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SCO Expansion Underscores Geopolitical Divide

  • The SCO summit in Kazakhstan emphasized a desire to exert more global influence, but the organization faces challenges to unity due to tactical differences on containing Western influence.
  • India's representative subtly criticized China's economic cooperation with Pakistan during the summit, highlighting geopolitical divisions.
  • Experts argue that the SCO lacks operational substance to back up its ambitious goals and has yet to achieve significant results.
Shanghai

Leaders attending the Shanghai Cooperation Organization cast the group as capable of exerting increasing influence on the world stage. But beneath a veneer of solidarity, cracks are visible in the foundation.

The two-day SCO summit concluded July 4 with the signing of a bevy of documents, including a joint declaration that outlined an intention for the organization to exert a greater degree of global influence. “Tectonic shifts are occurring in global politics, the economy and other areas of international relations,” the document stated. “A fairer and multipolar world order is emerging.”

Earlier during the summit, Russian leader Vladimir Putin described the SCO as a “one of the key pillars of a fair multipolar world order.”

To substantiate Putin’s assertion, Russian media cited statistics that had little connection to tangible accomplishments, noting, for example, that SCO member states now account for almost 27 percent of the world’s landmass and more than 42 percent of the global population.

The summit’s most tangible result was the admission of Belarus as a full member. Most of the documents signed were aspirational.

In a carefully worded speech, the summit’s host, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, indicated that the SCO needed to become more cohesive. “The SCO must strengthen its stabilizing and creative role to overcome the erosion of international law, prevent geopolitical fault lines and, ultimately, strengthen peace and security in a broad global context,” Tokayev said.

The SCO has expanded from its original membership of Russia, China and all Central Asian states except Turkmenistan, to include India, Iran, Pakistan and, now, Belarus.

The speeches at the summit provided clues suggesting not all participants are on the same geopolitical page. Chinese leader Xi Jinping called for a “complete set of measures” on information sharing among members to promote mutual security. “Security is a prerequisite for national development, and safety is the lifeline to the happiness of the people,” Xi said. Putin, meanwhile, focused his address on criticism of the West.

Perhaps the clearest sign of differences within the group was the speech made by India’s representative, Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, who subtly criticized Beijing’s economic cooperation with Pakistan.

Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who participated in the Astana summit, sought to focus the group’s attention on pressing global matters, urging ceasefires for the conflicts in Gaza and Ukraine, and calling for an improved response to the “climate emergency.”

The SCO’s unifying factor at present is a general desire to see a reduction of Western global influence. Beyond that, there’s not much else that binds the organization. Kazakh political scientist Dimash Alzhanov believes SCO members prioritize their own interests rather than try to stake out a shared vision, noting that they have substantial tactical differences on efforts to contain Western influence.

Temur Umarov, a fellow at the Carnegie BerlinCenter, described the SCO as an organization lacking in operational substance to back up its grand intentions. “The SCO is still trying to understand what it is now and what it can be,” Umarov said in an interview with Radio Azattyk, the Kazakh service of RFE/RL. “In the end, its main advantage is only its size and collective GDP, but there are still almost no significant results.”

By Almaz Kumenov via Eurasianet.org

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