The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), also known as the Shanghai Pact, is an Eurasian political, economic, and security alliance. It is the world's largest regional organisation in geographic scope and population, covering three-fifths of the Eurasian continent, 40% of the world population, and more than 20% of global GDP.
The SCO is the successor to the Shanghai Five, a mutual security agreement formed in 1996 between China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan. On 15 June 2001, the leaders of these nations and Uzbekistan met in Shanghai to announce a new organisation with deeper political and economic cooperation; the SCO Charter was signed on 7 July 2002 and entered into force on 19 September 2003. Its membership has since expanded to eight states, with India and Pakistan joining on 9 June 2017. Several countries are engaged as observers or partners.
The SCO is governed by the Heads of State Council (HSC), its supreme decision-making body, which meets once a year. Military exercises are also regularly conducted among members to promote cooperation and coordination against terrorism and other external threats, and to maintain regional peace and stability.
The Shanghai Five group was created on 26 April 1996 with the signing of the Treaty on Deepening Military Trust in Border Regions in Shanghai by the heads of states of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan.
On April 24, 1997, the same countries signed the Treaty on Reduction of Military Forces in Border Regions in a meeting in Moscow. On 20 May 1997, Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Chinese leader Jiang Zemin signed a declaration on a "multipolar world".
Subsequent annual summits of the Shanghai Five group occurred in Almaty, Kazakhstan in 1998, in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan in 1999, and in Dushanbe, Tajikistan in 2000. At the Dushanbe summit, members agreed to "oppose intervention in other countries' internal affairs on the pretexts of 'humanitarianism' and 'protecting human rights;' and support the efforts of one another in safeguarding the five countries' national independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity, and social stability."
In 2001, the annual summit returned to Shanghai. There the five member nations first admitted Uzbekistan in the Shanghai Five mechanism (thus transforming it into the Shanghai Six). Then all six heads of state signed on 15 June 2001 the Declaration of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, praising the role played thus far by the Shanghai Five mechanism and aiming to transform it to a higher level of cooperation.
In June 2002, the heads of the SCO member states met in Saint Petersburg, Russia. There they signed the SCO Charter which expounded on the organisation's purposes, principles, structures and forms of operation, and established it in international law.
In July 2005, at the summit in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, with representatives of India, Iran, Mongolia and Pakistan attending an SCO summit for the first time, the president of the host country, Nursultan Nazarbayev, greeted the guests in words that had never been used before in any context: "The leaders of the states sitting at this negotiation table are representatives of half of humanity".
By 2007 the SCO had initiated over twenty large-scale projects related to transportation, energy and telecommunications and held regular meetings of security, military, defence, foreign affairs, economic, cultural, banking and other officials from its member states.
In July 2015 in Ufa, Russia, the SCO decided to admit India and Pakistan as full members. Both signed the memorandum of obligations in June 2016 in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, thereby starting the formal process of joining the SCO as full members. On 9 June 2017, at a summit in Astana, India and Pakistan officially joined SCO as full members.
The SCO has established relations with the United Nations in 2004 (where it is an observer in the General Assembly), Commonwealth of Independent States in 2005, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2005, the Collective Security Treaty Organization in 2007, the Economic Cooperation Organization in 2007, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in 2011, the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA) in 2014, and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific in 2015, African Union in 2018.
The Council of Heads of State is the top decision-making body in the SCO. This council meets at the SCO summits, which are held each year in one of the member states' capital cities. Because of their government structure, the prime minister of the parliamentary democracies of India and Pakistan attends the SCO Council of Heads of State summits, as their responsibilities are similar to the presidents of other SCO nations. The current Council of Heads of State consists of:
- Xi Jinping (China)
- Narendra Modi (India) (not the de jure head of state)
- Kassym-Jomart Tokayev (Kazakhstan)
- Sadyr Japarov (Kyrgyzstan)
- Imran Khan (Pakistan) (not the de jure head of state)
- Vladimir Putin (Russia)
- Emomali Rahmon (Tajikistan)
- Shavkat Mirziyoyev (Uzbekistan)
The Council of Heads of Government is the second-highest council in the organisation. This council also holds annual summits, at which time members discuss issues of multilateral cooperation. The council also approves the organisation's budget. The current Council of Heads of Government consists of:
- Li Keqiang (China)
- Narendra Modi (India) (usually sends a deputy, such as Vice President Venkaiah Naidu at the 2020 summit)
- Askar Mamin (Kazakhstan)
- Ulukbek Maripov (Kyrgyzstan)
- Imran Khan (Pakistan) (usually sends a deputy, such as Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs Andleeb Abbas at the 2020 summit)
- Mikhail Mishustin (Russia)
- Qohir Rasulzoda (Tajikistan)
- Abdulla Aripov (Uzbekistan)
The Council of Foreign Ministers also hold regular meetings, where they discuss the current international situation and the SCO's interaction with other international organisations.
