Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Heads Of State Issue “New Delhi Declaration” Of Intent: Analysis & Opinion
SCO wants reform at the United Nations, WTO and is creating a global movement against perceived G7 hegemony.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Heads of State held their annual summit online on Tuesday (July 4th) with the meeting chaired by India, and the Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The full members of the SCO are China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. They have collectively released the ‘New Delhi Declaration’ as a statement of intent in terms of the SCO’s global concerns and development. I analyse and provide opinion concerning its contents as follows. The sub-divisions are mine for ease of use:
The New Delhi Declaration
NDD: “Today, the world is undergoing unprecedented transformations and is entering a new era of rapid technological development that requires an increase in the effectiveness of global institutions. These fundamental processes are accompanied by stronger multi-polarity, increased interconnectedness, interdependence, and an accelerated pace of digitization. At the same time, threats and challenges are becoming increasingly complex, destructive, and dangerous, existing conflicts are aggravating and new conflicts are emerging.”
CDE: References to a wide range of global issues, with technological challenges listed in the same sentence as conflicts.
NDD: “The growing technological and digital divide, continued turbulence in global financial markets, global reduction in investment flows, instability of supply chains, increased protectionist measures and other barriers to international trade, consequences of the global climate change and COVID-19 pandemic are adding to the volatility and uncertainty in the global economy and creating additional challenges for economic growth, maintaining social well-being, ensuring food and energy security, as well as the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. To this end, new approaches are required to promote a more equitable and effective international cooperation.”
CDE: Again, a host of references here to global problems, including inequality in tech, SWIFT disconnection, the freezing of financial assets, the impact of sanctions, climate change, food security, and a reduction in global growth. These were linked to specific calls to implement the United Nations 2030 agenda. The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres attended the SCO summit as a guest. To some degree the SCO is pointing its finger at the United States and generally the G7 for some of these issues, while also promoting the SCO as part of a wider ‘international community’.
United Nations vs United States
NDD: “Based on the proximity of assessments of the current regional and international agenda, the Member States confirm their commitment to formation of a more representative, democratic, just and multipolar world order based on the universally recognized principles of international law, multilateralism, equal, joint, indivisible, comprehensive and sustainable security, cultural and civilizational diversity, mutually beneficial and equal cooperation of states with a central coordinating role of the UN.”
CDE: A very specific call for the current global management system to be moved away from the United States as the perceived primary, unilateral power and towards a multipolar, multilateral global management system. The United States and EU have rejected this as being in the specific interests of China only. That position appears less credible now that the SCO, including India, have endorsed it.
NDD: “The Member States reaffirm that the SCO is not directed against other states and international organizations and is open to broad cooperation with them in accordance with the goals and principles of the UN Charter, SCO Charter and international law, based on consideration of mutual interests and common approaches to solving regional and global problems.
The Member States, in accordance with the principles of the SCO Charter, pursue a policy that excludes bloc, ideological and confrontational approaches to address the problems of international and regional development, countering traditional and non- traditional security challenges and threats. Taking the views of the Member States into account, they reaffirm the relevance of initiatives to promote cooperation in building of a new- type international relations in the spirit of mutual respect, justice, equality and mutually beneficial cooperation, as well as formation of a common vision of the idea of creating a community of the common destiny of humanity.”
CDE: The SCO here are advocating a global management system based upon the collective spirit of the United Nations Charter, as opposed to the United States. It also refers to the SCO charter which can be read here and which broadly outlines the SCO commitment to “rules of international law, the maintenance of international peace and security and the development of good neighbourly and friendly relations.” It is interesting to note that the United States Army War College however described the SCO as a ‘potential threat’ to American interests, while the European Union described the SCO as a ‘Rogue NATO’ in September 2022. Clearly, the differences of opinion concerning responsibility for ‘global management’ are real.
NDD: “The SCO Member States advocate respect for the right of peoples to an independent and democratic choice of the paths of their political and socio-economic development, emphasize that the principles of mutual respect for sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity of states, equality, mutual benefit, non-interference in internal affairs and non-use of force or threats to use force, are the basis of sustainable development of international relations. They reaffirm their commitment to peaceful settlement of disagreements and disputes between countries through dialogue and consultations.”
