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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