Behind The Scenes Of SCO Summit, China-Russia Competition For Central Asia?
The twelfth summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization took place this week in Beijing, and as usual, it's hard to tell what happened. Among the more obvious results: the organization admitted Afghanistan as an observer country and Turkey as a dialogue partner, as expected. The SCO rejected outside military involvement in Syria. And while no movement was made in upgrading the status of observer countries India and Pakistan, both countries were explicit about their desires to become full members. Presidents of all six SCO member countries (China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan) attended, as did the presidents of Afghanistan, Iran, Mongolia, Pakistan and Turkmenistan. The organization appointed a new secretary general, a former governor of the Irkutsk region. (The new head, Dmitry Mezentsev, "attempted to run for the Russian presidency during the March elections, but was rejected because there were too many invalid signatures among those he submitted to register as a candidate," RIA Novosti notes.)
But the question of what the SCO actually does remains difficult to answer. The group pledged to be more active in Afghanistan, and focused on "regional security," while emphasizing that it is not a military alliance like NATO. According to a report from Xinhua:
The member states of the SCO adopted 10 agreements on Thursday, including the Declaration on Building a Region with Lasting Peace and Common Prosperity, the Strategic Plan for the Medium-Term Development of the SCO, and the SCO Regulations on Political and Diplomatic Measures and Mechanism of Response to Events Jeopardizing Regional Peace, Security and Stability.
Several observers of the summit have focused on the unspoken rivalry between China and Russia, the two dominant powers of the group. As Li Lifan and Raffaello Pantucci point out in an article for the South China Morning Post, Russia has been emphasizing other regional groupings like the Eurasian Union (and, I would add, the Collective Security Treaty Organization) that exclude China and which would put up trade barriers between the ex-Soviet states and China. And ITAR-TASS reported that Russia and China failed to come to an agreement on the creation of an SCO development bank, one of China's priorities for the group (via Johnson's Russia List):
In the future the tug of war between Moscow and Beijing will only intensify in the SCO, the experts noted. "The world cannot keep up with the speed, at which China is changing, mildly ousting Russia from its traditional sphere of influence in southern CIS states," an expert of the PIR centre Vladimir Kozyulin told the Kommersant daily. "Those results of the summit, which the Russian diplomacy considers its success today, can even build up China's influence in the CIS states tomorrow," he said.
But now that the talking is over, the shooting is about to start. About 2,000 troops from the SCO member states (except for Uzbekistan) are gathering in northern Tajikistan for the Peace Mission 2012 joint military exercises. More on that soon.