CDE: Note the use of the word ‘democratic’.
Planetary Environmental Management
NDD: “The Member States intend to further develop cooperation in the fields of politics and security, trade, economy, finance and investment, cultural and humanitarian ties in order to build a peaceful, safe, prosperous and environment-friendly planet Earth, achieving harmonious coexistence of Man and nature.”
CDE: The last six words “harmonious coexistence of Man and nature” are profound. In essence, they are calling for an alternative to the capitalist system, which has been exploitative, and diminished natural resources while polluting the planet, and an alternative system, based on science, that places the natural order as paramount to human existence and civilisation.
NDD: “The Member States consider it important to build up joint coordinated efforts by the international community to counter the activities of terrorist, separatist and extremist groups, paying special attention to preventing the spread of religious intolerance, aggressive nationalism, ethnic and racial discrimination, xenophobia, ideas of fascism and chauvinism.”
CDE: Here I will refer to specific discussions that took place at the SCO summit.
India, Pakistan & Afghanistan: Counter Terrorism
Referring to the SCO paragraph above, it contains four component parts.
Firstly, this is Modi taking a veiled swipe at neighbouring Pakistan, citing cross-border terrorism as “the biggest threat to regional and global peace” while indirectly hinting that Pakistan is a safe haven for terrorists. The Indian leader sought decisive action against terrorism, stating that “Some countries use cross-border terrorism as an instrument of their policies and give shelter to terrorists. The SCO should not hesitate to criticize such countries…there should be no double standards on terrorism.” That was aimed specifically at Pakistan, a fellow SCO member, but also shows concern at what is occurring in Afghanistan.
Shehbaz Sharif, Pakistan’s Prime Minister, in fact broadly agreed with Modi’s assertions, confirming that terrorism in all its forms and manifestations should be condemned in “clear and unambiguous terms.” However, he opted not to engage in a discussion on state-sponsored terrorism and instead diverted attention away from Modi’s apparent criticisms, saying that “The hydra-headed monster of terrorism and extremism – whether committed by individuals, societies, or states – must be fought with full vigour and conviction. Any temptation to use it as a cudgel for diplomatic point-scoring must be avoided under all circumstances.”
Returning to the Afghan issue, Modi urged the SCO leaders to work for the welfare of the country and provide humanitarian aid to Kabul following the Taliban takeover two years ago. “Afghan soil should not be allowed to be used to destabilize its neighbourhood.” Modi added.
The criticisms and comments are fair enough; and will have been noted especially by China and Russia, the two largest involving parties. Afghanistan itself and each of its neighbours were represented at the SCO summit, as was the United Nations.
NDD: “Reaffirming their commitment to peace, joint development and equal relations based on the principles of mutual respect, friendship and good-neighbourliness, the Member States will continue conducting a constructive dialogue based on trust, deepening effective multifaceted cooperation, making every effort to strengthen security and stability and ensure sustainable development in the SCO region.
The Member States consider Central Asia to be the core of SCO and support the efforts of the countries of the region to ensure prosperity and peace, sustainable development, and the formation of a space of good-neighbourliness, trust and friendship.
Reaffirming their strong commitment to fighting terrorism, separatism and extremism, the Member States are determined to continue taking active measures to eliminate the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism, to disrupt the terror financing channels, to suppress recruitment activities and cross-border movement of terrorists, to counter extremism, and radicalization of youth, the dissemination of terrorist ideology, as well as to eliminate “sleeper cells” and places used as terrorist safe havens. The Member States note the inadmissibility of interference in the internal affairs of states under the pretext of countering terrorism and extremism, as well as unacceptability of using terrorist, extremist, and radical groups for mercenary goals.
The Member States consider it important to build up joint coordinated efforts by the international community to counter the attempts to involve young people in the activities of terrorist, separatist and extremist groups.
