Summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Astana (June 8-9, 2017): analysis of the European media and the future of the organization

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Summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Astana (June 8-9, 2017): analysis of the European media and the future of the organization 22.09.2017 11:45

June 8-9, 2017 in Astana, the next summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) was held. As a result, the final accession of the two nuclear powers - the Republic of India and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan - to the organization as full members was completed. This was one of the main topics of the meeting of the SCO Heads of State. In addition, the leaders signed the Convention on Countering Extremism, issued a statement on combating terrorism and adopted the Astana Declaration/

As the main provisions of the Astana Declaration, it is possible to single out: an active policy aimed at strengthening its own economic potential; multilateral cooperation in the field of transport; creation of favorable conditions for free movement of goods, capitals, services and technologies (free trade area within the SCO framework).

Of course, all this was laid down in the SCO Charter, but to this day it has not been developed due to the long period of the Organization's formation and the unfavorable situation for its economic development, including due to the persistence of the Afghan problem and the presence in Central Asia of interstate contradictions. Despite this, the president of Kyrgyzstan, A. Atambaev, at the meeting of the Heads of States, a proposal was made to establish the SCO Bank with its head office in Bishkek.

The Heads of State also noted the importance of continuing consultations at the expert level to discuss the establishment of the SCO Development Bank and the SCO Development Fund (Special Account) for financial support of joint projects within the SCO.

The Astana Declaration addressed crises in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (IRA) and the Syrian Arab Republic (SAR). At the same time, the SCO member states advocated the establishment of peace and stability in the IRA and the activation of the work of the SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group. Regarding the settlement of the crisis in the IRA, it was suggested to continue the inter-Syrian dialogue on the basis of the provisions of the relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council (UNSC). After all, it is the Syrians who must determine the future of their country.

Although the Kremlin denies the idea of turning the SCO into a military alliance as a counterweight to NATO (in July 2015, Dmitry Mezentsev said that the SCO is not going to become a military-political alliance), developments on the international scene show the opposite. And the reason for this is the need to counteract the expansion of NATO towards its borders.

If one looks at this situation in retrospect, it turns out that after the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, the United States included countries of Eastern and South-Eastern Europe in its zone of influence. So, now most of the countries of the Balkan Peninsula are part of NATO. At the same time, Russia is trying to isolate Russia, opposing its defense potential, the military power of the 29 member countries of this alliance. Only within the framework of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) is this difficult to do because of the incompatibility of military capabilities.

The SCO is fundamentally different from the CSTO, and in the future it could restrain NATO. So, following the results of the SCO summit in Astana, this organization includes four nuclear powers: Russia, China, India and Pakistan. In the SCO countries, almost half of the world's population lives, and the total GDP is about a quarter of the world level. The SCO will receive additional development in case of the entry of the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) as a full member of the organization (currently Iran plays the role of an observer in this organization). For Russia, Iran's accession to the SCO plays an important role, since the IRI is an important strategic partner of the Russian Federation in the Middle East and the Caspian region.

On the eve of the summit in Astana, Russian presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov said: "In Moscow, traditionally, one is distrustful and concerned about the process of NATO expansion towards our borders. We believe that this threatens our security and the balance of power in the Eurasian region. Of course, the Russian side takes all necessary measures to rebalance the situation and protect its own interests and own security. "In the light of the subsequent expansion of the SCO membership in the face of India and Pakistan, this phrase is not light in relation to NATO. This is rather a prelude to Russia's future actions in the sphere of counteracting the expansion of NATO to the East.

However, it is too early to talk about this. So, in September 2016, joint exercises of the SCO member countries "Peace Mission 2016" were held. A full member of the SCO - Uzbekistan refused to participate in them, referring to the military neutrality of the course of ex-leader I. Karimov, continued by President S. Mirziyoyev. And this is despite the fact that Tashkent is the headquarters of the Regional Antiterrorist Structure (RATS) of the SCO.

Of course, NATO's desire for domination cannot but worry the SCO member countries. As a consequence, in the future, it is possible to unite the military-nuclear potentials of Moscow, Beijing, Delhi and Islamabad in order to counteract the attempts of the United States and NATO as a whole to conduct "humanitarian intervention" in different parts of the world.

At the same time, the new full-fledged members of the SCO have potential as potentialities (in particular, their aggregate GDP is 24% of the world), and significant challenges for the future development of the Organization. And this despite the fact that New Delhi and Islamabad, having joined the SCO, committed themselves that their interstate relations remain outside the scope of the SCO.

