Ten Years of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization

From: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2011-12-29 14:42
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 The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is an intergovernmental organization founded in Shanghai on June 15, 2001. As a new model for regional cooperation, the SCO embodies unique geopolitical advantages and a high level of economic and strategic significance. Its members account for three fifths of the land mass of Eurasia, and a quarter of the world’s population. Since its founding, the SCO has committed itself to peace, advocated cooperation, promoted development, and pursued openness in an effort to bring about a new international political and economic order that is fair, equitable, and rational. On this basis, the SCO has served as a new platform for promoting regional cooperation and expanding international multilateral diplomacy. In addition, the SCO is the first international intergovernmental organization founded in China and named after a Chinese city. The establishment of the SCO is one of the highlights of China’s foreign policy of peace.


 The SCO originated from the Shanghai Five mechanism, which was created in the late 1980s for the purpose of deepening trust in border regions and promoting dialogue on disarmament. This mechanism gave rise to the “Shanghai Spirit,” whose essence is mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality, consultation, respect for diverse civilizations, and seeking common development. This spirit reflected a general desire for peace and development and embodied demands for a new mode of relations between nations in the post-Cold War era. With the acceleration of economic globalization and regional economic integration following the turn of the century, the countries of Eurasia became increasingly eager to strengthen ties with one another. At the same time, the rampant spread of terrorism, separatism, and extremism posed a serious threat to regional security and stability. On the basis of common interests, China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan reached a consensus on raising their level of collaboration and strengthening regional cooperation, a move conforming not only to the trends of the times, but also to the will of the people throughout the region. On June 15, 2001, the heads of state of all six participating nations signed the Declaration of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Shanghai, marking the official establishment of the SCO. The decade that has passed since the establishment of the SCO has been an extraordinary one. Starting from scratch, the SCO has made remarkable achievements in its initiatives over this decade.  

 Heads of SCO member nations signing the Declaration of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Shanghai Convention on Combating Terrorism, Separatism and Extremism. The heads of SCO nations held their first summit on June 15, 2001, in Shanghai. / Photo by Xinhua reporter Yao Dawei

 First, a mechanism for the operation of the SCO has been established. Mechanisms for collaboration on multiple levels and across multiple sectors have been established, providing for meetings between heads of state, heads of government, foreign ministers, and the heads of ministries and departments. In addition, two permanent organs have also been established under the SCO: the Secretariat of the SCO and the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS). The platform for cooperation between SCO members has been broadened on a constant basis.

 Second, SCO member nations have constantly consolidated their political trust and good-neighborliness. They have supported one another on critical issues concerning sovereignty, territory, and security, and coordinated with each other on the world stage, thereby safeguarding common interests.

 Third, the SCO has made major headway in security cooperation. The member nations of the SCO have signed various international documents against terrorism, separatism, extremism, drug trafficking, gunrunning, and other transnational crimes. The SCO has also played a strong role in promoting regional security and stability through specific measures such as joint anti-terrorism exercises, intelligence-sharing, special campaigns, and training initiatives.

 Fourth, SCO members have boosted economic cooperation on the basis of equality and mutual benefit. A three-tier mechanism that consists of a council of ministry heads, a commission of senior officials, and special working groups has been established. SCO member states have formulated a three-step strategy for regional cooperation and defined the areas where key efforts will be made. In addition, they have made detailed plans for cooperation, worked to facilitate trade and investment across borders, and conducted a number of projects that are beneficial to all parties involved. These measures have promoted the economic development of SCO members and helped them to become more open to the outside world.

 Fifth, the SCO has provided for collaboration in culture, education, health, sport, disaster relief, and environmental protection. A series of inter-departmental documents have been signed to promote cultural exchanges between countries in the region.

 Sixth, the SCO has actively engaged in international cooperation, which has increased its global influence and raised its international status. The SCO has gained observer status in the United Nations General Assembly, and has also accepted Mongolia, Pakistan, Iran and India as observer states. In addition, the SCO has established relations with the United Nations, ASEAN, the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Eurasian Economic Community, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the Economic Cooperation Organization and the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. In addition, the SCO-Afghanistan contact group has been established. With this, a network of relationships based on peace and cooperation has begun to emerge.