The Member States note the effective activities of the SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) in promoting cooperation between competent authorities in countering terrorism, separatism, and extremism, including the implementation of the relevant Program for 2022-2024. The importance of implementing practical measures aimed at expanding its capabilities to strengthen cooperation in these areas was emphasized.
Subject to their national laws and on the basis of consensus, the Member States will seek to develop common principles and approaches to form a unified list of terrorist, separatist, and extremist organizations whose activities are prohibited on the territories of the SCO Member States.”
CDE: This lengthy statement is aimed primarily at security for Afghanistan, and potential other militant regions of concern, such as within recently admitted member Iran. However, it also signals a tougher approach by the SCO members towards terrorism. That may concern the United States who would view any build up of SCO security as ‘potentially threatening’, while the European Union will worry about what this means for the treatment of China’s Uyghurs.
Countering Fascism: Ukraine
Finally, there were references to racial discrimination and fascism. This has resonance especially for Russia, which has long complained about the treatment of ethnic Russians in Ukraine (the Ukrainian President Zelensky requested this ethnic group all depart Ukraine, despite many of them having lived there for centuries, having a population of about 3.5 million, and having possession of Ukrainian national ID cards. Zelensky has also banned the Russian language from use in Ukraine and criminalised it), while the fascism inclusion is a reference to the Zelensky regime which Moscow believes is partially based on Nazism.
Apart from this instance, the Ukraine conflict was not mentioned within the New Delhi Declaration, though it is understood that Russian President Putin held one-on-one discussions with each of the Heads of State present before the event.
Internet and ICT Regulation
NDD: “The Member States emphasize a key role of the UN in countering threats in the information space, creating a safe, fair and open information space built on the principles of respect for state sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries. They consider it important to ensure equal rights for all countries to regulate the Internet and sovereign right of states to manage it in their national segment.”
CDE: As a caveat, the SCO intends to keep the United Nations informed about counter-terrorist activities. The same paragraph links sovereign security directly to the internet.
NDD: “The Member States categorically oppose militarization of information and communication technologies (ICTs). They support development of universal rules, principles, and norms of responsible behavior of states in this area, and in particular, welcome the development under the auspices of the UN of a comprehensive international convention against the use of ICT for criminal purposes. The Member States will continue cooperation within the framework of specialized negotiating mechanisms at the UN and other international platforms.”
CDE: Calls for the UN to be involved in the use of the internet and other ICTs to combat misuse, the spread of misinformation and related issues, presumably including AI. In effect a proposal to develop an internationally agreed set of internet and ICT principles of use.
NDD: “The Member States have expressed their concern about the growing threats posed by increased production, trafficking and abuse of narcotic drugs and using the proceeds of illicit drug-trafficking as a source of funding for terrorism. They stressed the need for a joint and balanced approach to countering trafficking of illicit drugs and their precursors and noted the importance of implementing the international drug control conventions and other relevant legal regulatory instruments.
The Member States note that illicit drug trafficking and their non-medical consumption pose a threat to international and regional security and stability, sustainable economic development of states, health and well-being of people, as well as the exercise of fundamental human rights and freedoms. Emphasizing the importance of consolidating forces in the fight against illicit drug-trafficking and wide cooperation in this area, they will continue implementing the SCO Anti-Drug Strategy for 2018-2023 and Action Plan for its implementation.
The Member States intend to further conduct joint anti-drug operations on a regular basis. They advocate active interaction with interested states, regional and international organizations in this field.”
Use Of Weapons
“The Member States that are parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons are in favour of strict observance of the provisions of the Treaty, the comprehensive balanced promotion of all the goals and principles fixed therein, strengthening of the global nuclear non-proliferation regime, continuation of the nuclear disarmament process, as well as the promotion of an equitable, mutually beneficial cooperation in the field of the use of atomic energy for peaceful purposes.
The Member States reiterate that unilateral and unlimited expansion of global missile defense systems by certain countries or groups of countries has a negative impact on the international security and stability. They consider unacceptable attempts to ensure their own security at the expense of the security of other States.
The Member States stand for responding to global and regional security challenges and threats through political and diplomatic means on a multilateral basis and will strengthen cooperation and actively promote the multilateral arms control, disarmament and non- proliferation process, including efforts within the framework of the Conference on Disarmament.”
