On 15-16 September this year, the city of Samarkand hosted the 22nd summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.
It is not by chance that the city which has been the centre of interethnic dialogue, cultural and spiritual cooperation as well as trade and scientific exchanges was chosen for the comprehensive and prestigious event, which attracted the attention of the entire world. This way the emphasis was placed on the Uzbek statehood and its historical potential.
At a time when complex situations are observed in the world, the spirit of diplomacy is changing and the space and opportunities for constructive dialogue are shrinking, the SCO is emerging as an efficient and practical mechanism for cooperation, which is free from political games and avoids conflicts.
Under the chairmanship of Uzbekistan, the SCO has become a truly multifaceted organisation of cooperation, mutual trust and free dialogue, rediscovering its potential. At the same time, the open and constructive diplomacy of New Uzbekistan, which has become unprecedentedly active in recent years, has been able to demonstrate its capabilities on a wide regional scale.
The major conference, which was held in the form of dialogue for the first time in the past three years since the beginning of the pandemic, was attended by the leaders of 14 countries, high-ranking representatives of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt as well as the heads of international and regional organisations.
The summit emphasized the fact that the SCO’s composition has been expanding and partnership relations have been developing. The memorandum on the obligations of the Islamic Republic of Iran as a fully-fledged member of the organisation as well as the memorandums on granting the status of dialogue partners to Egypt and Qatar testify to the fact that the scope of cooperation is expanding.
A decision was also made to start the procedure for granting Belarus the status of a fully-fledged member, the Kingdom of Bahrain, Kuwait, the Republic of Maldives, the United Arab Emirates and the Republic of the Union of Myanmar the status of dialogue partners of the SCO.
In his speech at the summit, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev put forward a number of important and urgent initiatives. Especially, based on the principle of “Shanghai spirit” and given the current international situation, his proposal to start drafting the development strategy of the SCO until 2040 was unanimously supported by the members of the organisation. That is because this document covers all directions of multifaceted cooperation and outlines priority areas of the SCO’s long-term development.
Uzbekistan’s chairmanship period: indication of the SCO’s success
On 17 September 2021, Uzbekistan took over the chairmanship of the SCO. Our country’s chairmanship of the organisation coincided with a time when severe consequences of the pandemic were being dealt with, when there was a high uncertainty in the world and when geopolitical contradictions and conflicts intensified. It could be for this reason that most experts and specialists thought that Uzbekistan’s chairmanship of the SCO was just a formality or “just for the sake of it”, and they made pessimistic predictions about this.
Uzbekistan did not make declarative statements on that day, on the contrary began to implement clearly defined actions in the conditions of an essentially complex historical period. President Shavkat Mirziyoyev developed new “Roadmaps” for the era of new opportunities. The issue of developing cooperation based on a constructive dialogue and trust was defined as a strategic task.
Over 80 events were successfully held and over 30 documents were adopted by the heads of relevant ministries and agencies to implement priority tasks set by President Shavkat Mirziyoyev within the framework of the SCO chairmanship.
For the first time, under the auspices of Uzbekistan, important events dedicated to information security, industrial development and gender issues were held. For example, if the first forum of women entrepreneurs helped bring the women working in the business circles of the member states close to one another and discover their untapped potential, the scientific-expert forum of the SCO on information security determined “anchor points” based on the joint fight against modern challenges and common threats.
At present the world entered the era of the fourth industrial revolution. In this historical situation, the SCO countries realise that they should support the digital entrepreneurship of young people and help them realize their ideas. Therefore, for the first time, cyber-sports championships and the competition of start-up projects were held among the SCO youth.
Practical meetings were organized not only in Tashkent, but also in other regions of the country. For example, meetings of the council of the SCO national coordinators were held in the cities of Nukus and Bukhara, an international conference on poverty reduction was held in Bukhara and Khiva hosted meetings of the transport ministers, where cooperation plans were discussed in detail and the issues on the agenda of the organisation which need to be resolved were clarified.
