10.07.2024 Author: Ksenia Muratshina

SCO summit in Astana: the ‘Shanghai spirit’ – 2024 edition

SCO summit in Astana 2024

On July 3–4 the 24th summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation was held in Astana. The heads of ten Eurasian states (Russia, Belarus, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, China, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan) gathered to discuss the most pressing issues of international cooperation. What agreements have been reached, what is the SCO today, what is its role in regional security and why are more and more countries seeking to obtain membership? 

Aiming for a global role

During the summit, participating countries expressed their readiness to follow the founding principles of SCO and shared the sentiment that SCO should play an increasingly significant role in international relations and international security. The parties announced the adoption of the SCO ‘Initiative on World Unity for Just Peace, Harmony and Development’ and invited all states of the world to join it. This is the first initiative of such a global scale launched by SCO in all its history. Its full text is yet to be published, but in the meantime, the former Secretary General of the organisation, Rashid Alimov was the first to comment on it to the media. Alimov is a very significant figure in terms of negotiations, expert dialogue and collective decision-making within the SCO. It was noted that the document provides a deep and objective analysis of the current state of affairs in world politics and the economy and contains proposals from SCO countries to establish “an honest, direct and transparent global dialogue to lay the foundations for equal cooperation among UN member states”. The SCO is proposing “to start the collective search for a formula for a just world” and to begin forming a ‘fair economic environment’ in the global economy. The countries called for increasing efforts in the fight against hunger and poverty and the ‘formation of a universal movement for a clean and safe planet Earth’, as well as the “dialogue of all states and international institutions to ensure financing of joint projects and programmes in the field of environmental protection”. As participants emphasised, in order to solve global problems, the world needs to ‘build international relations anew in the spirit of mutual respect, justice, equality and mutually beneficial cooperation’.

In essence, the Initiative is an invitation from the SCO to the whole world to start a new, equal and comprehensive dialogue based on the principles of multipolarity and the willingness to cooperate.

In his speech at the summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin called the SCO one of the ‘main pillars of the emerging new world order’ and voiced his proposal to ‘create a new architecture of cooperation, indivisible security and development in Eurasia’.

The final Declaration of the summit reflects the coordinated approval by the member countries of the development of a large-scale inter-organisational dialogue between the SCO and the United Nations, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO) and the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia and other international associations.

Cooperation is intensifying

At the Astana summit, SCO members reiterated their opposition to unilateral sanctions, states and organisations ensuring their individual security at the expense of others, called for UN reform with increased representation of developing countries and pledged to develop multidisciplinary cooperation among themselves, including expanding counteraction to terrorism, separatism and extremism. An Action Programme for 2025–2027 has been signed in this regard. The signatories intend to ensure peace and development in Afghanistan, intensify the joint fight against drug trafficking and establish cooperation in this field with the Central Asian Regional Information and Coordination Centre, which is involved in this field. The SCO’s Anti-Drug Strategy for 2024–2029 was also adopted.

In terms of economy, the states took it upon themselves to further defend the idea of reforming the global economic governance system and ‘strengthen the open, transparent, fair, inclusive, non-discriminatory and multilateral trading system based on the established international principles and rules, contributing to the development of an open world economy, ensuring fair market access, special and differential treatment for developing countries’.

To strengthen multilateral ties, the SCO Energy Cooperation Strategy until 2030 has been approved. Also, a programme for a new SCO economic dialogue is being developed, an Investment Fund and an Association of SCO Investors are being created and the development of new formats are also planned, i.e. meetings of the heads of administrations of special zones and heads of antimonopoly departments of the member countries. The realisation of an array of other matters was also agreed upon: the Special Working Group on Climate Change, the continuation of existing economic cooperation programmes, increasing transport connectivity, developing cooperation in the fields of logistics, customs regulation, certification, digital technologies, the safe use of artificial intelligence and further increasing the share of national currencies in mutual trade.

In the humanitarian sphere, the parties agreed to include new universities in the SCO University system, expand the number of specialties in it and implement multilateral research and innovation projects. An intergovernmental agreement on cooperation in the field of environmental protection and a programme for the development of cooperation in the field of specially protected natural areas have also been adopted.

Additionally, the world community was clearly called upon to ‘settle the Palestinian question fairly’, intensify international cooperation in combatting terrorism (including acts of chemical and biological terrorism) and drug trafficking (including taking into account the most modern information and communication technologies). Generally speaking, to solidify and improve the non-proliferation regimes of weapons of mass destruction, to adopt an international legally binding document on information security and to observe the principles of the peaceful use of outer space.

Finally, a new open format of SCO Plus was implemented at the summit. In addition to SCO observers and partners, representatives of Turkmenistan and a number of international organisations were also present, including the UN, CIS, CSTO, the Eurasian Economic Commission, the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia, the Economic Cooperation Organisation, the Islamic Organisation for Food Security. Thus, the dialogue at the meeting was as broad and multifaceted as possible.

The third wave of expansion

One of the most important events of the summit was the technical completion of the procedure for Belarus’ admission to the SCO. The republic has become the 10th member of the organisation and has already expressed its readiness for active and enthusiastic cooperation within its ranks. The President of the Republic of Belarus, Aleksandr Lukashenko, voiced support for the idea of ‘indivisible global security’ and proposals to improve cooperation in the spheres of energy, transport, finance and industry, as well as to enhance international food security. A. G. Lukashenko responsibly assured: “in our newfound capacity, we will strive to align our proposals with the initiatives of our organisation as much as possible” and “work hand in hand with the new presidency to implement joint priorities”.

SCO is accepting new members for the third time in its existence. In 2017, India and Pakistan became members of the organisation; in 2023, Iran did the same. Expansion is not a quick process; technically, the accession of a state to the organisation not only means completing a long process of coordination and reaching consensus among all participants on its admission, but also the mandatory acceptance of all obligations of an SCO member through the simultaneous signing and ratification of existing agreements.

Having the status of dialogue partner and observer serves as the stepping stone to permanent membership. At this moment, Mongolia and Afghanistan are SCO observers, while Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Egypt, Cambodia, Qatar, Kuwait, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Sri Lanka are dialogue partners.

Evidently, by now most of Eurasia is involved in SCO in one way or another. At the same time, it should be understood that this organisation is not an interests-based club or a forum, but a real and complex structure dealing with the entirety of multilateral relations. This includes the security sector and very sensitive issues that imply the existence of common principles and obligations. There is a rich and mutually beneficial multilateral interaction within SCO, and countries with similar views on the international arena are becoming participants. Needless to say, there are exceptions to everything; there are also states in SCO that, due to contradictions amongst themselves, sometimes limit their interaction, particularly in the cases of India-China and India-Pakistan. This, however, is natural; it is not acceptable to force cooperation and share all information within the framework SCO, and it is difficult to even imagine such a situation. The need to coordinate options for new expansion with all permanent members is a normal practice, as cooperation requires trust between all parties. There is no doubt that the accession of new countries to the organisation will continue, and this shall naturally be in compliance with all procedures and with the inclusion into the system of cooperation in full.


Ksenia Muratshina, PhD in History, Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Southeast Asia, Australia and Oceania of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook

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