The Shanghai Cooperation Organization is one of the youngest but dynamically developing international organizations. June 15 marks the 21st anniversary of the creation of the SCO. Over the past period, it has made a rapid breakthrough from the format of a consultative mechanism to a full-scale interstate association.
Uzbekistan stood at the origins of the creation of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, made and continues to make a significant contribution to its progressive development. In 2021-2022, our country chairs this authoritative association. About the initiatives of Uzbekistan put forward by President Shavkat Mirziyoyev within the framework of the SCO, the prospects for cooperation between our country and the association told the correspondent of the Dunyo news agency Foreign Minister Vladimir Norov.
The SCO is not only one of the priority areas of Uzbekistan’s international cooperation, but also an organization in which you had the opportunity to work as Secretary General in 2019-2021. Please tell us what the SCO is today and what role it plays in the international arena?
First of all, I want to emphasize that in a relatively short period of time the Shanghai Cooperation Organization has come a long way in development and has become an integral element of the global political and economic context.
Today the SCO is the world’s largest regional organization. The total area of its member countries exceeds 34 million square kilometers. This is more than 60% of the territory of the Eurasian continent. The total population of the SCO countries is 3.2 billion people, which is about half of the world’s population.
The organization unites 8 permanent members, 4 observer states and 9 dialogue partners.
The large “SCO family”, numbering 21 countries, covers three continents – Asia, Europe and Africa. At the same time, interest from other countries in interaction with the structure in one format or another continues to grow.
The consistent expansion of the network of its partner organizations – the UN and its specialized agencies, ASEAN, the CIS, the CSTO, the EAEU, the CICA, the ECO – contributes to the increase in the international authority of the SCO. Relations are being established with the League of Arab States and a number of other multilateral structures.
Today, the SCO space is a self-sufficient region in terms of having huge reserves of raw materials, manufactured products, skilled labor and human capital, and technological potential.
The total volume of the economies of the SCO member states is about 20 trillion US dollars, which is 13 times more than when it was created. The organization space is the largest consumer market in the world. Today, the total GDP of the SCO members has reached about ¼ of the global figure. By 2030, this figure may increase to 35-40%.
The SCO has a colossal transport and transit potential, which is waiting for its practical implementation. In the context of the diversification of global supply chains, the creation of new international rail and road corridors in Eurasia along the East-West and North-South directions is acquiring a strategic dimension.
We must not forget that the SCO is a promising platform for strengthening inter-civilizational dialogue and cultural and humanitarian cooperation. The relevance of this direction is especially growing against the backdrop of aggravated distrust and antagonistic moods in the world.
The participation of countries, each of which has a rich history and unique cultural heritage, in one organization contributes to strengthening mutual understanding and the spirit of cooperation in Eurasia.
As is well known, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has identified the region of Central Asia as the most important foreign policy priority of Uzbekistan. How do you assess the role of the SCO in strengthening Central Asian regionalism?
The emergence of the SCO was due, first of all, to the emergence of a new situation in Central Asia after the collapse of the bipolar system at the end of the 20th century, when the world was entering a new century with complex problems and unpredictable consequences. During that difficult period, the need for institutionalized regional cooperation of the young independent states of Central Asia in countering multifaceted new threats and problems was an objective reality.
In this sense, the emergence of the SCO was a direct result of efforts to ensure stability and security in Central Asia. And therefore, as the most important “added value” from the creation and activities of the SCO, one can consider its contribution, first of all, to strengthening stability and developing regional cooperation in Central Asia.
This is a recognized and time-tested fact.
Today, there is a significant contribution of the SCO to maintaining peace and stability in the region. Its achievements are indisputable, primarily in the field of combating the threats of terrorism, extremism and separatism. It was within the framework of the SCO that for the first time in the world a multilateral document was developed that defined the concept of “terrorism” – the SCO Convention on Combating Terrorism, Separatism and Extremism of June 15, 2001.
Consistent work in this direction is being carried out by the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure of the SCO, headquartered in Tashkent, with the coordinating role of which joint effective measures are being taken to eradicate the causes, sources and manifestations of the “forces of three evils”.
On a regular basis, the SCO conducts anti-terrorist exercises, including those to identify and suppress the use of the Internet for terrorist, extremist and separatist purposes, as well as the international anti-drug operation “Web”.
Through the secretaries of the Security Councils, the ministers of defense, the interior, and the heads of the anti-drug departments of the member states, a regular dialogue is maintained on a wide range of issues related to a wide segment of security.