The Council of National Coordinators coordinates the multilateral cooperation of member states within the framework of the SCO's charter.
The Secretariat of the SCO, headquartered in Beijing, China, is the primary executive body of the organisation. It serves to implement organisational decisions and decrees, drafts proposed documents (such as declarations and agendas), function as a document depository for the organisation, arranges specific activities within the SCO framework, and promotes and disseminates information about the SCO. The SCO Secretary-General is elected to a three-year term. The current Secretary-General is Vladimir Norov of Uzbekistan, who assumed his office on 1 January 2019.
The Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) Executive Committee, headquartered in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, is a permanent organ of the SCO which serves to promote cooperation of member states against the three evils of terrorism, separatism and extremism. The Director of SCO RATS Executive Committee is elected to a three-year term. The current Director is Jumakhon Giyosov of Tajikistan, who assumed his office on 1 January 2019. Each member state also sends a permanent representative to RATS.
|Country||Accession started||Member since|
|China||—||15 June 2001[a]|
|India||10 June 2015||9 June 2017|
|Iran||17 September 2021||TBA|
Afghanistan received observer status at the 2012 SCO summit in Beijing, China on 7 June 2012.
In 2008, Belarus applied for partner status in the organisation and was promised Kazakhstan's support towards that goal. However, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov voiced doubt on the probability of Belarus' membership, saying that Belarus was a purely European country. Despite this, at the 2009 SCO Summit in Yekaterinburg a decision was made to grant Belarus the dialogue partner status, which it officially received on 28 April 2010. After applying in 2012 for the observer status, Belarus received it in 2015.
Mongolia became the first country to receive observer status at the 2004 Tashkent Summit. Pakistan, India and Iran received observer status at the 2005 SCO summit in Astana, Kazakhstan on 5 July 2005.
Iran became interested to join in 2000. At the time China was hesitant due to international pressure on Iran's nuclear program. On 17 September 2021, the SCO launched the procedures of Iran's accession to the SCO, which are expected to take "a fair amount of time". It took two years for India and Pakistan to complete the accession procedures.
The status of dialogue partner was created in 2008.
|Country||Status approved||Status granted[b]|
|Sri Lanka||15 or 16 June 2009||6 May 2010|
|Turkey||7 June 2012||26 April 2013|
|Cambodia||10 July 2015||24 September 2015|
|Azerbaijan||14 March 2016|
|Nepal||22 March 2016|
|Armenia||16 April 2016|
|Upcoming dialogue partners[c]|
|Egypt||16 or 17 September 2021||TBA|
|Former dialogue partners|
|Belarus||15 or 16 June 2009||28 April 2010|
Multiple international organisations and one country are guest attendances to SCO summits.
Future membership possibilities
In June 2010, the SCO approved a procedure of admitting new members.[better source needed] Several states additionally participate as observers, some of whom have expressed interest in becoming full members in the future. The implications of Iran joining the organisation has been given much thought academically. In early September 2013 Armenian Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan said during his meeting with his Chinese counterpart that Armenia would like to obtain an observer status in the SCO.
Meanwhile, in 2012 Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, East Timor, Nepal and Sri Lanka applied for observer status within the organisation. Egypt and Syria have also submitted applications for observer status, while Israel, Maldives, Ukraine, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia have applied for dialogue partner status. Bahrain and Qatar have also officially applied to join the SCO.
