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Don't underestimate the SCO

25.09.2022
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According to M.Forough

The leaders of the countries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) met in Samarkand (Uzbekistan) on September 15-16 at the annual summit. It is becoming common practice in leading Western media and think tanks to describe the SCO as "anti-Western", "anti-American", "anti-NATO" and "authoritarian" bloc. While there is some truth in each of these labels, they do not tell the whole story.

Unlike geopolitical ties, geo-economic ties do not receive sufficient (if any) coverage in the media. Let's start with the fact that Chinese President Xi Jinping began his first trip after the pandemic with a visit to Kazakhstan. This goes to show how much Central Asia and Kazakhstan are essential to China's worldview. In a thinly veiled warning to Russia (and possibly the West), Xi said that China would defend Kazakhstan's "sovereignty and territorial integrity." The main purpose of the meeting was to further the "synergism of development strategies" between the two countries.

After leaving Kazakhstan, Xi traveled to Samarkand, Uzbekistan, to attend the SCO summit. During the summit, China signed agreements worth $15 billion with Uzbekistan and highlighted the "common future" of the two countries. On September 14, the day before the summit, China signed a long-awaited agreement to build the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan (CKU) railway.

Once completed, the CKU could give China access to Europe - through Iran and Turkey, or exclusively through the Turkish Middle Corridor and the Caspian Sea to Europe. Thus, communication between China and the European Union (EU) can be achieved regardless of the Eurasian land bridge, which is dominated by Russia. China has already created one such corridor through Central Asia and Iran that leads to Turkey and Europe, the so-called China-Central Asia-West Asia Corridor.

Shortly before the summit, China also began a three-month trial run of the Sino-Afghan rail corridor, which also runs through Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. This corridor reduces the delivery time for goods from China to Afghanistan from two months to two weeks. Notably, this corridor bypasses Pakistan, China's "all-weather friend", again to avoid dependency. All this dynamics is under the auspices of the BRI (One Belt, One Road project).

Iran also made headlines by signing a memorandum of commitment to the SCO to formally begin the full membership process. This is expected to happen in 2023. Central Asia is not alien to Iran as both sides share many historical, cultural and linguistic similarities. The region is part of what Iran's supreme leader Ali Khamenei quite romantically calls "great cultural Iran." In an article for Chinese TV channel CGTV on September 16, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian described the SCO as a manifestation of Asian regionalism, continentality and multilateralism.

The SCO countries, such as China and Iran, often portray the world of the ancient Silk Road as a world of perfect harmony, devoid of any imperial wars, looting, or catastrophes. Even such geopolitical adversaries as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Armenia and Azerbaijan perceived the concept of the Silk Road as a paradigm of a common geo-economic sociality. This sociality is strengthened through the expansion of trade, the gradual de-dollarization, the strengthening of connectivity through long-term infrastructure, and the definition of a "common future". In a sense, the SCO is turning into China's tool for influencing the geo-economy with the help of the BRI and the logic of security and development accompanying this project.

 

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