Political situation in India and Pakistan

Currently, the two South Asian powers are undergoing a process of transformation in the political and public life. This is complicated by the fact that in recent months the unresolved Indo-Pakistani conflict in Kashmir has significantly worsened, and the situation on the Doklama plateau (the territory of the Kingdom of Bhutan) has been strained on the Indian, Chinese and Bhutan borders. This plateau is strategically important for both China and India. All this correlates with the political crisis in Pakistan and the political transformation in India. Let one consider this in more detail.

First, the conflict in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir flared up again after the security forces of the state eliminated one of the leaders of the Hizb-ul-Mujahidin group, B. Vani, on July 8, 2017. This group is set up for secession in relation to Pakistan and is recognized in India as a terrorist one. In Delhi we are convinced that Islamabad is in aggravation of the situation in Kashmir, which is trying to destabilize the situation in the neighboring country, in fact being a "sponsor of terrorism". On the other hand, Pakistan expressly declares that it will continue to support its supporters, who in India are considered separatists. According to some reports, Hizb-ul-Mujahidin (formerly the grouping called Al-Badr) emerged in 1989 as the military wing of Jammat-i Islami. It was created with the participation of Inter-service Intelligence of Pakistan (ISI) as a religious (Islamic) counterweight to the influence of the secular terrorist organization "Liberation Front of Jammu and Kashmir".



It should be noted that this terrorist group has established contacts with groups of Afghan mujahideen. In particular, it is now conducting its operations jointly with the Lashkar-i-taiba and Kharakat ul-Ansar factions, also created by ISI. The spiritual leader of the group is Said Salahuddin (Mohammad Yusuf Shah). During Indian Prime Minister N. Modi's visit to Washington in June 2017, the US State Department announced the imposition of sanctions against S. Salahudin, as well as the blocking of his accounts and property in the United States.

Against this background, N. Modi considers the Indo-American relations quite natural and allied. He emphasizes that an important role in the development of these relations is played by the Indian diaspora in the United States. And it becomes obvious that the Indo-American relations are characterized by a system of concessions to the two democracies.

Secondly, in early June 2017 a conflict arose between India and Bhutan, on the one hand, and China on the other. The reason for this was the introduction on the plateau of the Reports of Chinese military engineers who started building a road from Tibet to Bhutan. To this, the authorities of the Kingdom of Bhutan have stated an oral protest, which was of a rather mild nature. And this is not accidental, since the kingdom does not want to make an unambiguous geopolitical choice between India and China in case of their further confrontation. At the same time, Thimphu is politically and economically almost completely dependent on.

In India, Chinese engineers are not aware of the penetration of the Doklama plateau, as China may be able to block the Siliguri corridor ("Chicken Throat"), just 20 km wide, between Nepal and Bangladesh. It is this corridor that connects the seven northeastern Indian states with the rest of the country. To date, the Indians have pushed out of the plateau Chinese workers and guarding them soldiers of the People's Liberation Army of China (PLA), which is argued by India with allied relations with the Kingdom of Bhutan.

In fact, this is due to fears of India as a regional power by the hegemonic aspirations of its northern neighbor, which claims unambiguous economic, political and military domination in the region. As a consequence, Delhi is wary of Beijing's economic and political strengthening in neighboring countries (Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Maldives). All this creates a conflict potential and impedes interaction between the largest Asian powers.

Thirdly, Pakistan's accession to the SCO coincided with the political crisis in the Islamic Republic. So, on July 28, 2017, the Supreme Court of Pakistan disqualified Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif. According to the country's constitution, the resignation of the prime minister means the immediate dissolution of the country's government. The basis for this was the anti-corruption process initiated in 2015 by the pro-American party Justice for Pakistan, represented by its leader Imran Khan.

At present, he stands in opposition to former Prime Minister N. Sharif. Being an ethnic Pashtun, I. Khan has considerable support among the population of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, but this is not observed in the largest province of Punjab. According to experts, it does not have a significant impact on either parliament or political decision-making in Islamabad. On the other hand, other elite clans are oppositional to N.Sharif, as well as the leadership of the Pakistani intelligence and the army.

In 2016, in response to a request from the Supreme Court of Pakistan, the Panamanian law firm Mossak Fonseca confirmed the off-shore transactions of the N. Sharif family. In the Pakistani media, this was called Panamogate. This case contained information about the possession of children of the Prime Minister of Pakistan by several offshore firms engaged in buying up elite real estate in London for a total of $13.8 million. According to some reports, the "Panamanian case" against N. Sharif was financed by George Soros and the US Agency on international development.

