From the left, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, and Pakistani Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif pose for a group photo before the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit on September 16 in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. Photo: Kremlin/dpa
Adriel Kasonta
Adriel Kasonta

How SCO’s growing credibility reflects the emerging multipolar world order

  • The SCO’s expansion and cooperation efforts are cementing its standing as a credible multilateral platform focused on maintaining security, stability and development in Eurasia
  • The Samarkand summit should also be seen as a step towards a more inclusive and diverse global governance model

Recently, the eyes of the world turned to the ancient city of Samarkand, located in a large oasis in Uzbekistan’s Zerrafshan River valley. This was the venue for the first Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in three years to be held entirely offline, bringing together the leaders of 14 major Eurasian countries.

Established in 2001 by China, Russia, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, the SCO has grown to become the world’s largest regional organisation, spanning 60 per cent of Eurasia, home to more than 3 billion people and accounting for a quarter of the global economy – with realistic potential to reach 35 per cent or more, given the interest it is attracting.

The organisation’s decision last year to launch the procedure to admit Iran was arguably the most critical development in its expansion. This year, Iran was welcomed as a permanent member after it signed a memorandum of obligations. Although the ratification of documents is expected to take until next year, Iran was admitted into members-only meetings at the summit.
After Iran’s success, Belarus has applied for full SCO membership and Nato member Türkiye is reportedly considering doing the same.

On top of that, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt have been granted SCO dialogue partner status, and the procedure has been launched for the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, the Maldives and Myanmar to become dialogue partners. The SCO also signed memorandums of understanding with Unesco, the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, and the League of Arab States.

Did the SCO summit signal a Pax Sinica emerging in Central Asia?

The SCO’s expansion and its attempts to seek cooperation with other international bodies are strengthening its potential. It is also cementing its standing as a credible multilateral platform focused on maintaining security, stability and development in Eurasia, as well as contributing to the development of a global governance model that is more inclusive and diverse.

The Samarkand Declaration adopted on September 16 shows that significant steps have been taken in this direction.

Last year, SCO members thwarted 40 terror attacks, more than 480 terrorism-related crimes and 26 international terror group funding channels, according to the director of the SCO regional anti-terrorist structure executive committee, Ruslan Mirzayev. Hence, the declaration’s vehement condemnation of terrorist acts – and the affirmation to act against terrorism, separatism and extremism.

But the declaration was also clear that interference in the internal affairs of states under the pretext of countering terrorism and extremism was not acceptable, and neither was using terrorist, extremist and radical groups for selfish ends. The point of opposing external interference was also made by SCO secretary general Zhang Ming.


Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin speak in person for first time since Russia invaded Ukraine

Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin speak in person for first time since Russia invaded Ukraine
Importantly, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced that China would train 2,000 law enforcement personnel within the SCO framework over the next five years, and set up a training centre to combat terrorism and prevent the spread of “ colour revolutions” by foreign powers – a subtle nod at the United States, which Russian officials have accused of using these tools to gain geopolitical leverage over other countries.
Other SCO issues of regional security importance include addressing the humanitarian problems in Afghanistan that have mounted since the hasty, if strategically welcome, US withdrawal last year, after 20 years in the country. They also relate to the need for all parties to implement the Iran nuclear deal – a near-Sisyphean task after the US pulled out in 2018 with Donald Trump deeming the accord “unacceptable”.
As a natural consequence of addressing the issue of the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (and in keeping with the spirit of the New START Treaty between Washington and Moscow), the SCO has declared its support for global nuclear disarmament and the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.


‘A nuclear war cannot be won': UN talks non-proliferation as North Korean test looms

‘A nuclear war cannot be won': UN talks non-proliferation as North Korean test looms

However, it condemned the unilateral and unlimited build-up of global missile defence systems by individual countries or groups of states that may imperil international security and stability – something that may again be perceived as a veiled snub at the US and its allies in Europe and Asia.

The need to keep space (increasingly seen as a new domain in the great power arms race) free of weapons was also highlighted.
Considering the unprecedented weaponisation of global finance against Russia following its military intervention in Ukraine, SCO countries also called for an expansion in the use of their national currencies in mutual transactions.
The freezing of the Kremlin’s foreign currency reserves created a strong incentive for other countries to avoid the same fate by bypassing the US dollar, which could threaten its dominance in the long run. The SCO raised the idea of setting up its own development bank and development fund.
Interestingly, the SCO declaration also expressed an urgent need to reform the World Trade Organization to make it more inclusive and efficient, and to reflect the new economic reality. This move can be seen as a continuation of the work started by, among others, Russia and China during the Doha Round of negotiations in 2008.

Indeed, the rapid changes taking place in the global economy and politics seem irreversible. In that sense, the summit in Samarkand should be seen not just as opening a new page in the success story of Eurasia but, most notably, as a stepping stone in the quest to cement the foundations of the emerging multipolar world order.

Adriel Kasonta is a London-based political risk consultant and lawyer, and a graduate of London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)