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Shanghai Cooperation Organization

 One of my term paper 2002, might be interesting



Shanghai Cooperation Organization


This paper will examine the newly emerging Shanghai Cooperation Organization uniting Russia, China, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan and its implication for the security context in the Asia pacific region. This organization called in the beginning as “Shanghai-5”, intensifies its activities with the increased international efforts to fight international terrorism.

The main argument question to answer in this paper would be whether Shanghai Cooperation Organization for Russia and China is an attempt to balance the power among the military powers of the world especially against an increased unilateralist policy of USA as a reaction to its recent measures after the end of Cold War and directed against their own separatist or independence movements especially Muslim movement activation in Chechnya, Russia and Xinjian province of China. In other words, even though the main stated purpose of Shanghai Cooperation Organization is to fight terrorism, to enhance mutually respective defensive policies and actions especially in terms of sovereignty and territorial totality of member states, it might have an ambition to build a powerful alliance and regional military coalition as opposed to the one major power dominance of contemporary world.

If this is true it is possible to argue that this is part of the efforts of Russian Federation to build tri-partite axis in the Eurasia China, India and Russia on the common stated purpose of consolidating fight against terrorism and unstated purpose of standing up against unilateralism of the USA in the region and some critical issues of world politics. On the other hand, for China it provides more opportunities to equip high technology weaponry especially in the field of nuclear weapons, aircraft, submarine, surveillance and space, which would promote their main goal of becoming a world major power like USA. However, this does not mean that Shanghai Cooperation Organization will be in direct and explicit opposition against USA, but on the contrary, it is possible to expect cooperation especially in dealing with terrorism, drug trafficking, illegal weapon procurement and other related issues. The main issues worth concern of Shanghai Cooperation Organization are currently: terrorist-separatist movement, cross border drug smuggling, American exit of ABM treaty, USA unilateralist tendency and increased border control issues.

To examine the above stated hypothesis would be a difficult task due to early stage of Shanghai Cooperation Organization formation, which creates the major drawback of the paper as its hypothetical feature. However, it does not mean it is not important to consider the emerging role of Shanghai Cooperation Organization and its concept and impact on other countries and international system as a whole.

The paper consists of two major parts: the first part will briefly gives an overview of the Shanghai Cooperation organization and its goals, and the second part will deal with possible features of Shanghai Cooperation Organization that counteracts the unilateralism in two major dimensions. First of all, the view of two powers in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in terms of unilateralism and overlapped interest, and on the other hand, some overview on the official documents of Shanghai Cooperation Organization on the unilateralism and possibility to interpret them in terms of opposing unilateralism. And finally, the conclusion will address the major points of the paper and indicate some areas of interest to study.


Shanghai Cooperation Organization

Shanghai Cooperation Organization was first established by China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan in 1996 in Beijing. Initially this was a meeting aimed to resolving the border issues with Former Soviet countries and China in 1990s. And former Soviet countries with common border with China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan formed a joint delegation to Shanghai, which gave its first name-Shanghai 5.

As time passed this joint meeting proved to be effective in building mutual confidence and cooperation in border issues which made it possible and prospective for further and wider range of cooperation between the countries. Member countries signed a Treaty on Deepening Military Trust in Border Regions, in 1996, in Shanghai and a Treaty on Reduction of Military Forces in Border Regions in 1997 in Moscow. These two documents laid the foundation for further cooperation not only in border issues but also in other social economic, political arena. This made it possible “to transform Shanghai 5 into regional structure of multilateral cooperation in different spheres”[1].

Nowadays, Shanghai Cooperation organization has three main goals according to Foreign Minister of Kazakhstan, E.Idrisov; “cooperation in international arena, in international organizations on the issues of global and regional stability; joint stand up against new threats (terrorism, extremism, drug business); wide economic cooperation on the regional basis”[2].

On the 15th of June, 2001, heads of member states of Shanghai 5 group held meeting in Shanghai where the head of Uzbekistan also attended the meeting. And Uzbekistan entered the organization transforming its name into Shanghai Cooperation organization. This transformation of Shanghai 5 into Shanghai Cooperation Organization was notified by its proposed ambitious large-scale cooperation among the member states. For example, the summit considered the trade and economic cooperation in 2001-2010 in the region, liberalization of trade and labor between states, legal and normal documentation of the organization and different level meetings of the member states.

Also, the joint declaration of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization at the summit of member states, proclaimed the official establishment of Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and stated its goals which read “SCO aims at strengthening mutual trust, friendship and good-neighbourly and friendly relations among member states encouraging their further effective cooperation in politics, economy, science and technology, culture, education, energy, transportation, environmental protection and other fields jointly ensuring regional  peace, security and stability and creating a new international political and economic order featuring democracy, justness and rationality, according to the Declaration”[3]. From the statement of purpose in the declaration, it is possible to see the significantly wide range of cooperation among the member states is expected. 

