Eastward Bound – The SCO’s Strategic Surge

China is the new geostrategic center of gravity. The SCO, under the leadership of China and Russia, is reshaping the geopolitical landscape of Central, South Asia and beyond.

China is the new geostrategic center of gravity. The SCO, under the leadership of China and Russia, is reshaping the geopolitical landscape of Central, South Asia and beyond. By fostering cooperation and development, the SCO offers a robust alternative to Western-dominated international relations, advocating for a multipolar world that respects the diversity of civilizations and pursues collective progress. Today the world faces an emerging multipolar environment with centers of power rising to challenge American hegemony on the Russian steppes and China’s “Middle Kingdom,” and in other locales as well. Additionally, Europe, which has been long aligned in support of the United States in a closely allied Western bloc of nations, has begun to diverge from American interests in terms of its defined “eternal and perpetual” political, economic, diplomatic, and military interests. Economically, diplomatically, scientifically, and militarily the West was ascendant practicing a policy of “nation-building,” or the support of political, economic, and social structures in developing countries but now China has taken the baton of leadership with its SCO.

The successful relations established between China and SCO member states have set a precedent that is often called upon for a new model of relations that support regional integration. In contrast to the geopolitical approach with a winner-take-all mentality often observed in the West, the SCO model considers the governments and civilizational differences worthy of respect, as well as advocating for equitable development. At the same time, the SCO’s approach completely rejects geopolitics and tries to act based on the principles of growth and mutual development, which is qualitatively different from the pressure experienced by the Western countries in order to determine influence and exclude other participants.

Chinese President Xi Jinping in a state visit to Astana, Kazakhstan to attend the 24th meeting of the Council of the Heads of State of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). The Silk Road Economic Belt of the BRI refers to one of the two major strategic routes of the Belt and Road Initiative. SCO is mainly an organization of diplomatic intercourse and is expected to set a course for cooperation in the future with regard to regional security, connectivity, and exchanges under the frameworks of SCO and BRI.
Xi stressed on distinguishing peculiarity of SCO describing it as a permanent comprehensive strategic cooperation. This was widely supported by the member states as many of them passed through China’s initiatives ranging from the Global Development Initiative, Global Security Initiative, and the Global Civilization Initiative. This is a strong and well-established partnership rooted in the framework of recognizing the need to avoid toxification of international relations and both parties’ interest in the political normalization.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping have sought to make the Eurasian security club, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), as the guarantor of the world order and stability, majoring in countering the West. SCO was founded in 2001 by Russia, China and several Central Asian nations, has now included India, Iran, and Pakistan in its fold whose main objective is to counterbalance the Western institutions.
Putin commended the SCO as one of the foundational stones that contribute towards the creation of a fair multipolar world order, and he noted this is the best relations ever between Russia and China. He stressed that the SCO is not directed against some other countries or groups but is States-members oriented. Xi echoed this position stating that, it is crucial to continue the long-standing friendly relations between Chinese and Russian people given that the global environment is constantly shifting.

Typically, the idea of the SCO summit is to compare the approaches of the country presidents to the threats originating from outside their territory, such as drug threats or internal turmoil. Putin’s met with the Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, the Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, presidents of Azerbaijan and Mongolia. For instance, PM Narendra Modi skipped the meet, being represented by India’s foreign minister, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.

China and Russia’s claims of the “no limit” partnership that was made shortly before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has only strengthened their alliance. As stated earlier, Xi and Putin are in sync with each other holding the view that the world dominated by America since the Cold War has been declining.

At the previous SCO summit, the group condemned the unbounded and unilateral actions of missile defenses all over the world, which indirectly pointed at NATO activity and the West’s military support to Ukraine. Thus, Xi’s pragmatic negotiation style to economic relations was observed during the beginning of the marking of Trans-Caspian International Transport Route (TITR). The West, urging the participants of the transport process to seek for the option that does not involve Russia, emphasizes one critical aspect of China’s strategic economic interests in the region defined by this route.

This SCO summit is important, especially given that it has registered the participation of Belarus for the first time as a member. This is because after the inclusion of Belarus into the SCO, the number of members in this organization are ten; therefore, the organization is more powerful. Among the leaders of observer states and dialogue partners, in particularly, there were representatives of Mongolia, Azerbaijan, Qatar, UAE, Turkey and Turkmenistan, as well as the head of the United Nations and the Commonwealth of Independent States, and other representatives of the leading International organizations.
The increasing capacity of the SCO as well as and specifically due to related expansion of the SCO such as the full member status of Belarus has indicated that the grouping’s capability has improved in the international system. It at the moment comprises close to 50 % of the global population and possesses a Gross Domestic Product of over $ 23 trillion. This development points to both, the SCO’s contribution as a catalyst within the region and also acknowledges the member’s objectives in the international system.
To be held in line with the spectacles of the SCO Plus intensified in the framework of the SCO, a meeting with the title “world unity for justice, peace, harmony and development” is expected to pave way for a widespread diplomacy between the SCO member nations and the respective nations.

The increase of the SCO’s size and its political capacity also means the enhancement of its role in the international relations system. As such, the organization is well positioned to act as a valued actor in shifting the tone in world politics and seeking peaceful resolutions to most of the contemporary issues of concern globally. As for the further support of the combating actions against terrorism, separatism and extremism, the year 2024 has been declared the Year of Ecology in the SCO where members will also further support a comprehensive anti-drug strategy.

In the sphere of economics, it is expected that China will sustain initiatives in connection to regional infrastructure connectivity. One of the significant events noted is the development of the highway segment of the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route (TITR), also called the Middle Corridor. This route offers a cheap entry in Eurasia when political risks are on the rise.

China’s involvement in Central Asia is quite different from that of the western countries who usually fund a country for a geopolitical rivalry. China, on the other hand, provides the industrial capacity and technology which the Central Asian countries require for the process of modernization. As a result, offering affordable products and technologies that do not come with geopolitical strings, China plays a constructive role in the development of these countries.

China will chair the SCO during the period of 2024-2025 due to the annual rotating system of the organization. Stability is one of the key topics for consideration in the future as China is planning to enhance the security cooperation and fight against the ‘three evils’ which includes terrorism, separatism, and extremism as well as protect against color revolutions from foreign interference.

As China takes over presidency of the SCO, it is likely to advance its dominance in the Central Asian region with the aim of enhancing security and economic growth in the region. The SCO will continue to be the vehicle for this by which China seeks to decrease the impact of Western participation in relevant regions, focusing on non-competition in this context. With the development of infrastructure projects such as the Middle Corridor, the construction of transportation infrastructure, and the growth of trade relations, Central Asia will remain an important link in global supply chains.

Thus, the SCO as a China-led organization remains a significant actor in defining the regional balance of power in Central Asia. Towards cooperation and development, the SCO creates a positive model of postindustrial postmodern globalization in a multipolar world that values of all cultures.

Asma Khan
Asma Khan
Author is an Islamabad-based expert in Strategic Affairs. Student of Defense and Strategic Studies, and a M.Phil. Scholar from SPIR Quaid-I-Azam University Islamabad, Pakistan Reached at asmakhandurrani595[at]gmail.com She tweets @AsmaKhan_47