The Movement for Justice of Pakistan Party together with the Islamist party Jammat-i Islami sent another request to the Supreme Court to investigate the foreign assets of Prime Minister N. Sharif. In April 2017, a Joint Investigation Team was formed, which included, among others, representatives of the ISI and the Military Intelligence of Pakistan. She prepared a final report, on the basis of which N. Sharif was removed from power. Consequently, the political crisis in the republic means the process of "survival from the political scene of the Sharifs clan". There were several reasons for this:

a) on the domestic political scene N. Sharif tried to expand the social base of support for the ruling party of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nazari Sharif), including by flirting with Islamists (Jammat and Islami), but did not fulfill the earlier taken on obligations;

b) the Sharif family is bound by friendship with the Qatari dynasty; That is why at that time Prime Minister N. Sharif refused to support the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in confrontation with Qatar. But he preferred to take a neutral position, than the Arabian monarchies of the Persian Gulf were very upset and deprived of their financial support.

According to experts, in 2017, the Qatari crisis arose because of the confrontation over regional leadership between the Saudis and the Iranians against the backdrop of Riyadh's failures in Syria and Yemen. In 2016, Pakistan, represented by Prime Minister Nazari Sharif and Chief of Staff of the Ground Forces General Rahil Sharif, acted as an intermediary between Saudi Arabia and Iran. However, in practice this led to nothing, which forced them to state: "The current impasse in the Persian Gulf will soon be resolved in the interests of the Muslim Ummah". It should be noted that Sharif is now part of the command of the Islamic Military Alliance established by Riyadh to combat terrorism

In May 2017, at the Moslem summit in KSA, the Emir of Qatar criticized the negative rhetoric about Iran there. This was the reason for the emergence of the Qatari crisis as a punishment for the Doha for supporting Tehran in implementing its regional policy.

c) in 2017 the financial support of the ruling party of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nazari Sharif) from the ruling clans of the Arabian monarchies of the Persian Gulf has significantly decreased; This has already punished Pakistan for holding an independent foreign policy. So, in 2015 Islamabad did not send its troops to carry out military operations on the side of the KSA against the hussites in Yemen, for which he was excluded from several financial programs of the Arabian monarchies of the Persian Gulf. In turn, the UAE concluded a major military contract with India for the supply of weapons.

Of course, political relations in the east have their own specifics and a certain dependence. In particular, in the army of KSA on a contract basis are Pakistanis, a significant number of labor migrants from Pakistan are located in the KSA and in the UAE. And Qatar, on the contrary, began the process of sending Pakistani migrants from the country. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Pakistan, in 2016 125,000 Pakistani workers worked in various sectors of the economy of the emirate.

d) increasing pressure on the ruling elite of Pakistan by the United States and the Arabian monarchies of the Persian Gulf was the response for the convergence of Islamabad with Moscow and Beijing and joining the SCO.

In early August 2017, a new government of Pakistan was formed, headed by Sh. Abbasi, former minister of oil. He was elected parliament, where the majority of members belong to the Pakistan Muslim League (Nazari Sharif). Moreover, most ministers either retained their posts in the new government, or are followers of N. Sharif. The next parliamentary elections will be held in May 2018 and their main intrigue will be the candidature of the winner.

After the removal from power, Sharif named the receiver of his younger brother Sh. Sharif, who is the chief minister in the largest Pakistani province of Punjab. Prior to the elections to the National Assembly (lower house of parliament), which will be held on September 17, 2017, he must withdraw from the provincial assembly of Punjab.

According to some sources, Sh. Sharif has good chances to be elected as the new prime minister of the country due to the preservation of the leading positions in the parliament of the ruling party of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nazari Sharif) and economic growth of the state (at least 5% of GDP per year). Recently, the economic growth of the country was facilitated by the development of strategic political and economic relations with China. In particular, the global project "Sino-Pakistani Economic Corridor" was launched, under which investments amount to $62 billion. It is expected that this project will be completed by 2021.

The public of Pakistan positively assesses the anti-corruption process against N.Sharif, believing that the right step has been taken in this direction. So, the former president and political adversary of Nazari Sharif from the military Pervez Musharraf said in an interview: "Only dictators brought order and prosperity to the country, while civil governments led it to ruins."

In September 2017, the continuation of the political crisis put Pakistan in a state of uncertainty until the next parliamentary elections. This will serve as a significant obstacle to the cooperation of Islamabad with other countries, both within the framework of bilateral relations, and in cooperation within the SCO. For example, if Shahbaz Sharif or someone else from the Sharif family comes to power in Pakistan, a new political figure with diametrically opposed views on foreign policy and building relationships with key partners.