Turkmenistan has previously declared itself a permanently neutral country, which was recognised by a resolution adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, thus precluding its membership in a military alliance like the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has stated that he has discussed the possibility of abandoning Turkey's candidacy of accession to the European Union in return for full membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. This was reinforced again on 21 November 2016, after the European Parliament voted unanimously to suspend accession negotiations with Turkey. Two days later, on 23 November 2016, Turkey was granted the chairmanship of the energy club of SCO for the 2017 period. That made Turkey the first country to chair a club in the organisation without full membership status. As of 2021, the Turkish government has not applied for SCO membership.
Cooperation on security
At SCO summit, held in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, on 16–17 June 2004, the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) was established. On 21 April 2006, the SCO announced plans to fight cross-border drug crimes under the counter-terrorism rubric.
In October 2007, the SCO signed an agreement with the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), in the Tajik capital Dushanbe, to broaden cooperation on issues such as security, crime, and drug trafficking.
The organisation is also redefining cyberwarfare, saying that the dissemination of information "harmful to the spiritual, moral and cultural spheres of other states" should be considered a "security threat". An accord adopted in 2009 defined "information war", in part, as an effort by a state to undermine another's "political, economic, and social systems". The Diplomat reported in 2017 that SCO has foiled 600 terror plots and extradited 500 terrorists through RATS. The 36th meeting of the Council of the RATS decided to hold a joint anti-terror exercise, Pabbi-Antiterror-2021, in Pakistan in 2021.
Over the past few years, the organisation's activities have expanded to include increased military cooperation, intelligence sharing, and counterterrorism.
Military exercises are regularly conducted among members to promote cooperation and coordination against terrorism and other external threats, and to maintain regional peace and stability. There have been a number of SCO joint military exercises. The first of these was held in 2003, with the first phase taking place in Kazakhstan and the second in China. Since then China and Russia have teamed up for large-scale war games in 2005 (Peace Mission 2005), 2007 and 2009, under the auspices of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. More than 4,000 soldiers participated at the joint military exercises in 2007 (known as "Peace Mission 2007") which took place in Chelyabinsk Russia near the Ural Mountains, as was agreed upon in April 2006 at a meeting of SCO Defence Ministers. Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov said that the exercises would be transparent and open to media and the public. Following the war games' successful completion, Russian officials began speaking of India joining such exercises in the future and the SCO taking on a military role. Peace Mission 2010, conducted 9–25 September at Kazakhstan's Matybulak training area, saw over 5,000 personnel from China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan conduct joint planning and operational maneuvers.
The SCO has served as a platform for larger military announcements by members. During the 2007 war games in Russia, with leaders of SCO member states in attendance including Chinese President Hu Jintao, Russia's President Vladimir Putin used the occasion to take advantage of a captive audience. Russian strategic bombers, he said, would resume regular long-range patrols for the first time since the Cold War. "Starting today, such tours of duty will be conducted regularly and on the strategic scale", Putin said. "Our pilots have been grounded for too long. They are happy to start a new life".
Russia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are also members of the Eurasian Economic Union. A Framework Agreement to enhance economic cooperation was signed by the SCO member states on 23 September 2003. At the same meeting the Premier of China, Wen Jiabao, proposed a long-term objective to establish a free trade area in the SCO, while other more immediate measures would be taken to improve the flow of goods in the region. A follow up plan with 100 specific actions was signed one year later, on 23 September 2004.
On 26 October 2005, during the Moscow Summit of the SCO, the Secretary General of the Organisation said that the SCO will prioritise joint energy projects; including in the oil and gas sector, the exploration of new hydrocarbon reserves, and joint use of water resources. The creation of the SCO Interbank Consortium was also agreed upon at that summit in order to fund future joint projects. The first meeting of the SCO Interbank Association was held in Beijing on 21–22 February 2006. On 30 November 2006, at The SCO: Results and Perspectives, an international conference held in Almaty, the representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry announced that Russia is developing plans for an SCO "Energy Club". The need for this "club" was reiterated by Moscow at an SCO summit in November 2007. Other SCO members, however, have not committed themselves to the idea. However, during the 2008 summit it was stated that "Against the backdrop of a slowdown in the growth of world economy pursuing a responsible currency and financial policy, control over the capital flowing, ensuring food and energy security have been gaining special significance".