There is no doubt that the Inter-regional Trade Development Plan, the SCO Strategy to Develop Transport Dependence and Infrastructure Development Programmes have opened a new era in strengthening cooperation. Uzbekistan also supported the efforts to pay special attention to the effective use of transport potential of the SCO region and to identify it as one of the main strategic tasks. For these purposes, the construction of the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan and Termez-Mazar-i-Shariff-Kabul-Peshawar railway lines, which are of special strategic importance in the geoeconomic situation, creates a historical opportunity to provide the Central Asian countries with a short route to the world markets.
The period of Uzbekistan’s chairmanship was able to enrich in terms of content the SCO development strategy by boosting cooperation. According to international experts, Uzbekistan goes down in the SCO history as the most enterprising country. In one year alone, many international documents were agreed upon, and a total of 44 documents – agreements, blueprints, programmes and other decisions – were adopted at the Samarkand summit. This is a record figure in the organisation’s history.
A venue for specific proposals and practical initiatives
The SCO’s Samarkand Summit unlike other summits in the world has become a venue where practical solutions are found to problems, and this can be seen in the initiatives and ideas put forward in it. These initiatives are in line with the goals and interests of the SCO’s “big family” in terms of peace and sustainable development.
The initiatives of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev are exactly of this nature. The proposals with regard to forming common space of industrial and technological cooperation, holding an international conference on food security, supporting beneficial railway corridors, setting up an SCO climate council, adopting comprehensive practical measures to prevent young people from involvement in extremist organisations, creating a joint platform to combat cyber-crime, establishing a special fund to provide humanitarian support to Afghanistan and declaring next year as the “Year of developing tourism in the SCO space” are not only in line with the SCO goals and principles, but also serve to ensure security and stability in the broader Eurasian space.
In line with President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s initiatives to create a common space for industrial and technological cooperation, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi noted the need to develop reliable and diversified supply chains in the region and ensure the right to mutual transit in the face of energy and food shortages. A proposal was made to set up a working group for SCO start-ups to share India’s experience in developing start-ups.
Speaking at the meeting of the Council of the Heads of the SCO member states, Kazakh President Kasym-Zhomart Tokayev noted that the difference of the present time was the acute shortage of mutual trust, and thanks to the absence of contradictions and division into blocs in the SCO ideas, with every passing year the organisation’s prestige has been increasing and its geography expanding. It was also proposed to develop cooperation between the defence bodies and security services of the SCO member states.
President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping emphasized that the world was in a state of turbulence, and in this situation, it was necessary to strengthen unity and turn the SCO into a community with a common destiny. To this end, the need was noted to strengthen mutual support, expand cooperation in the field of security and counter efforts by external forces to interfere in the internal affairs of the SCO member states. Proposals were made with regard to establishing a SCO development bank and a China-SCO cooperation centre in the field of “big data” in order to expand practical cooperation.
In his speech, Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov once again said that the SCO is an example of the coexistence of countries with different cultural and humanitarian traditions, which is an attractive organisation for many countries wishing to become its members. The Kyrgyz president put forward the initiative to open in Bishkek an international centre for fighting crime.
Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif noted that peace in Afghanistan also affects the situation in Afghanistan and called for the lifting of restrictions on Afghan assets. Expressing gratitude to the SCO countries for the assistance provided to Pakistan following the heavy floods, he said that he has not seen such a disaster in his 40 years of public administration.
President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s proposal to appeal to the world community on behalf of the SCO to help Pakistan has once again shown that this organisation is a venue of practical steps.
Russian President Vladimir Putin noted that new power centres, cooperating in keeping with the principles of international law and the UN Charter, had emerged in world politics and economy, and focused on the priorities of the organisation’s activities – fighting terrorism and extremism, drug trafficking and illegal armed groups, resolving the Afghan issue through political and diplomatic means and developing trade and investment relations. He made a proposal with regard to developing cooperation in the cultural and humanitarian spheres, creating an association of SCO sports organisations and signing agreements on tourism and museum issues.
The issues raised at the Samarkand summit were also reflected in Tajik President Emomali Rahmon’s speech. The Tajik president suggested that a special SCO ant-drug body be established to counter the flow of narcotics from Afghanistan. The heads of state invited to the Samarkand summit also talked about the problems facing their countries and outcomes expected from cooperation with the SCO and potential of cooperation.
