The growth of SCO may have emerged as the most victorious Eurasian Organization but it still has a long way to go. Since the day of its inception, SCO has been struggling to address some of the organization’s major concerns such as maintaining cohesion among member states and addressing economic issues besides strengthening its institutional basis. However, it has expanded its regional profile and managed to portend in an era of New Regionalism.
The recent summit of the Eurasian Economic, Political, and Security Forum (on 15-16th September 2022) is of utmost importance considering the current serious political, and economic transformations happenings across the Eurasian Continent. This summit has marked new aspects of Regional Cooperation, and Economic Potential for SCO in the Changing International Environment.
The key takeaways of the recent summit: –
- Inclusion of Iran as a permanent member of SCO
- Turkey to pursue permanent membership of SCO
- Gulf states to gain the status of SCO Dialogue Partner
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei said, “One of our priorities today in foreign policy is preferring East to West, neighbors to remote countries”. As the world’s biggest regional organization, SCO may use its institutional capacity and political power to counter economic sanctions and assist with financial instability in countries like Iran. Also, Iran has the potential to be a ‘Hub Country’ playing a key role in East-West and North-South transportation routes. The inclusion of Iran as a permanent member of the SCO demonstrates the rise of anti-Western narratives. Iran and Russia have expanded their connections in recent decades, including non-energy links, defense collaboration, and weapons sales. Therefore, Iran’s willingness to pursue better ties with China and Russia (the SCO’s two major countries) opens up a new wave of ‘Multi-literalism’ in the Eurasian Region. The energy crisis caused by the Ukraine war can be met by Iran (which has the world’s fourth biggest oil and natural gas reserves) as Iran’s commerce with SCO member states has risen to $37 billion by 2021. Iran’s inclusion in SCO has strengthened China’s policy of “Asia people to uphold Asian security” in changing geopolitical climate. It will enhance International North-South Transport Corridor- a shifting gear in Eurasian connectivity. Besides these positive aspects, there are other prospects for Iran’s inclusion in SCO. Above all, SCO members have to deal strictly with three evils “Terrorism, Extremism, and Separatism” where Iran has been blamed for providing nuclear support for terrorism, and cross-border violence support by the West. Hence, Iran may face staunch opposition from the west to perform dexterously in the region. Although SCO has accomplished much in terms of multilateral growth, it does not appear to be capable of taking strong moves in the face of US-Iran antagonism, given the organization’s structure, powers, and aims. Still, SCO does accrue economic and geopolitical benefits for Iran, allowing it to maintain its position in the Middle East.
Turkey’s president Tayyip Erdogan said, “Our relations with these countries will be moved to a much better position with this step. Of course [membership], that’s the target”.
Turkey, a NATO member since 1952, indicates a distant possibility of becoming a permanent SCO member. However, its relations with the United States will determine its standing in the SCO. The recent SCO summit has shown Turkey’s bid to get permanent membership of SCO. which might be because Turkey has grown closer to Moscow, both politically and commercially, in recent years, including acquiring an S-400 defense system. Ankara has also become economically dependent on Moscow to avoid a balance-of-payments catastrophe before the 2023 elections. However, in the SCO, Turkey will serve as an “Energy Hub” connecting Caspian and Central Asian producers with European customers.
China, SCO major power, is open to Turkey’s accession besides Turkey’s standing on the Uyghur issue (that might strain the future of China-Turkey relations). On the Syrian upheaval, clashes between Turkey and two SCO leading states Russia and China are possible. Turkey opposes Assad’s dictatorship (and even supports humanitarian action), whilst Russia and China encourage non-interference. Membership in the SCO may enhance Islamist imperatives in Turkish internal politics, affecting its path to democracy. Turkey in SCO will have an influence on India’s, Pakistan’s, and Iran’s policies in Central Asia. Furthermore, Turkey has the second biggest military force among NATO countries, after the United States, with around 445,000 troops. Turkey is home to five NATO headquarters in Izmir, as well as a US military-led airport. It also acts as an American security policy in the Middle East and the Balkans due to its key geographical position. Consequently, Turkey’s departure does not appear to be a possibility so far. In “The Clash of Civilizations, and the Remaking of the World Order,” Samuel Huntington described Turkey as a “torn country” because “its leaders typically wish to pursue a bandwagon strategy and to make their country a member of the West, but the country’s history, culture, and traditions are non-western.” All of this would impede the SCO’s ability to achieve its fundamental aims, which have already been hampered by tensions among SCO member nations
For Gulf nations, the SCO has increased its need considering China as the global economic powerhouse, Russia as the world’s second-biggest producer of natural gas, and Central Asian states with virtually unexplored oil and natural gas potential. Gulf States analyst, Ali Ahmad said “All of the countries involved do see china as a rising power and country that is potentially going to have a rising power in the region, and elsewhere” The SCO’s recent success in the Arab world is due to China’s expanding economic impact in the area. According to the United Nations COMTRADE database on international commerce, China’s exports to Saudi Arabia are over US$30.32 billion. The safe access to its essential energy resources and marine trade routes, in addition to major seaports like Dubai, through which 60% of its traffic heading for Europe and East Africa flows, is a crucial driver of China’s interest in the Gulf.
Also, US policy toward Gulf states, particularly after 9/11, has made these countries concerned for their future. The many Gulf States now wish to price some oil contracts in non-dollar-dominant countries. Where SCO, states reiterated their commitment to promoting national currencies in bilateral commerce in a recent summit, as China and Russia have boosted trading in rubles and renminbi since 2014. There has been a GCC-China free trade deal; if this agreement comes to fruition, it will undoubtedly benefit tarns-regional connectivity. Hence, Gulf states in SCO will catalyze Eurasian connectivity.
However, Institutional, infrastructural, and trade issues remain unresolved for SCO. Another critical question is SCO’s expansion: should it be a regional or global organization? Is it to be a global future, as Russia wants, or a regional future, as China desires? Concrete policies and closer coordination are required, depending on the extent to which domestic and member state impacts converge, as well as their significance in addressing future security and economic concerns for the furtherance of SCO.