 In the space of just a decade, the SCO has rapidly grown in strength, gaining the support and favor of its respective members. The reason the SCO has been able to develop so rapidly is that it has promoted peace and development, which are requirements of the times we live in, and taken into account the needs of its members whilst plotting a new path for international relations.

 The SCO has played a strong role in guaranteeing regional stability. The SCO is fully committed to an open strategy of peace, development and mutual benefit. On this basis, it is working for a harmonious region with lasting peace and common prosperity. Being neither a political nor a military organization, the SCO will not exert its influence on the development modes and social systems of any other country; will not employ non-peaceful means to pursue development or resources; and will not seek to advance its own interests at the cost of others. The SCO focuses on tackling and curbing threats to regional security and stability, and is making constant efforts to deepen, expand, and diversify its collaboration in this regard. This cooperation ranges from combating terrorism, separatism and extremism to fighting against drug trafficking, gunrunning, and other transnational organized crimes. In addition, SCO members have also worked together to safeguard international information security, provided each other humanitarian assistance, and helped one another to restore stability. Effective security cooperation has ensured that SCO members are capable of meeting both traditional and non-traditional threats to regional security.

 The SCO has promoted common development among its members. As a strong advocate of mutually beneficial cooperation, the SCO is committed to promoting regional economic integration and furthering cultural exchanges between member states. On this basis, economic and cultural cooperation under the framework of the SCO has thrived. Pragmatic cooperation between SCO members has been notably accelerated since the signing of the Programme of Multilateral Trade and Economic Cooperation in 2003. Since then, member states have launched a number of collaborative projects in a range of sectors including transportation, energy, and communications. These projects have had a major bearing on economic prosperity and public well-being in the region. In addition, cooperation among the SCO members in investment, agriculture, science, and technology has advanced steadily. With the deepening of economic ties between SCO member nations, these countries have now become major trading partners. With an agreement on customs cooperation having been signed, significant progress in negotiations for an agreement on the facilitation of international road transport having been made, and preparations for cooperation in e-commerce currently underway, the conditions for economic cooperation in the region are in the process of becoming much more favorable. In addition, cultural cooperation under the SCO has been enhanced through the holding of various activities, such as the SCO Arts Festival, exchange camps for young students, and exchanges between the universities of different SCO countries. These initiatives have promoted mutual understanding and mutual trust among the peoples of SCO member nations, laying down solid foundations for long-lasting friendships. At the Shanghai World Expo, the SCO declared before the people of the world that “a harmonious world begins with harmony among neighbors,” and utilized this congregation of the world’s finest achievements to showcase the great progress that it has made.

 The SCO is a positive force for world peace. The SCO has always strived for peace, cooperation and development. With its open stance, diverse forms of collaboration, and inclusive approach to cooperation, the SCO is winning the support of more and more countries and international organizations as it strives for peace and development. The fact that the SCO’s observers, dialogue partners, and other cooperative partners have increased on a constant basis is a testament to the influence of the organization. The SCO has taken an active stance towards major international and regional issues. It has conveyed its fundamental standpoints on major issues such as terrorist attacks in the region and the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan. In addition, it has also worked to coordinate international forces participating in Afghanistan’s peaceful reconstruction. Through these initiatives, the SCO has distinguished itself as a constructive force in international and regional affairs. Countries that once misinterpreted the SCO’s spirit have come to understand what it truly embodies, coming forward with gestures of friendship.

 The development of the SCO over the past decade has demonstrated the huge potential that exists for countries with different ideologies, social systems, histories, and cultures to coexist harmoniously and realize common development. The SCO has demonstrated that by adhering to the principles of mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality, consultation, sincere treatment, and concerted efforts, a non-military organization can be equally as capable as a military one in maintaining security, a non-economic organization can be equally as capable as an economic one in promoting economic growth, and a non-cultural organization can be equally as capable as a cultural one in achieving cultural development.


