Thursday, July 26, 2018

Flexibility by design: The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and the future of Eurasian cooperation

Zurich, May 2018
Center for Security Studies (CSS), ETH Zurich

The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) should be  given  more  attention  as  China  and  Russia  increasingly   turn their attention to Central Asia. The two regional he - gemons have used the SCO as a platform to balance and  coordinate  their  interests  in  the  Central  Asian  region.  As   its primary initiator, the SCO constitutes China’s most im - portant  policy  tool  for  regional  security  in  its  Western   neighborhood. For Russia, which has co-led the organiza - tion,  the  SCO  is  a  well-established  format  for  Sino-Rus - sian-Central Asian cooperation, which can potentially be  used to promote its plans for a Greater Eurasian Partner - ship.  The  SCO  is  also  of  strategic  and  political  relevance   for  its  Central  Asian  members,  which  lack  alternative  in - clusive cooperation platforms. The SCO evolved from an  ad hoc  cooperation to  address immediate security concerns which appeared as  a  consequence  of  the  breakdown  of  the  Soviet  Union.   Since then, the SCO member states established problem- solving   mechanisms   and   processes,   and   developed   a    broader  approach  to  regional  governance.  To  a  large  ex - tent, form and content of the SCO have been defined by  Chinese foreign policy principles and priorities. Today,  the  organization  is  at  a  crossroads.  Chi - na’s  economic  rise  has  shifted  the  power  balance  within   Central  Asia,  as  well  as  within  the  SCO.  Anxious  about   China’s growing dominance, Russia does its best to coun - terbalance  China’s  weight.  It  has  blocked  Chinese  at - tempts  at  deepening  economic  integration  among  SCO   members and supported India’s entry to the organization  in  order  to  dilute  China’s  dominant  position  within  the   SCO.  As  a  consequence  of  this  imbalance,  the  SCO   could  either  remain  a  relevant  actor  for  cooperation  in   Eurasia  or  risks  degenerating  into  a  symbolic  organiza - tion. The interviews conducted for this study suggest that  this will, in large part, depend on the role that the SCO will  be  given  in  the  respective  foreign  policy  strategies  of  its   leading  member  states,  China  and  Russia.  Indeed,  it  has   been these two countries‘ commitments that have given  the organization its role and significance in the past.

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