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Shanghai Cooperation Organization: Territory Of Partnership

The performance of China and Russia in major parameters is incomparable with that of other SCO members. For this reason, the distribution of roles within the SCO will be uneven in the near future. Structurally, there will be three echelons: first - Russia and China; second - Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan; and third - Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. The SCO should practice a strategy of uneven growth by concentrating their resources in places with a favorable investment climate, where they can yield the best results. This requires coordination in the SCO and beyond.
by Jibek Syzdykova
Moscow, Russia (RIA Novosti) Aug 16, 2007
Developing as an international agency, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) has been responding to the geopolitical situation in Europe, Asia and the rest of the world. Former Soviet republic made repeated attempts to streamline integration by setting up different associations, but they were not destined to live for many reasons. Experts are unanimous that the SCO is a success. Many call it a universal model of international partnership and this is no exaggeration.

The SCO has obviously helped its members to settle sensitive border issues. Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have a 3,700 km-long common border with China. Lack of cooperation between Central Asian countries would make it very difficult for them to resolve this issue with China tete-a-tete, without any support from Russia or an international organization. Countering new challenges to security was another urgent problem for Central Asia. In the late 1990s-early 2000s, they had to confront the dangerous contours of terrorism. Having adopted a list of security priorities, the SCO has become a shield against terrorism, separatism and extremism.

The SCO members have logically extended their cooperation to the economy. Central Asia's hydrocarbon resources are essential for China's rapidly growing economy.

One of the SCO goals was to balance out the growing influence of the United States. The presence of the U.S.-led coalition troops in the region has not achieved its main mission of eliminating the Taliban. Under the circumstances, U.S. current policy towards different terrorist groups may spur on separatist attitudes not only in the Middle East and West Asia, but also in Central Asia. It is important to consider that the majority of the region's nations (except Tajikistan) are Turkic-speaking Sunni Muslims. Their brethren in faith and language live in China's Xinjiang-Uyghur Autonomous Region, where the Front for the Liberation of East Turkestan is operating. This is a source of concern for the Chinese leaders. They want Central Asia to be a safe market for Chinese goods.

Russia and China are equally interested in creating a geopolitical counterbalance to the United States and in building a multi-polar world order. Indicatively, for the first time in history, an organization has united two major powers, which have left a deep imprint on the history of Central Asia.

Nobody chooses neighbors. History remembers not only merchant caravans on the Great Silk Route, but also a rather difficult position of the ethnic communities residing in the heart of Eurasia - from the Urals to Pamir and Hindu Kush. But let's not go into the hoary past - modern realities are also ridden with serious problems. The performance of China and Russia in major parameters is incomparable with that of other SCO members. For this reason, the distribution of roles within the SCO will be uneven in the near future. Structurally, there will be three echelons: first - Russia and China; second - Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan; and third - Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. The SCO should practice a strategy of uneven growth by concentrating their resources in places with a favorable investment climate, where they can yield the best results. This requires coordination in the SCO and beyond.

Chinese neighbors are bound to feel weak compared to a powerful country with a huge population. We believe that even the name of the SCO - Shanghai - shows China's importance. In turn, China has a different approach to Central Asian republics. It is particularly interested in Kazakhstan, which comes second in trade after Russia in the CIS and Eastern Europe, but pays less attention to Kyrgyzstan with its vague foreign policy priorities. Large-scale investment in Kyrgyzstan would be too risky for China, although both countries would gain much from the construction of a section of the TRASEKA trans-Asian railroad to link China's Korla-Kashgar with Kyrgyz Torugart-Jalal Abad. The project to build the Iskeshtam-Osh-Andijan highway has got underway. One of its key sections passed in Uzbekistan. China keeps its eyes on promising hydrocarbon reserves on Uzbek territory.

The complicated situation in the Tajik-Afghan border zone and the drug-trafficking problem are a source of concern not only for Tajikistan but also for China. Its investment in the development of Tajik transport infrastructure, for instance, the construction of additional bridges across the Panj River would directly link Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and China with the Persian Gulf and the rest of the Indian Ocean.

Central Asian countries (probably except Kazakhstan) are concerned that China's active involvement in their economies may turn them into its raw materials appendage. Russia is capable of balancing out relations in the SCO. It can largely determine SCO multilateral and bilateral cooperation and its contacts with the West, especially as regards its transcontinental agreements on supplies of energy and military hardware and large-scale humanitarian projects, which involve all SCO countries without exception. During preparations for the forthcoming SCO summit in Bishkek, Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Ednan Karabayev observed: "A treaty on long-tern good-neighborly relations, friendship and cooperation will become a key SCO document."

The forthcoming summit will concentrate on the following goals - to step up partnership with SCO observer countries, as well as with Afghanistan in the framework of the relevant contact group (to combat drug trafficking); to shape a common energy market; to develop instruments of cooperation with other international bodies; to determine functions of new agencies within the SCO (Business Council, Energy Club and Inter-Bank Association); to discuss a common SCO market and security measures during the summer Olympics in Beijing in 2008.

The United Nations has given the SCO a status of observer - a fact that speaks for itself. Japan and Bangladesh have expressed interest in cooperating with it. The SCO Secretariat has initiated the formation of a SCO Forum to expand international scientific, technical, cultural and humanitarian cooperation.

Will the SCO succeed in formulating new rules of the game on a territory stretching from Central Asia to Indochina? This will depend on the ability of the SCO nations to unite and parry the challenges of today. The forthcoming Bishkek summit will provide an answer.

Jibek Syzdykova is the director of the Center of Central Asian and Caucasus Studies of Moscow State University's Institute of Asian and African Countries, member of the RIA Novosti Expert Council.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

Source: RIA Novosti

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