Fourthly, India, as a member state of the SCO and the leading Asian power, faces an internal transformation in the political and ideological spheres. This became possible due to the coming to power in May 2014 of the leader of the party Bharatiya Janata (BDP) Narendra Modi. His philosophy, the credo of the BDP and government party, is the following thesis: "Together with everyone, for the sake of progress for all" (Sabka Sath, Sabka Vikas), that is, the desire to go all together on the path of ensuring a comprehensive growth of the country. Therefore, it is extremely important for the current government to achieve high economic results and build new India.

At the same time, it should be noted that in India the new government appeared in the conditions of a weak central government and its inability to manage a huge state. As a consequence, the country was in stagnation of economic life, as well as total corruption at all levels of government.

In 2017, the series of victories of the BDP party continued in local elections. Now there is a process of approval of the new government and formation of the national elite. In the political and public perspective of Indian life, a nationalist coloring has emerged, a return to indigenous Indian and Hindu values. All this in the future will create significant problems in relation to national minorities, taking into account the ethnic diversity of the population of India and the further aggravation of the situation in the Muslim state of Jammu and Kashmir.

The reaction of the German public to the SCO summit in Astana

To say something about the reaction of the German media to the SCO summit in Astana is quite difficult. For unknown reasons, such major German publications as Der Spiegel, Die Welt, Die Zeit, Deutsche Welle and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung did not cover these important events. Perhaps this is due to the fact that this topic is not interesting for coverage in Germany, which looks absurd in connection with the state of affairs in the international arena and the significance of the past summit.

Of all the reviewers, only ARD (the German public television and radio company) highlighted the events of the SCO summit in Astana. But it is impossible to single out any reaction from the published article due to the fact that the article is stylistically neutral. The author of the article only outlined the main points of discussion within the framework of this summit: former enemies - India and Pakistan are now new members of the SCO; the state of affairs in Afghanistan is an important topic of conversation; Russian President Vladimir Putin said the need to continue working in the contact group "SCO - Afghanistan".

More interesting is the review of the Center for Eastern European and International Studies (ZOiS). The article "Expectations and Reality" by the author of the Oxford University professor Neil MacFarlane, an expert on Russia's foreign policy and regional policy in the Caucasus and Central Asia, is a look at the state of affairs in the Central Asian region in connection with the expansion of the SCO and increasing its importance on the international arena.

In the opinion of the author, the SCO, as an organization, is no different from other associations in the post-Soviet space. She has many ambitions and a wide range of competencies, but practical successes, however, are modest. This is due, firstly, to the fact that the goals and tasks of the SCO intersect with other regional organizations, such as the CIS, the CSTO and the EEA. The more organizations arise at the same time, the less influence each of them has, Neil MacFarlane says.

Secondly, the readiness of the members of the Organization for multilateral cooperation is low. Small states tend to maximize their freedom of action, and Russia and China prefer bilateral diplomacy to international forums, since the latter may limit their opportunities.

Thirdly, many states in the region are weak and their authority depends on whether they can fulfill their obligations. Therefore, they are not reliable partners for long-term cooperation.

We believe that Neil Macfarlane is mistaken about the fact that the SCO members' readiness for multilateral cooperation is low. This is incorrect, since multilateral cooperation already exists within the framework of the SCO. Admission of new members in the face of India and Pakistan, which have long been in a complex relationship, indicates a new stage in the development of their relations and their desire for multilateral cooperation.

As a result, the leader of the People's Republic of China, Xi Jinping, first congratulated India on joining the Organization as a full member, which will open new prospects for cooperation in some perspective and provide a higher level of political trust between the countries within the SCO. But in bilateral Indian-Chinese relations, where, as indicated earlier, tension is now being traced, balancing in recent months on the verge of open military confrontation. The clash of national interests does not go to the stability of the SCO in the present, but creates a space for dialogue in the foreseeable future.

In addition, Russia does not prefer bilateral diplomacy to international forums. The official source of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation shows the official position of the state: "Another tradition that follows from the peculiarities of Russia's geopolitical position is the nature of its foreign policy. <...> the key to strengthening the positions is active participation in international organizations, in regional integration structures, dynamic development of bilateral relations. "

This was confirmed during international events such as the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, the G20 summit in Hamburg and the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok. Consequently, Russia is interested in international cooperation.

