Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit 2022: New Context, New Directions

Chinese leader Xi Jinping (left), Russian President Vladimir Putin and other leaders at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Leaders’ Summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. PHOTO: AFP

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Chinese leader Xi Jinping (left), Russian President Vladimir Putin and other leaders at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Leaders’ Summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. PHOTO: AFP

The 22nd annual Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Heads of State Summit was held in Samarkand, Uzbekistan on September 15-16, 2022. What we have seen is that the summit s is held at a very important time since its inception, especially as the world is currently experiencing a new reality. This happened at a time when Russia, China and their allies are at odds with the West. In fact, the West has visibly faced a resurgent China and Russia over the past decade.

Russia is currently engaged in a war against Ukraine, but the underlying fact is that the war is between Russia and the West. The relationship between Russia and the West is not only marked by war but also by economic and cultural dimensions. Of course, war is fought according to strategic calculations. Russia has always been seen as a threat by the West and now the war has added a new dimension to the situation.

On the other hand, the Taiwanese crisis has worsened further, and very recently, US President Joe Biden expressed his willingness to support Taiwan in all circumstances. If the Taiwanese crisis is somewhat defused, it continues in different forms. The war in Ukraine and the crisis in Taiwan have already had different strategic and economic implications for the world.

China is the one that launched the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Since the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is not a formal regional or global organization, the SCO has been privileged to retain its institutional format and become an effective multilateral forum for China. However, as noted above, the 2022 SCO Summit becomes very significant given the context. The presence of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi carried a strong message from the platform as his attendance was uncertain ahead of the visit as China and India have recently fallen out over border issues and remain largely hostile in the political domain. The war in Ukraine has somehow put the two neighboring rival states on a common platform, but the general atmosphere between the two is antagonistic in nature and marked by differences and disagreements with the divergence of threats and perceptions of security and peace.

The SCO emerged as a major platform where, for the first time in the era of Covid-19, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited for a bigger rally. From this point of view, it was an opportunity for the Chinese president to meet the Indian and Russian leaders in person. The platform also provides a triangular discussion format to communicate where current global issues have been discussed. One of the main issues that figured prominently was the war in Ukraine. India’s prime minister has called for an end to the war in Ukraine, and Russian leaders have responded that they also want it to end.

India’s position reflects different realities. The war in Ukraine cannot be justified on the basis of the UN Charter or international law and standards. Therefore, India, or for that matter any country, has the moral basis to demand an end to the war. However, Russian President Vladimir Putin took it very diplomatically. He responded by saying that Russia also wanted to end the war. Russia could not deny the Indian leader’s worries about the war. It was a diplomatic victory for India for two reasons. The first is that it has confirmed India’s recent non-aligned stance of keeping its distance from its powerful Western allies. The other is that it must have pleased the western world since India raised the issue of stopping the war. They might feel some kind of satisfaction because Russia was under some pressure.

The SCO conference is of great importance for another issue, that is, outside of Europe or the West, it was the platform except the Brics that offered the opportunity for three dominant global players – China, India and Russia – to meet in person and discuss bilateral and multilateral issues. Moreover, India is expanding its sphere of influence, and China and Russia are doing the same. These three powers have formidable military and economic capabilities and they are building their own position in world politics, although they have their differences.

Apart from these three, the SCO has other prominent members. Their participation was also very important because this particular organization is becoming the alternative to Western-led processes. Although SCO members have affiliations with other players like the United States, Germany, United Kingdom, France and Australia on the one hand, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC ), the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD), or the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), SCO provides different information. In the current context, Asian or African countries may be looking for a platform, which would be geopolitically and economically significant outside of Europe or the West. There is no denying the fact that the West carries the baggage of the colonial legacy and the maintenance of hegemony. The world has moved from “Pax Britannica” to “Pax Americana” and is now in a state of flux. This forum serves as a geopolitical platform in the context of the current world order.

The SCO has observer states and dialogue partners. It may soon accept new members. On a significant note, Turkiye has shown interest in joining the organization. Therefore, the timing of the conference was very critical.

The conference has particularly benefited China and Russia, giving them the opportunity to interact with other countries, including India, at a time when the Western world is trying to isolate China and Russia from different manners. From this diplomatic point of view, the summit was a success. And another diplomatic result is that the Chinese president has visited Central Asian countries to strengthen bilateral relations. Central Asian states have enormous geopolitical importance and have closer ties with Russia. Many of them, after their independence, received help from the United States and the West. Despite the presence of the West in the region, over the years China and Russia have been able to maintain their dominant role in the region. The West can see this as an imminent challenge to its new diplomacy and strategic maneuvers in the world.

Doctor Delwar Hossain is a professor of international relations at the University of Dhaka and a security and global affairs analyst.

Aubrey L. Morgan