The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Heads Of State Summit: Samarkand, Thursday/Friday September 15/16

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Presidents Putin and Xi will meet for the first time since the Ukraine conflict, while the new Middle-East-Central Asia ‘C5’grouping will feature heavily as will complete regional dedollarisation  

It’s an important week in the Middle East this week as a major political conference is held; with Thursday and Friday (September 15/16) seeing the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Heads of State coming together in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. That will include the first meetings of China President Xi and Russia’s President Putin since the commencement of the Ukraine conflict, while several Middle East countries leaders are also attending. Major developments concerning the Middle Eastern bloc are expected at that, with Iran to be elevated as a full member, alongside China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

Egypt, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are expected to be formally introduced as dialogue partners with a view to later full membership, while Turkiye’s position as a dialogue partner may also be promoted to observer status.

Preceding that however last week (September 7) was the Foreign Ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council and Central Asian countries, who held a joint ministerial meeting of the strategic dialogue between the Gulf and Central Asian countries at the General Secretariat in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. It was headed by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan, who is also the chairman of the current session of the GCC’s Ministerial Council.

The meetings aims were to discuss areas of strengthening strategic relations and joint cooperation between the two sides to achieve stability, security, peace and friendship and serve common interests in the political, economic and cultural fields, and to establish a new stage to push relations into broader areas, in implementation of the directives of the leaders of the GCC countries to strengthen and consolidate the bloc’s position regionally and internationally as a model for security, stability and development. Readers can view the outcome of that discussion, as it is of direct relevance to Wednesday’s SCO meeting, here.

In terms of the SCO, it will be attended by Full Members China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, along with Observer Nations Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran, and Mongolia. Dialogue partners in attendance include Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Turkiye with Guest attendees including Turkmenistan as well as senior representatives from ASEAN, the CIS, and United Nations.

Wednesday’s Samarkand summit is attracting heightened attention this year for obvious reasons, two of which arguably matter more than the rest.

First, the SCO’s authority and importance in world affairs are growing so steadily that more and more states are interested in acquiring some kind of status in the SCO, with the latest round of expansion expected at the forthcoming summit. Second, the global situation has substantially deteriorated this year. There have appeared completely new global challenges that cannot go unanswered by the SCO leaders. Much of the focus will be on meetings between China’s President Xi Jinping and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, himself having just made a wide-ranging speech concerning the Russian Far East and Russia’s engagement with Asia, the analysis of which can be read here.

Many politicians and political scientists elsewhere are eager to know what the response will be and how it will impact the prospects of the SCO’s evolution. Analysts in many countries are offering their opinions as the summit approaches, speculating on the decisions likely to be adopted and the areas where major change at the SCO itself is possible.

The agenda of the SCO summit however is clear enough.

The participants in the Heads of State Council meeting will discuss and adopt a final document, the Samarkand Declaration, a comprehensive agreement covering all SCO activities.

The participants in the summit plan to review the status of multilateral cooperation and its prospects for the near future, and determine the priorities and practical measures on intensifying the SCO activities at the current stage. They will focus on enhancing the SCO’s role in world affairs in the light of the current geopolitical realities.

Considerable attention will be devoted to the SCO’s continued expansion. They plan to accept Iran, which will sign memorandums on its commitments related to receiving the member status. They will also review applications for dialogue partnership from Egypt, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, formally begin the accession process for Belarus, and consider dialogue partnership applications from Bahrain (and the Maldives).

In addition, the participants plan to adopt a large package of documents on the SCO’s current and future development. The most important of them concern the further promotion of integration processes.

There are two priority documents:

Concept For Cooperation

This is aimed at developing mutual connectivity and creating efficient transport corridors, which is of practical importance.

Roadmap For Dedollarization

A roadmap for gradually increasing the share of national currencies in mutual settlements and cutting down on the use of the US dollar.

In addition, the participants will discuss and adopt economic agreements in energy, digitalization, transport, communications, innovations, cutting-edge technologies, and healthcare, as well as a big package of humanitarian initiatives on culture and sports. It is planned to organize SCO athletic games. It has been decided to establish in 2022 a new institution of the SCO Goodwill Ambassadors to promote the SCO in different countries. The participants will also formally select a one of the cities in India as the SCO’s cultural and tourist capital in 2023.

The participants will focus on enhancing the coordination of efforts by SCO countries at international organizations.

They will also concentrate on further advancing the SCO’s cooperation with the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Their secretariats have signed cooperation memorandums. At present, it is essential for the SCO, CIS, and the CSTO to harmonize their efforts in the fight against terrorism, drug trafficking, and organized crime. Another important piece of business will be considering additional opportunities for expanding the SCO’s cooperation with ASEAN with the ultimate goal of creating a Eurasian Partnership.

At the same time, the international situation has seriously deteriorated across the board. Ukraine and the Taiwan Strait have become hotbeds of conflict, and relations between Washington and Moscow and Washington and Beijing are worsening. The global community is busily debating current developments and speculating about major changes that could be forthcoming at the summit, changes that will transform the SCO, though opinions vary widely.

A number of observers noted emerging discrepancies in the results of the meeting of the SCO security council secretaries held in Tashkent on August 19, 2022, where the September summit was naturally discussed. Some Central Asian experts saw in a speech by Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev Russia’s aspiration to make the SCO the center of resistance to the US and its allies and turn it into a union of its soul-mates. They emphasize the part of his speech, where he “repeatedly mentioned the global confrontation, in which, in his opinion, Moscow and its SCO partners (at present, these are China, India, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan) are on the same side.”

In response, some Central Asian countries opted to show restraint, avoid sharply-worded statements, and discuss issues that caused minimal disagreement, for instance, the situation in Afghanistan. A case in point is the proposal by Security Council Secretary of Kazakhstan Gizata Nurdauletova to concentrate on helping that country develop as an independent, united, democratic and peaceful state free of terrorism, war and drugs. Some Central Asian experts summed up this discussion with a stronger statement: “The intention to turn the SCO into an anti-American platform, as Moscow wants it, is not going to work out.”

We will feature additional coverage of the outcome of the SCO meetings here on Silk Road Briefing. To obtain a complimentary subscription and keep up to date with this fast-changing region please click here.

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