In particular, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka emphasized that the “Shanghai Spirit” was capable of becoming the foundation of a new world architecture and noted that there is potential for cooperation with the SCO in the fields of industry, artificial intelligence, green economy, peaceful nuclear power, elimination of unreasonable trade barriers and the banking system. In addition to that, a proposal was made to hold SCO summer and winter sports competitions in 2024 and 2026. In his speech, Alyaksandr Lukashenka said “unexpectedly for us, the SCO is turning from a regional organisation into a global one. The important thing is not to miss this opportunity”.
Ebrahim Raisi, president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which is about to become an SCO member, said it was important to develop cooperation within the organisation in the field of trade, banking and communication infrastructure. He said that through membership in this organisation, Iran was striving to be in the centre of the creation of a fairer world based on cooperation.
Mongolian President Ukhnaagiin Khurelsukh said that his country will continue to actively cooperate with the SCO and noted that in particular it is ready to implement large projects in the fields of trade, investment, energy, transport and logistics, tourism, information technologies, agriculture and food security.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan particularly noted that Turkey has ancient ties with Central Asia and that in 2019, the initiative to restore these historical ties was put forward. He said that Turkey was ready to support any initiative aimed at expanding cooperation with the SCO in the sphere of security and ensuring the security of food supply chains.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev emphasized the country’s transit potential. In particular, he said that the transit from Azerbaijan increased by 50% in the first seven months of this year and spoke about efforts to develop the country’s transport and communication infrastructure. In this regard, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev said that the SCO was interested to cooperate with Azerbaijan in the fields of transport and communication as well as trade and economy.
Turkmen President Serdar Berdimuhamedov said that he was ready to establish multifaceted relations with the SCO in politics, trade, security as well as cultural and humanitarian spheres, and to participate in the construction of transit roads and to carry out systemic energy cooperation.
SCO Secretary-General Zhang Ming reiterated the need to strengthen solidarity, mutual cooperation and active actions in the context of large-scale changes taking place worldwide.
Director of the Executive Committee of the SCO’s Regional Anti-Terrorism Structure Ruslan Mirzayev said that in 2021, 40 terrorist attacks and over 1,400 crimes were prevented. Noting that joint fight against international terrorism was being successfully carried out, he reiterated that there was a need for collective approach to threats.
A UN under-secretary-general for political and peacebuilding affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo, noted that it was important for the UN to develop effective multilateral cooperation with regional and subregional organisations. She believes that at present the SCO is the most convenient platform in Eurasia to discuss regional security and peace issues. In particular, the two organisations are cooperating in the fight against extremism and terrorism.
The SCO summit ended with the adoption of the Samarkand Declaration. The main document of the summit reflected the common approaches of the sides to intensifying practical cooperation, ensuring regional security and stability as well as economic development, boosting transport dependence and strengthening cultural dialogue.
In order for the new pace and trends set in the development of the SCO in Samarkand to continue under the chairmanship of India next year, the Uzbek side put forward a Samarkand solidarity initiative for common security and prosperity, and it was unanimously supported.
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One can say openly that the Samarkand summit was a unique example of establishing a new, inclusive dialogue based on the principles of mutual respect, trust and constructive cooperation for the sake of common security and development. Of course, the place and role of Uzbek diplomacy, which has acquired a completely new look in terms of quality in recent years, is immeasurable. This situation made the state’s international reputation more positive or moderate.
In short, the implementation of the initiatives put forward within the SCO states and Uzbekistan’s successful chairmanship are the fruits of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s political will. Uzbekistan had the opportunity to fulfil its historical mission of achieving its all goals in a timely manner and efficiently, and solid foundations were created for ensuring security, taking multifaceted cooperation to a new level in terms of quality and for sustainable development. As a result, remaining true to its principles, the SCO did not yield to attempts to turn the organisation into a military or political bloc.
In the meantime, it is true to say that the documents and decisions adopted at the Samarkand summit as well as the initiatives put forward by President Shavkat Mirziyoyev serve to increase the organisation’s prestige aimed at ensuring regional and global security for the development and prosperity of our countries and peoples.
The Writer is a Doctor of Political Sciences, Professor
PhD in Political Sciences