“The Member States advocate keeping outer space free of weapons of any kind and state the importance of strict observance of existing legal regime, which provides for solely peaceful use of outer space. They emphasize the need to conclude an international legally- binding document that would enhance transparency and provide reliable guarantees to prevent an arms race and not be the first to deploy weapons in outer space.”
Chemical & Biological
“The Member States emphasize the importance of the Convention on Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction (BTWC) as one of pillars of the global security architecture. They emphasize the need for strict adherence to the BTWC, in particular, through adoption of a Protocol to the Convention which provides for an effective verification mechanism. They oppose creating any mechanisms duplicating the BTWC functions, including those that fall within the mandate of the UN Security Council.
The Member States call for full compliance with the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction (CWC) as an effective instrument in disarmament and non-proliferation. They emphasize the significance of early destruction of all declared stockpiles of chemical weapons. The Member States reaffirm their support for Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and advocate for concerted decisions to bridge divisions within the Organization, ensure its integrity and operate effectively under the Convention.”
Central Asia To Remain Nuclear Weapon Free
“The Member States consider that the early entry into force of the Protocol on Security Assurances to the Agreement on a Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone in Central Asia for all signatories, will become a significant contribution to regional security and the strengthening of the nuclear non-proliferation regime.”
“The Member States consider sustainable implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Action Plan on the Iranian nuclear program to be important and, in accordance with Resolution 2231 of the UN Security Council, urge all the participants to strictly fulfil their obligations for comprehensive and effective implementation of the document.”
“The Member States believe that one of the most important factors of preservation and strengthening of safety and stability within SCO region, is the early settlement of the situation in Afghanistan. They advocate building Afghanistan as an independent, neutral, united, democratic and peaceful state, free from terrorism, war and drugs.
The Member States consider it essential to establish an inclusive government in Afghanistan with the participation of representatives of all ethnic, religious, and political groups in Afghan society.
Stressing the importance of long-term hospitality and effective assistance provided to the Afghan refugees by regional and neighbouring countries of Afghanistan, the Member States consider important, the active efforts of the international community to facilitate their dignified, safe and sustainable return to their homeland.
In view of the evolving humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, the SCO Member States support continued efforts to assist the Afghan people.”
CDE: Following the chaotic withdrawal of the US and NATO troops from Afghanistan in September 2021 (it is of timescale interest to note that NATO troops were almost immediately sent to Ukraine five months later) the onus for the security and redevelopment of Afghanistan has essentially fallen upon the SCO. In fact, it could be argued that the original intent of the organisation was to cater for such an eventuality. China has a small border with the country and considerably larger ones with Afghanistan’s neighbours Pakistan and Tajikistan. Part of the China Uyghur issue is keeping that population free from Islamic militant influence. The essential disagreements here between China and the West is how this is achieved. (Interestingly, there has been little criticism from other Islamic nations). Afghanistan, and how it is both managed, and protected from conflict are a primary issue for the SCO.
The current political situation is that the Taliban have formed a ‘temporary administration’ controlled by them. As the Talib make up about 55% of Afghanistan’s tribal mix, this excludes large numbers of the Afghan population, however the Taliban have promised to create a ‘national unity’ government in due course. The issue with this is that the country is awash with weapons and regional tribal and factional disputes can break out at any time. That could result in another civil war. The only viable option at this stage is to have the Taliban in power and assist over a longer period for peace to be maintained, weapons to be recovered and destroyed, and the larger population revert to firstly subsistence, and then productive farming, with an eventual aim at some type of industrialisation. China and to a lesser extent Pakistan have been instrumental in this: China has recently agreed to extend the US$60 billion ‘China Pakistan Economic Corridor’ (CPEC) into Afghanistan and bring the country into its Belt & Road Initiative, which will provide much needed energy and initial infrastructure in Afghanistan to assist with a transition from complete devastation to some initial productivity – and peace.
Afghanistan has also recently made an official approach to join the BRICS grouping, an issue we previously discussed here.