At the 2007 SCO summit Iranian Vice President Parviz Davoodi addressed an initiative that had been garnering greater interest and assuming a heightened sense of urgency when he said, "The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation is a good venue for designing a new banking system which is independent from international banking systems".
The address by President Putin also included these comments:
We now clearly see the defectiveness of the monopoly in world finance and the policy of economic selfishness. To solve the current problem Russia will take part in changing the global financial structure so that it will be able to guarantee stability and prosperity in the world and to ensure progress.
The world is seeing the emergence of a qualitatively different geo-political situation, with the emergence of new centers of economic growth and political influence.
We will witness and take part in the transformation of the global and regional security and development architectures adapted to new realities of the 21st century, when stability and prosperity are becoming inseparable notions.
On 16 June 2009, at the Yekaterinburg Summit, China announced plans to provide a US$10 billion loan to other SCO member states to shore up the struggling economies of its members amid the global financial crisis. The summit was held together with the first BRIC summit, and the China–Russia joint statement said that they want a bigger quota in the International Monetary Fund.
At the occasion of Bishkek summit June 2019, Pakistani Prime Minister, Imran Khan also gave a statement to build a market of local currency instead of US Dollars among the members of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).
Cultural cooperation also occurs in the SCO framework. Culture ministers of the SCO met for the first time in Beijing on 12 April 2002, signing a joint statement for continued cooperation. The third meeting of the Culture Ministers took place in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, on 27–28 April 2006.
According to the Charter of the SCO, summits of the Council of Heads of State shall be held annually at alternating venues. The locations of these summits follow the alphabetical order of the member state's name in Russian. The charter also dictates that the Council of Heads of Government (that is, the Prime Ministers) shall meet annually in a place decided upon by the council members. The Council of Foreign Ministers is supposed to hold a summit one month before the annual summit of Heads of State. Extraordinary meetings of the Council of Foreign Ministers can be called by any two member states.
List of summits
|14 June 2001||China||Shanghai|
|7 June 2002||Russia||Saint Petersburg|
|29 May 2003||Russia||Moscow|
|17 June 2004||Uzbekistan||Tashkent|
|5 July 2005||Kazakhstan||Astana|
|15 June 2006||China||Shanghai|
|16 August 2007||Kyrgyzstan||Bishkek|
|28 August 2008||Tajikistan||Dushanbe|
|15–16 June 2009||Russia||Yekaterinburg|
|10–11 June 2010||Uzbekistan||Tashkent|
|14–15 June 2011||Kazakhstan||Astana|
|6–7 June 2012||China||Beijing|
|13 September 2013||Kyrgyzstan||Bishkek|
|11–12 September 2014||Tajikistan||Dushanbe|
|9–10 July 2015||Russia||Ufa|
|23–24 June 2016||Uzbekistan||Tashkent|
|8–9 June 2017||Kazakhstan||Astana|
|9–10 June 2018||China||Qingdao|
|14–15 June 2019||Kyrgyzstan||Bishkek|
|10 November 2020||Russia||videoconference|
|16–17 September 2021||Tajikistan||Dushanbe|
|15–16 September 2022||Uzbekistan||Samarkand|
|14 September 2001||Kazakhstan||Almaty|
|23 September 2003||China||Beijing|
|23 September 2004||Kyrgyzstan||Bishkek|
|26 October 2005||Russia||Moscow|
|15 September 2006||Tajikistan||Dushanbe|
|2 November 2007||Uzbekistan||Tashkent|
|30 October 2008||Kazakhstan||Astana|
|14 October 2009||China||Beijing|
|25 November 2010||Tajikistan||Dushanbe|
|7 November 2011||Russia||Saint Petersburg|
|5 December 2012||Kyrgyzstan||Bishkek|
|29 November 2013||Uzbekistan||Tashkent|
|14–15 December 2014||Kazakhstan||Astana|
|14–15 December 2015||China||Zhengzhou|
|2–3 November 2016||Kyrgyzstan||Bishkek|
|30 November 2017||Russia||Sochi|
|11–12 October 2018||Tajikistan||Dushanbe|
|1–2 November 2019||Uzbekistan||Tashkent|
|30 November 2020||India||videoconference|
|25 November 2021||Kazakhstan||videoconference|
Relations with the West
The United States applied for observer status in the SCO, but was rejected in 2005.
