To expand Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s (SCO) role as a multilateral mechanism for addressing topical contemporary issues, sustainable development in the region, ensuring stability and security, more countries have been added as observers. And some countries have been included as dialogue partners.
“The SCO’s expansion underlines its growing international relevance and the desire to play a greater role in developing cooperation among Asian countries. The induction of Arab and Gulf countries as dialogue partners signifies the growing importance of the SCO in the Middle East,” observes Md Muddassir Quamar, Associate Fellow, Manohar Parrikar Institute of Defence Studies & Analyses.
At the end of the SCO summit the Samarkand Declaration which had 121 points covering as many issues as possible announced the expansion of the organization.
According to the Declaration adopted by the member states, Kuwait, UAE, Maldives, Myanmar and Bahrain have been given the status of SCO dialogue partners. Also, a MoU was inked for granting the SCO dialogue partner status to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Qatar was also inked.
The Samarkand Summit further announced the signing of memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Arab League, UNESCO and Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific thus expanding cooperation with international organizations.
“The SCO has come a long way from the 1996 Shanghai Five initiative to its current nomenclature adopted in 2001 as an organization focused on Central Asia and Eurasia to become a leading international multilateral organization. After resisting expansion for over a decade due to a lack of consensus among China and Russia, the SCO inducted India and Pakistan as full members in 2017 and started the accession process for Iran (2021) and Belarus (2022). In addition, Mongolia and Afghanistan have held observer status since 2004 and 2012, respectively,” says Md Muddassir Quamar, Ph.D, Associate Fellow, Manohar Parrikar Institute of Defence Studies & Analyses.
Adding, “The SCO has gradually also inducted several dialogue partners beginning with Sri Lanka (2010); Turkey (2013); Cambodia (2015); Azerbaijan, Nepal and Armenia (2016); and Egypt, Qatar and Saudi Arabia (2022). Now, the 2022 summit also decided to start the process of including Bahrain, Kuwait, Maldives, Myanmar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as dialogue partners of the organization.”
Significance of the expansion – Views of the expert
In his view, “The expansion of the SCO signifies its growing relevance as an international multilateral organization beyond Eurasia and Central Asia to include South, Southeast and West Asian countries and organizations. Besides the expansion in terms of membership and size, the grouping has also widened its scope by including newer areas. From mostly focusing on economic cooperation and regional security and stability, the SCO is now increasingly taking up issues such as connectivity, counter-terrorism, energy, health and food security as well as issues of global political, economic and technological transformations.”
According to Md Muddassir Quamar, “Firstly, the Arab countries, especially in the Gulf are motivated by the membership accession process of their archrival Iran into the SCO. But this is not the only reason why they are interested in becoming part of the SCO process. They also recognize the fact that the economic nerve center of the world has moved to Asia, and the large Asian economies including China, India and other major regional economies in the East and Southeast Asia have emerged as the major consumers of their primary export commodity–hydrocarbons. In addition, they are interested in Asian economies as they offer greater investment opportunities as well as are becoming more interested in economic cooperation with them necessary for their economic diversification and in preparation of the post-oil economic order.”
Secondly, “there are geopolitical reasons for them to seek cooperation with the SCO. China, which is the driving force behind the organization along with Russia, has considerably increased its footprints in the Middle East.
Although the focus of Chinese engagement is economic, there are signs of gradual increase in political understanding and security engagement.
And, it helps that Beijing and Moscow, unlike the Western capitals, are not interested in lecturing sovereign countries on their internal matters whether on the type of political system they prefer or their human rights records.
Moreover, the Gulf countries have shown a greater tendency in recent years to reduce their dependence on the United States and European countries in terms of deciding their foreign and economic policies.
While recognizing the limitation in terms of their security dependence on the West, the Gulf Arab monarchies are gradually expanding their cooperation with China and Russia both as a means for strategic hedging as well as to assert their neutrality in international politics.”
As dialogue partners
In a fractious international politics, the regional countries do not wish to be seen as part of one camp and their economic interdependence with Asia and the SCO’s expansion beyond Central Asia and Eurasia means that they are more than ever willing to embrace each other,” he opines.
Finally, “the induction of Arab countries as dialogue partners in the SCO signifies the growing attempt by the regional countries to balance their interest as global politics is witnessing a sharp division between the US and China.