Interaction has been established on issues of ensuring international information security. The Working Group is functioning in this area, with the active participation of the Uzbek side, the relevant Cooperation Program has been prepared and adopted.
However, the contribution of the SCO to ensuring stability in the region is not limited to this.
In the practical activities of the organization, the issues of ensuring security and economic development are considered as interrelated key components. This is the important role of the SCO in maintaining stability and sustainable development in the region.
Despite the ongoing changes in and around the region, after more than 20 years, Central Asia remains the geographical core of the SCO. There is a full understanding among the member states that ensuring stability and sustainable development in the region remains an imperative and for this reason these tasks should continue to be the focus of the organization.
In the Declaration of the Anniversary Dushanbe Summit of the SCO in 2021, the leaders of all member states unanimously declared their support for the recent efforts by the countries of Central Asia to ensure sustainable development and the formation of a space of trust and friendship in the region, supported the idea of expanding the active role of the SCO in further strengthening their stability and socio-economic development. They also welcome the holding of regular Consultative Meetings of the Heads of State of the Central Asian region, which were initiated by the President of Uzbekistan.
Support from the SCO for the new Central Asian process observed since 2017 is, of course, very important both for the region itself and for the transformation of the space of the organization into a zone of stability, mutually beneficial development and effective cooperation. In this context, we have every reason to believe that the term “Central Asian Spirit”, which has appeared relatively recently in the international political lexicon, strengthens and enriches the doctrinal basis of the SCO – the “Shanghai Spirit”.
It is obvious that the expansion of the membership of the organization, coupled with the rapidly changing situation in the region and in the world as a whole, is making certain adjustments to the agenda of the SCO.
This is an objective process, but it in no way diminishes the role of the organization in our region. In fact, the connection to the SCO area of responsibility of the largest countries of South Asia – India and Pakistan, as well as against the background of the emerging trajectory of expansion to the Middle East for the countries of Central Asia through the SCO opens up new prospects: it is turning into a powerful multilateral platform for the joint development and implementation of mutually beneficial initiatives in the field of development of multi-structural interconnections in the vast Eurasian space – from transport, infrastructure, energy up to the “green” economy and digital transformation.
Please tell us in this context about the priorities of interaction between Uzbekistan and the SCO?
In the structure of multilateral diplomacy of Uzbekistan, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization occupies a special place. This is due to two fundamental points.
Firstly, our country, although it did not participate in the so-called “Shanghai Five”, created in the mid-1990s to resolve border issues between China and a number of post-Soviet states (Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan), due to its regional significance has played a very important role in the transformation of the mentioned dialogue platform into a full-fledged organization.
Secondly, as one of the six founding states of the SCO, Uzbekistan took a direct and active part in the development of the basic principles and constituent documents of the organization, as well as the creation and development of its institutional foundations.
The states that are members of this organization are the closest neighbors and strategic partners of our country. Multi-profile interaction within the SCO serves to strengthen both multilateral regional and interregional cooperation and the development of cooperation with each of these states.
In the system of foreign policy priorities of New Uzbekistan, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization is more than ever in demand as a multilateral platform for the implementation of an open, pragmatic and oriented course towards broad and mutually beneficial cooperation.
Consequently, the modern strategy of our country in relation to the SCO is based on such key principles as initiative, constructiveness, pragmatism and openness to cooperation.
Uzbekistan is interested in fully unlocking the potential of the organization in the new conditions of its evolution, primarily through increasing practical cooperation in promising areas that meet the vital interests of all participating countries.
In 2017-2021, the head of our state put forward about 50 important and relevant initiatives at the SCO summits. Most importantly, these proposals are being consistently implemented within the framework of the road maps, regulatory, program and conceptual documents of the SCO, as well as in the form of new mechanisms for multilateral cooperation.
The formula “The SCO is strong only when each of us is strong” declared by the President of Uzbekistan at the organization’s summit in 2020 fully reveals the essence of the republic’s constructive approach to this structure in accordance with the “Shanghai spirit”.
Moreover, the President of Uzbekistan, in his keynote speech at last year’s Dushanbe summit, clearly demonstrated a line of initiative and openness, presenting the priorities of the Uzbek chairmanship in the SCO. These initiatives, while simultaneously reflecting the key tasks of our country’s internal development and its interests in the field of international cooperation, successfully integrate the goals and objectives of the SCO at a new stage of its development.