At the Astana summit in July 2005, with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq foreshadowing an indefinite presence of U.S. forces in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, the SCO requested the U.S. to set a clear timetable for withdrawing its troops from SCO member states. Shortly afterwards, Uzbekistan requested the U.S. to leave the K2 air base.
The SCO has made no direct comments against the U.S. or its military presence in the region; however, some indirect statements at the past summits have been viewed by Western media outlets as "thinly veiled swipes at Washington".
A European Parliament researcher expressed her view that "institutional weaknesses, a lack of common financial funds for the implementation of joint projects and conflicting national interests have prevented the SCO from achieving a higher level of regional cooperation".
There have been many discussions and commentaries about the geopolitical nature of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. Matthew Brummer, in the Journal of International Affairs, tracks the implications of SCO expansion into the Persian Gulf. Also, according to political scientist Thomas Ambrosio, one aim of SCO was to ensure that liberal democracy could not gain ground in these countries.
Iranian writer Hamid Golpira had this to say on the topic: "According to Zbigniew Brzezinski's theory, control of the Eurasian landmass is the key to global domination and control of Central Asia is the key to control of the Eurasian landmass....Russia and China have been paying attention to Brzezinski's theory, since they formed the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation in 2001, ostensibly to curb extremism in the region and enhance border security, but most probably with the real objective of counterbalancing the activities of the United States and the rest of the NATO alliance in Central Asia".
At a 2005 summit in Kazakhstan the SCO issued a Declaration of Heads of Member States of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation which addressed their "concerns" and contained an elaboration of the organisation's principles. It included: "The heads of the member states point out that, against the backdrop of a contradictory process of globalisation, multilateral cooperation, which is based on the principles of equal right and mutual respect, non-intervention in internal affairs of sovereign states, non-confrontational way of thinking and consecutive movement towards democratisation of international relations, contributes to overall peace and security, and call upon the international community, irrespective of its differences in ideology and social structure, to form a new concept of security based on mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality and interaction."
In November 2005 Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reiterated that the "Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) is working to establish a rational and just world order" and that "The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation provides us with a unique opportunity to take part in the process of forming a fundamentally new model of geopolitical integration".
The People's Daily expressed the matter in these terms: "The Declaration points out that the SCO member countries have the ability and responsibility to safeguard the security of the Central Asian region, and calls on Western countries to leave Central Asia. That is the most noticeable signal given by the Summit to the world".
A 2010 analysis in American Legion Magazine said that "Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao... has concluded that the United States is manoeuvring 'to preserve its status as the world's sole superpower and will not allow any country the chance to pose a challenge to it.'"
Human rights issues
In the December 2015 United Nations General Assembly vote, all six members of the SCO voted against the overall human rights situation in Iran, expressing concern not only about religious persecution but also the government’s frequent use of the death penalty, failure to uphold legal due process, restrictions on freedom of expression, and ongoing discrimination against women and ethnic minorities.
In July 2019, five of the eight SCO members were among the 50 countries that backed China's policies in Xinjiang, signing a joint letter to the UNHRC commending China's "remarkable achievements in the field of human rights", claiming "Now safety and security has returned to Xinjiang and the fundamental human rights of people of all ethnic groups there are safeguarded. By June 2020, four of the eight SCO members were among the 53 countries that backed the Hong Kong national security law at the United Nations.
Current leaders of SCO member states, as of 2021
- Asia Cooperation Dialogue
- Asia–Europe Meeting
- Belt and Road Initiative
- Collective Security Treaty Organization
- Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia
- Eurasian Economic Union
- Sino-Russian relations since 1991
- South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation
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- A country officially becomes a SCO dialogue partner after its minister of foreign affairs and SCO Secretary-General sign a memorandum granting the status.
- These countries have not yet signed memorandums granting them the status of SCO dialogue partner, so they are not de jure dialogue partners yet. Historically, such memorandum has been signed within a year from an announcement that a country is approved as SCO dialogue partner.
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