From 28 to 29 July, Pakistani Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari attended the Meeting of the Council of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Foreign Ministers in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. This is the fifth attendance of the Pakistani Foreign Minister under this mechanism.
The SCO, originally the Shanghai Five, is in its third decade. It is now the largest regional cooperation organization in terms of geographical coverage and population — three-fifths of the Eurasian continent and two-fifth of the world’s population.
In the past twenty years, it has blazed a cooperation path that suits the region’s reality, became a stabilizer of the Eurasian continent, and accumulated precious experience for establishing a fair and equitable regional and international order. It has traversed a fruitful journey, one of solidarity and cooperation, toward greater stability and prosperity.
It has created and practiced the Shanghai Spirit. As the undergirding values of the SCO and a key driver for its continued progress, the Shanghai Spirit advocates mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality, consultation, respect for diversity of civilizations and pursuit of common development. This sends a strong message of rejecting Cold-War mentality, zero-sum game or “clash of civilizations”, and of upholding a new model of partnership and dialogue, rather than alliance or confrontation. It also presents a new approach to handling state-to-state relations and meeting challenges of the times.
It has prioritized security cooperation on non-traditional security challenges. SCO members have continued to strengthen the pillars and architecture of regional security cooperation. In 2020 alone, competent authorities of SCO member states destroyed more than 50 terrorist groups and prevented more than 40 terrorist attacks, effectively cracking down on the “three forces”, i.e. terrorism, separatism and extremism, as well as drug trafficking and other transnational organized crimes.
SCO cooperation has also expanded to areas such as cybersecurity, information and infectious diseases, which all testify to its commitment to the vision of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security.
It has continued to uphold openness and inclusiveness. Keeping its door open, the SCO began to enlarge its membership in 2004 when Mongolia was admitted as its first observer state. Pakistan joined the SCO family as a full member in 2017. The organization, from the “Shanghai Five” to a big family of 21 with eight member states, four observers and nine dialogue partners, will gain even greater dynamism with Iran’s membership in the pipeline.
Apart from strengthening cooperation with regional countries, it has maintained close contact and cooperation with the United Nations, ASEAN, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA), among other international and regional organizations.
It has championed integrated economic development across the region. An array of economic cooperation frameworks have been implemented under the SCO, covering such areas as finance, transportation, science and technology, energy, agriculture, e-commerce, etc. According to the Report on Trade Development over 20 Years Since the Establishment of SCO released in February 2022, the total trade volume of SCO member states increased from $667.09 billion in 2001 to $6.06 trillion in 2020; and the share in global trade rose from 5.4% in 2001 to 17.5% in 2020.
More documents for economic cooperation are expected to be adopted in the forthcoming meeting of the SCO Council of Heads of State in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, in September.
In the past two decades, improving global governance has always been a main focus of the SCO. Today, the international order is undergoing profound and complex changes. The SCO confronts not only traditional threats, but also emerging challenges. How to build on its success and adapt to this changing world? Apart from its founding mission of combating the “three forces” and addressing non-traditional security issues, the SCO now has a much bigger playground. It is an indispensable part of international cooperation against COVID-19; it works for Afghanistan to adopt moderate and prudent domestic and foreign policies and to take a path of peace, stability and development; it provides strong safeguards to the smooth, unimpeded operation of regional industrial and supply chains; and it is a strong force for true multilateralism and the principle of extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits, and against hegemony and bullying practices.
Pakistan has played an irreplaceable role in SCO activities since its accession in 2017, whether on security matters or for economic collaboration. The anti-terror exercise held at Pabbi last year is a good case in point. Besides, with Pakistan’s favorable geographical location and resources, development initiatives such as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor are becoming a centerpiece of regional economic cooperation. Pakistan is capable of providing other regional countries in its neighborhood, especially central Asian countries and the west of China, with vital gateways to low-cost maritime transportation, and may even be a game-changer in global trade.
The growing SCO family is in the prime of development. With the joint efforts of Pakistan, China and other regional countries, the SCO will continue to be a builder of world peace, contributor to global development and defender of the international order, and make greater contributions to stability and development of the region, and the world at large.
(The author is a Beijing-based observer of international affairs.)
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