World Trade Organisation Reform
NDD: “The Member States called for greater effectiveness of the World Trade Organization (WTO) as a key platform for discussing the international trade agenda and adopting the regulations of the multilateral trading system. They emphasize the need for early implementation of an inclusive reform of the organization, focusing on the issues of its development and adaptation to modern economic realities, as well as effective implementation of the functions of monitoring, negotiation and settlement of disputes.
The Member States affirm the significance for further improving and reforming the architecture of global economic governance and will consistently advocate and strengthen an open, transparent, fair, inclusive and non-discriminatory multilateral trading system based on the World Trade Organization (WTO) principles and rules, promote the development of an open world economy, ensure equitable market access, oppose protectionist measures and trade restrictions that are contrary to the WTO principles that undermine the multilateral trading system and threaten the global economy. They stressed that unilateral application of economic sanctions other than those approved by the UN Security Council are incompatible with the principles of international law and have a negative impact on the third countries and international economic relations.”
CDE: There has been significant discomfort among non-Western (and some Western nations) concerning what are viewed as unilaterally imposed restrictions, including tariffs and sanctions, being placed upon countries without the use of the WTO as an arbitrary body. This has lead to countries such as China and Russia calling this a breakdown of the ‘international rules-based order’ and a revert to individual nation polarity instead. This criticism is expressly aimed at the United States and European Union. It also has some merit as the WTO was established in 1995 precisely to help monitor and manage global trade and provide dispute resolution mechanisms. It has increasingly been side-lined despite the US and EU both being signatories to its protocols. Here, the SCO are calling for WTO reform to better allow it a greater managerial say and have linked this issue to the UN Security Council; as it sees a dilution of WTO powers as having a negative impact on global food, energy, and other trade concerns.
Belt & Road Initiative, EAEU, De-dollarisation, some Indian pushback
NDD: “Reaffirming their support for China’s “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI) initiative, the Republic of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Islamic Republic of Pakistan, Russian Federation, Republic of Tajikistan and Republic of Uzbekistan note the ongoing work to jointly implement this project, including efforts to link the Eurasian Economic Union and BRI.
We are in favour of implementing a gradual increase in the share of national currencies in mutual settlements by the interested Member States.”
CDE: Note that eight of the SCO states, but excluding India, are supportive of China’s BRI, while noting a proposal to link the members of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) Free Trade Bloc, which include Armenia, and Belarus, along with SCO members Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia to the Chinese initiative. There has also been talk of linking the EAEU directly with the SCO grouping, which could potentially see the development of the SCO trade aspect become a Free Trade Area. Note also the intent to develop an increasing share of mutual SCO currencies in trade settlements, meaning a partial de-coupling from the US dollar. At least 50% of intra SCO trade at present are non-dollar transactions.
NDD: “The Member States intend to broaden and deepen cooperation for sustainable socio- economic development and to improve the well-being and living standards of the people in the SCO region. Interested members consider it important to ensure the implementation of the 2030 SCO Economic Development Strategy, other joint programmes and projects aimed at promoting cooperation in such priority areas as the digital economy, high technology and innovation, creation of new and modernisation of existing international routes for road and rail transport, multimodal transport corridors and logistics centres, finance and investment, energy and food security, reliable, resilient and diversified supply chains, industrial cooperation and inter-regional ties.
The Member States intend to strengthen cooperation in education, science and technology, culture, health, disaster management, as well as tourism, sports and people-to- people contacts, especially through women and youth, public diplomacy institutions, cultural centres and the media.
The Member States, noting the importance of cooperation in the field of environmental protection, ecological security and prevention of the negative consequences of climate change, development of specially protected nature reserves and eco-tourism, agreed to declare 2024 as the SCO Year of Environment.”
CDE: The 2030 SCO Economic Development Strategy document isn’t available for review at present, while the phrase ‘interested members’ is a reference to the fact that India has apparently refused to endorse it. That almost certainly means that it includes references that could be implied to mean this particular SCO strategy infers that China’s Belt & Road Initiative is part of this document. India will not agree to this as it considers the BRI as infringing upon part of its ‘territory’ – actually disputed areas that are claimed by India but under existing Chinese or Pakistani administration.
