The western media largely ignored the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Summit held on the 15-16th of September in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. But, the annual summit was notable for many reasons, and there were implications for the West and the world order.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) is a grouping of eight permanent member states - China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. With the two most populous nations as members, it is currently the largest regional bloc in the world. The Eurasian political, economic and military organization, which began as the Shanghai Five in 1996, came into its present form in 2003. The organization aims to enhance military cooperation and intelligence sharing, counter terrorism, settle border disputes, and counter American influence in Central Asia.
The "counter American influence in Central Asia" agenda was evident in the first in-person summit since the COVID-19 pandemic. In Samarkand, an important stop on the ancient Silk Road, the self-proclaimed counterweights to American dominance, Russia and China, urged members to work together to create a more just international order.
"We should ...jointly oppose interference in other countries' internal affairs under any pretext, and hold our future firmly in our own hands," the Chinese Premier said. Criticizing groupings such as the QUAD and AUKUS, he said, "Obsession with forming a small circle can only push the world toward division and confrontation."
Urging the organization to set up a Development Bank, along the lines of the BRICS New Development Bank, President Xi also expressed the need "to expand shares of local currency settlement" in trade. China has been developing a renminbi-based interbank payments system as an alternative to SWIFT. Since the Ukraine invasion and Russian sanctions, some countries have resorted to settling trade using non-dollar currencies.
Defying the West's call to isolate Russia, President Xi reiterated and extended his support for the Russian President. He said China was ready and willing to "work with Russia to fulfill their responsibilities as major countries and play a leading role in injecting stability into a world of change and disorder." He also extended "strong mutual support on issues concerning each other's core interests."
In the first in-person meeting with his staunch ally since he ordered the invasion of Ukraine, the Russian President said, "We highly appreciate the balanced position of our Chinese friends in connection with the Ukrainian crisis." He added, "We adhere to the principle of one China. We condemn the provocation of the U.S. and their satellites in the Taiwan Strait."
While the West mostly chose to ignore the Summit, Indian Prime Minister Modi's advice to Putin, "I know today's era is not [an era] of war. We discussed this issue with you on the phone several times, that democracy, diplomacy and dialogue touch the entire world" caught its attention.
Turning a blind eye to the camaraderie and largely positive tone of the Summit, Washington opted to point out that the Indian PM's words indicated that President Putin was "isolating himself."
To a large extent, the impact of Western sanctions on Russia has fallen short as India and China, along with others, continued to trade with the invader. With Iran set to join the SCO this year and the way being cleared for Belarus, the bloc could become a sanctuary for sanctioned countries.
Despite the various inbuilt rivalries within the organization - India and China, India and Pakistan, between Central Asian countries – the SCO, with some of the world's largest economies as members, does carry certain clout. While border tensions and political differences may not find swift resolutions, enhanced trade, connectivity, and cooperation may diminish the emerging economies' dependence on the West.
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