By P.K.Balachandran/Ceylon Today
Geopolitical realities in the 21st. Century have enhanced the role of the countries of Central Asia and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in the vital areas of economic development and global security against trans-national aggression and Jehadi terrorism.
A summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) was held in Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan, a Central Asian country, on June 13 and 14. Heads of Government from China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan met to discuss international relations including transnational terrorism.
SCO Secretary General, Vladimir Norov, told the media recently that the accession of India and Pakistan has given the SCO a transcontinental character. The active involvement of two of the world’s largest powers, namely China and Russia, both permanent members of the UN Security Council, pursuing a global agenda in their foreign policy, objectively brings the SCO to the forefront of international politics, Norov pointed out.
A necessary prerequisite for the successful achievement of the SCO’s objectives both domestically and internationally is non-bloc approaches of its participants to building cooperation in the interests of constructive and mutually beneficial relations in various fields without infringing on any party’s interests whatsoever, Norov said.
Contentious bilateral issues are eschewed in SCO meetings. If not for this stipulation, Pakistan would raise its Kashmir dispute with India and divert the attention of the delegates from other countries. The SCO exists to addresses issues which are common to all members.
The SCO is not a military-political bloc, and is ready to cooperate with other states and international associations on a broad agenda.
The SCO has established the institutions of observer states and dialogue partners, signed documents on cooperation with respected international organisations, including the UN, CIS, CSTO, ASEAN, ECO, UN Secretariat, UNODC, ESCAP, CICA, ICRC, UNESCO and others. Cooperation documents are also being worked out with the World Tourism Organization and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe.
Focus on Terrorism
One of the most important missions under the SCO Charter is the joint effort to counter terrorism, separatism and extremism in all its forms. For almost 20 years, the organization has made a substantial contribution to maintaining security and development in a vast region. “That is an undisputed fact,” emphasizes Secretary General, Norov.
Over these years, all members have jointly managed to create a solid contractual and legal framework and effective mechanisms of security cooperation. During the Qingdao summit, SCO member states approved a cooperation program for combating terrorism, separatism and extremism in 2019-2021, he adds.
The SCO’s Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) conducts practical work and achieves significant results in its efforts to combat terrorism, separatism and extremism, in particular detecting, preventing and thwarting manifestations of these three forces of evil in SCO member states, eliminating their causes and the conditions underlying their emergence and spread, as well as countering the dissemination of their ideology and propaganda.
“I can cite statistics that will be more convincing. In 2013-2017, over 600 terrorist crimes were thwarted during the planning phase, over 500 terrorist training camps were liquidated, and the activity of over 2,000 members of international terrorist organizations was disrupted. The authorities confiscated over 1,000 improvised explosive devices, 50 tonnes of explosives, 10,000 small firearms and over one million rounds of ammunition,” Norov says.
“To hone practical skills, the armed forces and law-enforcement agencies of SCO member states conduct joint Peace Mission counter-terrorist exercises.”
“RATS has also established cooperation with law-enforcement agencies of SCO observer states and dialogue partners, specialized international and regional UN organisations, including the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism, UN Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia, the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs, the OSCE, the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia, Interpol, ASEAN, the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) and others.”
Regarding upcoming tasks, Norov says that member states consider it necessary to direct efforts toward more quickly establishing a united global anti-terrorist front, with the UN in the central coordinating role, that would act in line with international law, without politicization and double standards.
In its activities, the SCO prioritizes information security; and the organization’s development strategy to 2025, passed in 2015, devotes significant attention to it.
For example, the document notes the need to strengthen cooperation in the area of internet monitoring and to disrupt efforts to use the internet to undermine regional security and stability. For these purposes, the member states affirmed their intention to streamline cooperation to combat the use of ICT for terrorist purposes and to counter cyber-security threats facing SCO member states.
Norov says that the SCO has accomplished a lot over the years on the basis of the aforementioned documents.
“To lay out the facts, in 2017 alone, RATS restricted access to over 80,000 online resources containing 500,000 materials as part of its efforts to prevent terrorist and extremist activity on the internet. Its operatives disrupted the activity of 360 members of terrorist and religious-extremist online communities, and over 100 criminal cases were opened against website administrators and moderators.”
The SCO and its member states continue to make a substantial contribution to global efforts to fight illegal drug trafficking.
Norov points out that participants in the Qingdao summit passed the anti-narcotics strategy of SCO member states for 2018-2023, an action programme to implement this strategy, as well as the SCO concept to prevent the abuse of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances. These documents serve as key tools for coordinating the efforts of SCO member states.
“I would like to draw your attention to the fact that, in the past five years, law-enforcement agencies of SCO member states have confiscated about 40 percent of the total amount of heroin and marijuana confiscated throughout Eurasia. This highlights the SCO’s impressive capabilities and potential for combating illegal drug trafficking and the commitment of its member states to fully meeting their international obligations,” Norov says.
Trade and Investment
Trade and investment are the other key focal areas after all security is for the growth of trade and investment.
Norov points out that at the SCO Summit in Qingdao, the leaders of the member states expressed unanimous support for creating favorable conditions for trade and investment in order to gradually achieve the free movement of goods, capital, services and technology. In this connection, the Joint Statement of the Heads of SCO Member States on Trade Facilitation was adopted.
The package of Qingdao Summit documents also included solutions to stimulate micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, customs cooperation, development of the tourism industry, and cooperation in the food sector.
“Work is currently underway to develop a new version of the comprehensive programme of multilateral trade and economic cooperation. Its key goals relate to further intensifying the process of creating favorable conditions in trade, investment, infrastructure, transport, agriculture, media and communications.”
“A new vector will be promoting interaction between the regions of the SCO member states. In the near future, a program to support interregional cooperation between SCO member states will be developed, and a Forum of Heads of Regions of the SCO member states will be established,” Nororv said.
“The SCO’s main economic task is to create favourable conditions for trade and economic cooperation. To this end, we are working to draft plans and programmes in close collaboration with the SCO’s Business Council and Interbank Consortium,” he added.
The agreement between SCO member states on the facilitation of international road transport is the most important transport document being implemented in the SCO region. In effect, the document has created a uniform foundation for facilitating international road traffic. Its main routes form the common regional system of commodity and passenger traffic using motor vehicles.
According to experts of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, the agreement opens up over 15,000 kilometres of high-speed roads for unimpeded vehicle and freight traffic. The longest route is over 9,000 kilometres long. On the whole, the agreement’s routes provide landlocked countries with new opportunities in the area of trade and economic cooperation and transport infrastructure cooperation, and promote greater regional interconnectivity, Norov points out.
China’s Belt and Road mega project implies mutually beneficial cooperation, deeper mutual trust and a commitment to joint development.
“All this corresponds to the spirit of the SCO, its goals and principles, “ Norov says.
(The featured image at the top shows Vladimir Norov, Secretary General of Shanghai Cooperation Organization)