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Shakeel Ahmad Ramay

The writer teaches digital diplomacy, negotiation skills and conflict transformation at Foreign Services Academy. He is also the Chief Operating Officer at Zalmi Foundation. E-mail: [email protected]

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Hilal English

Shanghai Cooperation Organization: Building Prospects for Regional Cooperation

November 2021

Since the dawn of the 21st century, the world is witnessing a series of crises. Crises that have become a common phenomenon and are occurring in a continuous streak. The first crisis appeared in 2001, with terrorist attacks on the USA. It led to the start of War on Terror (WoT) which consumed many years and human lives. It has badly struck the financial health of many developed countries, more precisely the allies of USA in the WoT. The WoT was still ongoing when the world was struck with a financial crisis which jolted the whole economic system of the world. The effects of both crises are still evident after many years. Climate change is another crisis which has put the future of the whole planet at stake. It is impacting each and every country of the world without any discrimination. Although the impacts are more severe for less developed countries due to the lack of resources, the impacts are nonetheless very harsh for the developed world. 



As the world was still struggling to overcome or manage these crises, it was struck with another crisis – the COVID-19 pandemic. It has introduced entirely new dimensions of economic and human insecurities as well as two challenges, i.e., closure of economies and restriction on mobility, which has many repercussions for the economy as well as the people. 
The World Bank predicted that the economy would contract by 5.2 percent in 2020. It meant that the global GDP, which was USD 87.55 trillion in 2019, would be lowered by a factor USD 4.55 trillion. Only tourism alone lost almost USD 810 billion during the last year. Foreign Direct Investment is also exhibiting a negative trend. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) came up with a figure of 40 percent reduction, which meant that the global FDI in 2020 would be less than USD 1 trillion. It is happening after a long time, since 2005. Besides, it has been envisioned by UNCTAD that there would be a further reduction of 5 to 10 percent in 2021, which paints a scary picture. 
The economic crisis and drying investments are resulting in increasing the extent of extreme poverty. A World Bank report, Poverty and Shared Prosperity, projected that in 2020, 88 million to 115 million people would be added to the extreme poverty (USD 1.90) group as a result of the pandemic, with an additional increase of between 23 million and 35 million in 2021. South Asia would take a major hit and bear the brunt of poverty as it was estimated that 63 percent of these victims of extreme poverty will be from this region. Owning to the persistency of this crisis, the world is also witnessing a new wave of inflation which is greatly impacting the poor segments of the society. For example, look at what is happening to the oil prices and food inflation. 
There are many lessons that we can learn from these crises. However, the biggest lesson is that the world needs to cooperate and come out of its sheer self-interest approach. Lack of cooperation and self-interest based approaches are turning these crises into a human tragedy. 
In this context, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) emerged as a viable option as it is an organization built on the philosophy of partnership, cooperation, extensive consultation and dialogue. It does not follow the concept of alliance building as SCO believes alliances always need opponents, if not enemies, to survive. It is against the spirit of cooperation because it limits the interaction of members of the alliance with countries outside the alliance. It also leads to division among the countries, which hampers the capacity of the world to tackle universal issues like climate change, disease, socioeconomic crisis and terrorism, etc. 
The philosophy of SCO helped achieve many milestones including the settlement of border issues among member countries. The success in resolving the issues boosted the confidence of member states, which encouraged the members to expand the organization. It has inducted new members, i.e., Pakistan, India and Iran, during the recent years. 



To further strengthen the role of SCO, member countries, especially China, are working to enhance economic cooperation among the member states. China proposed a Free Trade Agreement to enhance the economic and trade linkages. It is a very practical proposal and has complete economic rationale due to the market size of SCO. On the bilateral level, China is already deeply connected with all countries, e.g., China’s trade with SCO countries was at USD 337 billion in 2018. 
President Xi Jinping has recently launched two specific initiatives to further promote economic cooperation. First, he established a dedicated economic zone with the name of “China-SCO Local Economic and Trade Cooperation Demonstration Zone”. The zone is offering multiple opportunities in the fields of trade, investment, technology and tourism etc. It is an excellent opportunity for SCO countries to benefit from, especially in the context of COVID-19. 
Secondly, President Xi also announced that China will be working to deepen technological cooperation. China will be sharing its technological dividend among other member countries, especially to enhance the use of technology for economic activities. China-SCO Forum on the Digital Economy Industry was organized in 2021 which was a step in the right direction, especially keeping in mind the effects of COVID-19 and the importance of technology to combat the challenges. 
SCO is also working to secure regional peace, stability and development. The last meeting of SCO explored options to assist Afghanistan to secure peace and development. China, Russia and Pakistan are working tirelessly to engage with the Afghan people and stakeholders. The organization is also working to explore options for helping Afghanistan through economic linkages. Russian President Vladimir Putin stressed on the need to work more closely with Afghanistan’s new setup; he also stressed the need for unfreezing Afghanistan’s assets and accounts. It is direly needed as people need food and medicine on an urgent basis. While he was addressing the joint meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and Collective Security Treaty Organization, he was of the point of view that the USA and its allies have left an unstable Afghanistan. They have also left behind a huge quantity of weapons, which would be a real challenge to tackle. Therefore, there is a need for all member countries to work together to tackle the issues effectively.
President Xi Jinping, while addressing through a video call, emphasized that cooperation is the only way out to trade multiple challenges. He said that in the past, SCO achieved many goals and successfully tackled the issues. In the same spirit, i.e., the Shanghai spirit, it is required to tackle the future issues. We need to further enhance cooperation amongst ourselves. He especially talked about Afghanistan and urged the international community to help the country. He also asked Afghanistan to follow a path of peace through inclusiveness and development. The member countries should also make full use of the SCO-Contact Group of Afghanistan to play a constructive role in Afghanistan. President Xi also urged members to enhance cooperation in economy and trade for openness and integration. We have existing opportunities such as digital economy, modern agriculture and green energy, etc. 
Prime Minister Imran Khan also echoed the same sentiments. He was of the view that Afghanistan is going through a period of transition. Inclusive government and equal participation of all segments of the society will help forge long-term and sustainable peace. Pakistan also suffered a lot due to the continuous war in Afghanistan, thus, Pakistan is a stakeholder for sustainable peace in the region. He acknowledged the economic importance of the SCO. He said, "There is no doubt that the web of rail, road, sea and air links across the SCO region will usher in a new era of enhanced trade, energy flows, and people-to-people exchanges”. He also emphasized enhanced cooperation to mitigate the economic impact of COVID-19 and especially called for the role of the SCO advisory group. 
From the above discussion, it can be inferred that the SCO is a dynamic organization that works according to the need of its members and regional countries. The last summit in Tajikistan was a proof of that spirit. The discussion also highlights that SCO has created many success stories by adhering to its core ideology of partnership and non-interference. The success helped to create goodwill among the world community and new members are joining the organization. Many experts believe that the partnership approach is unique in the present context and is thus attracting countries. Developing and least developed countries are desperately looking for such an organization as it will pave the way for a fair and rule-based system, which is critical for the sustainability of the global order and Mother Earth.


The writer is CEO of Asian Institute of Eco-Civilization Research and Development.
E-mail: [email protected]

Shakeel Ahmad Ramay

The writer teaches digital diplomacy, negotiation skills and conflict transformation at Foreign Services Academy. He is also the Chief Operating Officer at Zalmi Foundation. E-mail: [email protected]

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