Among them is the further strengthening of the potential of the SCO through the intensification of multilateral cooperation in such important areas as increasing intra-regional trade, industrial cooperation, innovation, “green” and digital economy.
Also important is the practical implementation of the “Shanghai spirit” through the tools of public diplomacy, tourism, strengthening friendship and good neighborliness, new cultural and humanitarian initiatives, enriching the agenda of the SCO by promoting new areas and formats of cooperation in such promising areas as information and communication technologies, poverty reduction, plant quarantine, strengthening the global profile of the SCO and expanding its international relations.
Could you describe in more detail the tasks and initiatives of the chairmanship of Uzbekistan in the organization?
Of course, everything I mentioned above is not declarative statements, they are followed by concrete actions.
Thus, the Plan of the Chairmanship of the Republic of Uzbekistan provides for over 80 major events, more than half of them have been implemented. They cover not only the areas of cooperation already established in the SCO, but also new areas of demand, such as the development of cooperation in the field of intra-regional trade, industrial cooperation, innovation, poverty reduction, digital transformation and others.
Thus, the Uzbek side has actually launched a number of new areas of cooperation within the SCO, contributing to the enrichment of its agenda, taking into account modern realities.
New approaches and formats to the organization of SCO events have been introduced. They are held not only in Tashkent, but also in the regions, which allows our SCO partners to become more familiar with the potential for interaction that lies in the regions. Thus, meetings of the Council of National Coordinators of the SCO were organized in the cities of Nukus, Bukhara and Fergana. The meeting of transport ministers was held in Khiva (May 12, 2022), the international conference on poverty in Bukhara (May 26-27, 2022). It is planned to hold a number of events in August this year in Samarkand.
At the same time, ministerial meetings and meetings are accompanied by thematic forums and conferences. The chairmanship of Uzbekistan has initiated and already implemented such major events as the SCO Public Diplomacy Forum (May 11-12, 2022), the Tourism Forum (May 20, 2022), the Traditional Medicine Forum (June 7, 2022), the competition for the best start-up projects among young talents of the member countries of the organization.
All these platforms are full of current agendas, they sign important agreements, coordinate further joint plans, which is especially important in the context of the post-pandemic revival of the economies of the SCO member states. In a word, the format being introduced by the Uzbek side makes it possible to achieve practical results and set new guidelines for representatives of the business communities of our countries.
Of course, the main emphasis of the chairmanship of Uzbekistan is aimed at the substantive content of the current agenda of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
In order to implement the initiatives put forward by the head of our state during the chairmanship of Uzbekistan, drafts of 14 new conceptual documents have been developed. They are aimed at the substantive and institutional expansion of the spheres of interaction in the SCO.
Separately, it is necessary to highlight the projects of such new documents for the practice of the SCO as the Transport Connectivity Strategy, the Plan for the Development of Intra-Regional Trade, the Infrastructure Development Program, and the establishment of the institution of the SCO Goodwill Ambassador.
All the initiatives put forward by the President of Uzbekistan are logically interconnected and complement each other. For example, through the development of domestic trade, it is possible to reach the elimination of trade barriers, the convergence of technical regulations and the digitalization of customs procedures. During the presidency of Uzbekistan, these and other issues were reflected in the agenda not only of ministerial meetings and meetings. They will also be discussed with the participation of business circles of the SCO member countries as part of a series of major thematic events, such as the Economic Forum, and the SCO Industrial Innovation Week, the Forum of Heads of Regions, the Industrial Cooperation Forum, the Solar Uzbekistan Fruit and Vegetable Exhibition, and others.
A truly innovative project is the Uzbekistan-SCO industrial zone being created in the Samarkand region. This platform is intended to become an effective mechanism for the implementation of the Program to stimulate industrial cooperation between the business circles of the SCO countries, initiated by the President of Uzbekistan, allowing to attract additional investments, technological and innovative solutions for the production of high value-added products.
In turn, the initiative actively promoted by Tashkent to strengthen interconnectedness within the framework of the SCO is aimed at effectively using the huge transport and transit potential in a wide area of the organization.
Through these efforts, Uzbekistan intends, together with partners, to use the capabilities of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to accelerate the practical implementation of a system of transport corridors, such as Uzbekistan-Kyrgyzstan-China, Termez-Mazari-Sharif-Kabul-Peshawar, Lanzhou-Kashgar-Irkeshtam-Osh -Andijan-Tashkent-Mary” and other routes, which in the current geo-economic conditions acquire a special strategic character.
