamental wedge between China and Russia;
- – Russia is not isolated in the world;
- – Iran is apparently finally turning away from the “West”;
- – Turkey continues to keep all options open with regard to its future positioning;
- – India is increasingly becoming a global player with a preference for China and Russia, but still keeps “the western option” open;
- – Several Arab states are signaling a possible reorientation, also away from the “West”;
- – A similar development can be observed for some African countries;
- – Afghanistan is firmly in the SCO’s sights;
- The world is again developing into two blocs, but not as in the Cold War, but into countries that follow the unilateral course of the USA and those that rely on a new multipolar world order. This applies to security policy as well as to economic and social development.
From my point of view, it is unfortunately not clear whether Western politicians have recognized these negative developments for the USA and above all for Europe and how they intend to counteract them politically and economically.