China’s Central Asia diplomacy can bring stability and growth

The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation is the only international grouping with the power to influence events in Central Asia, and it has the potential to boost regional peace and development

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 December, 2015, 1:11am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 December, 2015, 1:27am

China’s push to set up the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation more than 14 years ago prompted a lot of scepticism about what the body would do apart from providing another forum for discussing regional security. For a long time it did seem the group accomplished little other than meeting once or twice a year and talking. But recent geopolitical events have greatly raised the SCO’s global economic and security profile and made Beijing’s diplomacy at the time look quite prescient.

The Central Asian republics which, with China and Russia, formed the organisation, now have a key role to play in China’s One Belt, One Road trade route strategy. And they are central to Beijing’s concerns over buttressing regional security, particularly against the new threat posed by the Islamic State militant group.

Wrapping up the SCO summit in Zhengzhou (鄭州), Henan (河南), Premier Li Keqiang (李克強) called for the signing of a regional anti-extremism treaty, reflecting China’s concern about extremism and terrorism involving religion and separatism in the restive northwestern Xinjiang region. When the organisation was set up radical Islam was not seen as a serious security threat. Now it seems no country is beyond the reach of its online recruiting arm. As a result some members of the bloc whose citizens have left to fight for IS are facing the return home of battle-hardened militants who pose a threat to national security.

Key to regional security is greater economic integration and development. To this end China vowed to deepen cooperation with Russia and Central Asian nations Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. One Belt, One Road will help deliver this promise, because Beijing wants to build infrastructure for the trade route, particularly in former Soviet republics that are weak in this area, and to export the mainland’s excess capacity.

The SCO is the only international grouping with the power to influence events in Central Asia. With observer nations India and Pakistan joining as full members, it has the potential to boost regional peace and development.