ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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A Bloc for Central Asia

The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation has ambitions to turn into a major bloc in central Asia. 

It was expected that the Russia-Georgia conflict would figure prominently at the six-nation Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s (SCO) recent annual summit in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan. It appeared as if Dimitry Medvedev, the president of Russia, was going to seek the organisation’s endorsement of Moscow’s military actions in Georgia and its recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Surprisingly, the Georgian issue was not in the limelight. Besides expressing concern over tensions in Georgia and backing Russia’s active role in safeguarding security and stability in the region, the SCO failed to give Medvedev the endorsement he sought. This was not surprising. The Chinese president, Hu Jintao, had to be careful in supporting Russia since China has to cope with separatism of the kind that Georgia experienced. Kazakhstan, another SCO member, enjoys huge western investments in its energy sector and Kyrgyzstan has a United States (US) base in its territory for which it receives substantial rent; so neither of these central Asian countries would have been willing to support vociferous criticism of the US. There was therefore no shift in the summit’s agenda of formalising and streamlining the admission procedures for the new entrants, addressing energy, transportation, and security issues, and on combating terrorism and drug trafficking.

The driving force behind the birth and development of the SCO has been the need to meet challenges in Asia and promote regional cooperation. Initially, threats to regional peace and stability in the form of terrorism, separatism, and extremism took precedence, for Russia’s withdrawal from central Asia after the collapse of the Soviet Union had created a vacuum. Narcotics trade, originating from Afghanistan, that affected central Asia and much of Eurasia, was another concern. Despite these deterrents, over the years the scope for cooperation among the SCO members widened to include the economy, technology, transportation, energy and culture. And if SCO expands to include Iran, India and Pakistan that now have observer status, it may well have the potential to become a strong economic bloc. Sceptical voices, however, highlight the fact that the economic programmes that are considered necessary for such cooperation are absent. The lack of trust and cohesion among the SCO members is also a major constraint on the grouping becoming a major alliance. The two leading members have different expectations and uses for the bloc. Russia sees the SCO as an opportunity to reduce western, especially US, influence in central Asia, thus making the grouping an instrument for achieving its geopolitical objectives. For China the SCO serves as a medium for expanding its market and as a source to meet its increasing energy demands. On their part, the central Asian states see the SCO as a guarantor of political stability.

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