 The creation and development of something new can never be a plain sailing. While the development of the SCO may be dotted with exciting achievements, there has been no shortage of difficulties over the past decade either. Over the past 10 years, the development of the SCO has taken place amidst the backdrop of complex and profound changes to the international political, economic and security situations brought about by the September 11 attacks in the US and the global financial crisis. At the same time, local conflicts have broken out in succession, the threat of terrorism, separatism and extremism has reemerged, and cross-border criminal activities such as drug trafficking have become increasingly rampant. This intertwining of traditional and non-traditional threats is posing a constant test to the SCO, who despite having achieved a great deal over the past decade, will continue to face an arduous task in maintaining regional security and promoting regional prosperity in the future.

 Now poised to enter its second decade, the SCO will face both opportunities and challenges in the years ahead. In order to maintain sound and rapid development, the SCO must galvanize its members’ commitment to cooperation, carefully plan for future development, actively implement agreements and consensuses in regard to cooperation, enhance its overall capacity to deal with various threats and challenges, and thereby achieve greater influence and say in international affairs.

 First, a stronger security network is required in order to provide a safe environment for the development of the organization. Greater efforts should be made to combat terrorism, separatism, extremism, drug trafficking, and other transnational organized crimes. In addition, the sharing of intelligence and border control initiatives should also be enhanced to ensure international information security and increase the efficiency of joint law enforcement. Second, potential for wider cooperation should be explored in order to provide a continued driving force for the development of the organization. In order to bring about more benefits for the people of SCO member states, efforts should be made to facilitate trade and investment; promote the inter-linking of regional infrastructure in transportation, energy and telecommunications; simplify procedures related to customs, quality inspection and transportation; improve macroeconomic monitoring; expand trade settlement in members’ respective currencies; establish a mechanism for cooperation in energy and food security; and identify cooperation in non-resource areas as an important new direction for regional economic cooperation under the organization. Third, cultural exchanges should be expanded. Collaboration in education, sport and tourism should be used as a means of improving the non-material and cultural lives of people in the region, thereby consolidating the cultural foundations for the development of the organization. Moreover, the SCO should pay attention to self-improvement. Unity, mutual trust, strategic dialogue, and policy coordination should be strengthened to make the decision-making and operation of the organization more efficient. Adhering to the principles of openness and transparency, the SCO should deepen its cooperation with observer countries, dialogue partners, and other international and regional organizations in order to create a favorable environment for its development. It should further integrate regional resources and give play to the strengths of each party in an effort to increase the level of economic and social development and improve the living quality of people in the region.

 With the concerted efforts of its members and the participation and suggestions of its observers and dialogue partners, we are confident that the SCO will develop itself as an increasingly important platform for regional cooperation. The spirit of mutual trust and cooperation that the SCO has cultivated over the past decade will be passed on from generation to generation, as will the friendships that have been forged between the peoples of the member nations.

 The SCO has grown amidst China’s peaceful development. The Chinese people know only too well the value of peace and the importance of development. As a founding member of the SCO, China has always held high the banner of peace, development and cooperation. In line with its policy of maintaining friendly ties with its neighbors, China has worked actively to build amicable and mutually beneficial relations and partnerships with the members of the SCO. It is willing to be a friend and a partner of both SCO members and neighboring countries, and committed to working together to promote the economic, social, and cultural development of the region. China has always placed great emphasis on the SCO, viewing it as an important vehicle for China’s peaceful development and a priority task for China’s diplomacy. As the SCO celebrates its 10th anniversary, China will step up its efforts to ensure the vigorous development of the organization over the next decade. China will continue to make full use of this important platform for multilateral diplomacy to consolidate political trust between SCO members, promote pragmatic cooperation, and work for lasting peace and prosperity on the Eurasian landmass. 

(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No.12, 2011)

Author: Assistant to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

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