Iran SCO Full Membership Confirmed, Belarus On The Way
“The Member States stressed the historical significance of the admission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the SCO as a full Member State. They also noted the importance of signing the Memorandum of Obligations by the Republic of Belarus to achieve the status of a SCO Member State.”
Salutations, Kazakhstan Chairmanship, SCO Map
“The Member States highly appreciated the outcomes of the Republic of India’s presidency of the SCO in 2022-2023 which has contributed to the further development of multi-faceted and mutually beneficial cooperation.
The presidency of the SCO for the forthcoming period is handed over to the Republic of Kazakhstan. The next meeting of the SCO Council of Heads of State will be held in 2024 in the Republic of Kazakhstan.”
New Delhi, July 04, 2023
CDE: The fact that the SCO managed to bring about a prompt Declaration is highly encouraging for its future development, not least as stress lines are apparent between India (hosting the event) together with China and Pakistan. However, despite India chairing the event, these differences were kept to a minimum. This could indicate that in time, and as possibly as the previous Chinese gambit of playing India off Pakistan has outlived its usefulness, a sense of collective unity and progression is rapidly developing that could place these regional concerns rather more towards the rear of the back burner than at the front. Clearly, there are greater regional concerns about Afghanistan than there are in Kashmir, Ladakh or Arunachal Pradesh, despite the potential for these to blow into small conflicts on occasion when Chinese or Indian commanders fancy a bit of high-altitude argy-bargy. Ultimately though, these are always managed by Beijing or New Delhi to make a point and carefully shut down. This means that a greater need for Eurasian progression has overtaken sovereign disputes in importance.
The SCO summit has also underlined India’s position as a member of the ‘Global South’ rather than the collective West, less than two weeks after Indian Prime Minister met with US President Joe Biden in Washington. India isn’t merely ‘sitting on the fence’ here, it has made its decision.
In terms of global influence, what is striking is the SCO’s reach into the global arena. It has called for reform at the WTO (and previously, other global institutions) as well as for increasing engagement at the UN Security Council. This will be rebuffed by Washington and Brussels, who it has to be said are treading an increasingly thinning rope when it comes to being seen to represent the greater global good. While the G7 remain a powerful bloc, it should be remembered that the BRICS now outstrips it in terms of global GDP, global area, and population.
The SCO meanwhile is systematically calling out for additional alliances. Apart from the Full Members who signed off the New Delhi Declaration, the SCO also includes Afghanistan and Mongolia as observers, and dialogue partners in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Belarus, Cambodia, Egypt, Kuwait, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Turkiye, and the UAE. Permanent guests include ASEAN and the CIS bloc, Turkmenistan, and the United Nations.
Sergey Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, said of the SCO just prior to the New Delhi summit that other interested countries were welcome to be involved. Given that the SCO is preaching global management reforms, including a move away from the perceived unipolarity of the United States and European Union, that invitation can be expected to fall upon receptive ears.
The G7 in contrast includes The United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Japan, Italy, and Canada, with the European Union also participating (the only caveat being that it doesn’t have the right to hold Presidency). Yet this group is increasing perceived to be acting to be a quasi-unilateral bloc, organising global initiatives – including sanctions – on their own without reference to international institutions such as the WTO.
This is leaving countries such as China, Russia (who was ejected from the group in 2014), all of the Middle East, the vast majority of Asia, including India, as well as Central and Latin America out of the process. Inevitably there is now pushback. The West won’t like it, but the SCO is gathering G7 excluded countries – and there are, according to the United Nations, 186 countries not part of that group – as part of a collective to introduce change. We can expect future fireworks at the United Nations.
Meanwhile – a question. How much analysis of this obviously important summit, with far-reaching global implications – have you seen in Western media? Because there in itself lies a tale of old Imperial attitudes and that the rest of the world is largely irrelevant. That will ultimately prove a flawed position to take.
Chris Devonshire-Ellis is the Chairman of Dezan Shira & Associates. He can be reached at email@example.com