Returning to the article by Neil MacFarlane, it is worth noting the general attitude of Western experts to the SCO. In Europe, this organization is not given much importance. According to experts, the SCO is likely to continue its existence, but it will not be able to radically influence the situation in the region, because where coordination on major issues contradicts the national interests of the member states, it is unlikely that the organization will have a decisive influence on beneficial solutions to common problems.

Summing up on this article, it should be noted once again that the West does not view the SCO as something that can be countered by NATO or other major Western organizations. According to German experts, the SCO was created only to make it easier for Russia to contain China's growing strength and influence in Central Asia. Indeed, with the strengthening of China, the author argues, the most important trade and investment activity in Central Asia has shifted from the North-South axis to the East-West axis, and the main actor is not Russia but China.

Results and conclusions

In conclusion, we would like to make a small comparison of views on the SCO from Western and domestic analysts and the media.

At the moment, the German media do not react in any way to the activities of the SCO. If in 2014 - 2015 this topic somehow interested them, which was reflected in a number of news publications on the websites of major media, now none of the major news companies covered the activities of the SCO summit in Astana at all.

In Russian and Kazakh media, in turn, you can find a large number of news articles on this topic. In our view, this reflects the general attitude to the initiatives of the SCO. At the same time, Russia has high expectations for the SCO, both on the opportunity to strengthen the country's position in the international arena, and specifically in the region. Partnership with China, one of the largest economies in the world, can contribute to the development of the economy in Russia.

The Western analysts look at the SCO quite differently. They do not impose such hopes on the Organization as Russia and the SCO member states. We can say that they are skeptical of the Organization, do not believe that the SCO initiatives can lead to something, do not see in it a serious threat to the Western bloc. According to Western analysts, the SCO cannot fundamentally influence the situation in the region due to the fact that the national interests of the member countries overlap, resulting in problems with the development of solutions to common problems.

But unlike analysts and the media, Western politicians are positive about the activities of the SCO. For example, António Guteris, the UN Secretary General, who attended the summit, noted that "the SCO plays an important role in the Euro-Asian region in order to successfully confront international terrorism, extremism and drug trafficking. The UN will remain your powerful and strong partner in these processes. "It can be concluded that some Western politicians understand the importance and profitability of cooperation with such major players in the international arena as Russia, China, India and Pakistan, and are ready to move closer to them.

Another question is how effectively the SCO will cooperate on a multilateral basis. At present, the Organization faces the problem of forming a new "core" with the accession of India and Pakistan as full members of the organization. In particular, Pakistan is an unstable state. On the other hand, the stability of the SCO is not supplemented by conflicting Indo-Chinese and Indo-Pakistani relations. At the same time, Beijing seeks to act as a peacemaker in the settlement of the Indo-Pakistani conflict. But there are at least two problems:

1) China has no experience of peacekeeping missions except for the opening in July 2017 of a military base in Djibouti;

2) Delhi, as a party to the conflict, does not recognize Beijing's peaceful aspirations, considering it a party to the conflict, as can be confirmed by the crisis on the Bhutan plateau of the Doklam. If the contradictions between the key partners continue, the SCO as an international organization can reduce its effectiveness.

Another challenge for the Organization is the formation of "Greater Eurasia" - the initiative to unite the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). We believe that each of these associations has undoubted economic potential, but the problem is how to implement it and link it to the three international regional organizations. Apparently, this will be a very long process.

At the present time, work is under way to link the activities of the EEMP and the implementation of the Chinese initiative "Economic belt of the Silk Road" (ESP) (a special case of the global initiative of President Xi Jinping's "One belt, one way") from whose success, as well as general political and economic the further integration of the countries of the large Eurasian space will depend on it.

Despite the existence of a challenge and threats against the SCO, we are convinced of the following. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization in many ways represents the organization of the future, where the decisions are really achieved by consensus in order to achieve common peace and harmony. The final design of the Organization is not yet complete and before the "core" of the organization in the future there will be a question about the final limits of its expansion.

It is possible that due to the formulation of the final framework of full members of the SCO member states, this organization will have more clear and concrete results. This will contribute to the formation of the SCO as a real counterbalance to the political and economic unification of Europe and the West as a whole. They will undoubtedly pay attention to the changing world order in the eastern part of the globe and draw the appropriate conclusions.


Zalewski Ilya is a student of the Faculty of "Foreign Regional Studies" of the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration


Kharitonova Darya is a research fellow of the Department of Eurasian Integration and Development of the SCO of the Institute of CIS Countries