The SCO Interconnection Strategy proposed by Uzbekistan also contributes to the revival of the unique economic and transit role of Afghanistan for the whole of Eurasia.
There is no doubt that Afghanistan is a key factor in ensuring long-term security and stability in the region. Unfortunately, in connection with the well-known events in the world, there is a slight decrease in the attention of the international community to Afghanistan. The tragedy of the Afghan people, if they are left face to face with a humanitarian catastrophe, may result in new flows of refugees, an increase in the drug threat and a surge in terrorism.
Not a single SCO state is interested in the fact that a hotbed of instability remains in the heart of Eurasia and threats to the security of neighboring countries come from Afghan territory. Today’s realities require our organization to take more concrete actions and involve Afghanistan in regional initiatives, including infrastructure projects.
In this regard, promoting the development of consolidated approaches within the framework of the SCO regarding the post-war development strategy of Afghanistan is naturally among the key priorities of our country’s chairmanship in the organization.
In a word, the key priorities of the SCO chairmanship outlined by the President of Uzbekistan meet the interests of all parties and, most importantly, are aimed at ensuring stability, sustainable development and strengthening friendship and good neighborliness throughout the SCO space.
As you know, this year Uzbekistan, as the chairman of the SCO, will host the Summit of the heads of the member states of the organization. As far as is known, this meeting will take place in Samarkand in September this year. Could you tell us how the preparations for this summit are going and share your assessment of the role and significance of the upcoming event?
Absolutely, the chairmanship of Uzbekistan in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization is approaching the main event – the meeting of the Council of Heads of State in Samarkand, a solid package of new legal and conceptual documents designed to bring multifaceted interaction within the organization to a new qualitative level.
The choice of Samarkand has a deep meaning – from time immemorial this city has been a place of historical meetings and civilizational dialogue, a bridge of cultural and humanitarian mutual enrichment and development of international trade, strengthening good neighborliness.
In the dynamic and proactive diplomacy of New Uzbekistan, Samarkand has acquired a special dimension, acting as a unique platform for convening and promoting the most important international and diplomatic initiatives of our country. In recent years, the city has hosted a number of major forums, such as the International Conference “Central Asia: One Past and a Common Future, Cooperation for Sustainable Development and Mutual Prosperity” (2017), the Asian Human Rights Forum (2018), which subsequently transformed into the Samarkand Forum on Human Rights (2020), and others.
As the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General and Head of the Regional Center for Preventive Diplomacy in Central Asia, Natalya German, noted, the momentum received from these platforms is clearly reflected in the “Samarkand Spirit”, which provides for the discussion of topical issues of regional and global development in an atmosphere of good neighborliness and friendship and openness, contributing to the formation of new formats of cooperation in Central Asia – the geographical axis of the SCO space.
The unique heritage of Samarkand and its new creative power perfectly corresponds to the value base of the SCO – the principles of trust, mutual benefit, equality, respect for the diversity of cultures and joint development.
Today, on the eve of the summit, the “pearl” of the Great Silk Road is experiencing a new birth with a large-scale reconstruction and is ready to host the largest political and diplomatic forum of the year in the Eurasian space.
In such a favorable atmosphere at the Samarkand Summit, the heads of state will discuss new challenges and tasks facing the SCO in the light of the profound transformation of modern international relations, and will take a number of important decisions that will be of historical significance for the further evolution of the Organization.
One of the key issues on the agenda of the summit meeting is the further expansion of the SCO. The Memorandum of Obligations of the Islamic Republic of Iran in order to obtain the status of a SCO member state is already ready for signing. The document will practically open the way to the full-fledged membership of this large Middle Eastern country in our Organization.
In addition, applications from about 10 more countries for participation in the activities of the SCO in the format of full members, observers and dialogue partners will be considered.
Signing of memorandums on establishing partnership relations between the SCO and a number of other international and regional organizations such as the Arab League, UNESCO, and ESCAP is also expected at the summit site.
Against this background, the upcoming summit under the Uzbek chairmanship is of particular importance, providing a very timely and effective platform for the leaders of the Shanghai G8 to discuss a whole range of topical topics on the regional and global agenda.
All this inspires confidence that the Samarkand summit will adequately mark the entry of the SCO into the third decade, opening a new milestone in its evolution.
Source: Dunya News Agency