S.C.O. Summit Demonstrates its Growing Cohesion

Posted in Other | 14-Aug-07 | Author: Dr. Marcel de Haas

In July 2007, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (S.C.O.) -- consisting of Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan -- founded a so-called "Energy Club" to coordinate energy strategies. On August 16, the heads of state will hold their annual summit, this time in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. After the summit, they will travel to Chebarkul, a city in Russia's Urals, to attend the closure of the S.C.O. military exercises. The rapidly developing activities in these three security dimensions -- energy, politics and the military -- gives the impression that the S.C.O. is firmly on its way to mature into a full-fledged security organization.

In the past ten years, the S.C.O. has made significant advances. Founded in 1996 -- then still without Uzbekistan -- as the "Shanghai Five," the initial objective was arms control, such as detente and good security relations between China and four former Soviet republics, which previously occasionally had fought border conflicts. Around 2001, which by then the Shanghai Five had transformed into the S.C.O. with Uzbekistan as the sixth member state, the grouping changed its main objective into the fight against terrorism, especially directed at domestic terrorist organizations. Gradually, the task package further expanded and the S.C.O. demanded international recognition as a regional body in Central Asia.

At the Astana Summit of 2005, this culminated into a final declaration in which foreign (Western) troops in the region (e.g. Afghanistan) were called to withdraw. Soon afterward, Uzbekistan, confronted by heavy Western criticism for its violent conduct against an uprising in Andijan in May 2005, put this threat into practice by demanding the United States leave its airbase in this country. At the same summit, Iran, Pakistan and India joined Mongolia as observers of the S.C.O. This encouraged the role of the S.C.O. in energy, comprising large producers such as Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Iran and significant consumers such as China and India. Since then, S.C.O. cooperation in energy, foreign policy and international security has gained momentum.

Until recently, in the energy domain the S.C.O. primarily served as a convenient platform for bi- and multilateral deals. For instance, China -- the world's second largest oil importer -- receives 13 percent of its oil imports from S.C.O.-observer Iran, which it intends to increase. In addition to this, since December 2005 China has maintained an operational oil pipeline with Kazakhstan. At the S.C.O. summit of June 2006 in Shanghai, a number of energy deals were arranged. China concluded a deal with Uzbekistan on oil and gas exploration on the eve of the summit. At the summit itself, Iran stated that it wanted to set gas prices jointly with Russia, as the world's largest two gas producers. Although Russia has not agreed with this proposal, such a move could be considered by the West as a threat to its energy security.

At the same occasion, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia's Gazprom is willing to support building a gas pipeline linking three S.C.O. observers: from Iran via Pakistan to India. Later that year, Putin suggested forming an "Energy Club" within the S.C.O., which was accomplished last July. The regulations of the "S.C.O. Energy Club" explain that it unites energy producers, consumers and transit countries in coordination of energy strategies with the aim of increasing energy security.

Comparing the results of the annual summits demonstrates a steady expansion of topics of political cooperation and discussion. This is also displayed by frequent deliberations, not only by heads of state, but also by ministers of more and more departments, such as those of Foreign Affairs, Defense, Economy, Energy, Culture, Tourism and Transport. Cooperation also encompasses detailed areas such as finance, social affairs, environment and information and communication technologies.

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