In addition, in terms of regional stability, the declaration states that member states will thoroughly cooperate with each other in fighting three isms: terrorism, separatism, and extremism establishing anti-terrorism center in Bishkek of Kyrgyzstan. Also, fight against illegal arms smuggling, drug trafficking, illegal migration, and other criminal activities are included. This also certifies the common problems of the member countries with domestic conflict including Chechen rebels in Russia, Xinjiang province in China, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and their border problems. Therefore, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization provides the basis for member states to support the government policy in conflict areas of in their territory and even in case of necessity to show support as opposed to the international charge based on human rights against government suppressive actions.

From then, several meetings have been held between member states among experts of trade and economic cooperation, heads of government, foreign ministers in different cities of member countries and produced several documents which would serve as basic sources of the paper.


Is Shanghai Cooperation Organization anti unilateralism of the USA?


As it was mentioned before, the stated purpose of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization is not to fight the unilateralism or American hegemony but to ensure regional security and economic cooperation, fight against extremism, separatism, and terrorism. After September 11 and Afganistan war, the notion of fighting terrorism has taken momentum all over the world including member countries of Shanghai Cooperation Organization resulting the strong support from Shanghai Cooperation Organization expressed in its Joint Statement by the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Member States[4] in January 7, 2002, in Beijing, China. Even though, the Joint statement supported the activities fighting terrorist grouping Ali Kaeda in Afganistan, it emphasized the role of international organizations especially the one of UN and its Security Council two permanent seats are occupied by SCO members. Also, they emphasized the wide range activities against terrorism not only in Afganistan but in around the globe, proposing to build multi-level structures : global system consisting of regional, subregional, and national structures within which SCO is intending to establish antiterrorist structure in Kyrgyzstan and actively fight “terrorism” in their own territories.

Although, it is difficult to clearly see the resentment to the unilateralism in official documents of Shanghai Cooperation Organization, it would be interesting to see the positions of two powers in the region who are influential members of SCO. Afterwards, on that background, it might be possible to examine the some statements in the SCO documents.

*Resentment of Russia and China against American unilateralism

As only potential nuclear competent with the USA, Russian Federation old foe, is trying to adapt to the new world order led by American hegemony. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has been experiencing economic problems, corruption, control on the periphery, and loss of influence on former satellites and area of influence. As opposed to American hegemony, Russia emphasizes the role of United Nations and its Security Council. The Foreign Policy Concept of Russian Federation approved by president Putin in 2000, summed the new situation in international relations as there is a “strong tendency of formation of unipolar structure of world by US economic and military domination”[5] and “emasculation of the role of UN Security Council”[6]. Therefore, Russia will make an effort to build “multipolar system of international relations”[7]. In this situation, the concept states that Russia would support global, regional, and sub regional integration in all continents of the world and pursue pragmatic, balanced foreign policy. These statements show the Russian willing to build multilateral world as opposed to unilateral one. In this framework, Russia would try to improve the role of UN Security Council and develop strong partnership with European Union, and other international institutions. In Asian aspect, Russia considers China and India as most important partners. Except some similar concerns, National Security Concept of Russia, included the following into its major threats: Attempts of individual countries and interstate organization to decrease the role of existing mechanisms of international security especially UNO and OSCE (now CSCE), enlargement of NATO, possibility of emergence to the Russian border, large military contingent and foreign military bases among other things.

Not only in these basic papers, but also the high ranking officials often express their concern in favor of multilateralism in the international system. For example, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said that Russia is concerned with “absolute leadership (claimed by USA) in the world … , … formation of a one-dimensional world order does not have historical prospects”[8]. From these it is possible to conclude multilateralism as opposed to unilateralism of USA is one of the priority of Russian foreign policy and strategy same as Chinese. Also, Eurasia Insight published that “he suggested that SCO should be responsible for the regional security – specifically China and Russia – are eager to diminish the United States’ growing profile in the area”[9].

In case, of China, since Chinese claims of territorial integrity including Taiwan made it to build up military forces whereas the latter is under the defense of USA and its supply of weaponry. Also, according to D.Nelson[10] China explicitly defends the celebration of multilateral means although while sometimes itself tries to use power politics. During meeting with Defense ministers of SCO, Chinese President Jiang Zemin said, “all the countries should make contribution to promoting multi-polarization and building a just and rational international political and economic order”. Domestic violations of human rights are criticized in Western countries, and China would justify itself using existing basic norms of UNO established during cold war. In his report on the work of the government, at the Ninth National People’s Congress in March 2002, Zhu Rongji, said that  “China will play an active part in the affairs of the United Nations and other international affairs, … stand in the cause of peace, development and progress and against hegemony, power politics and terrorism in all its forms …”[11] which explicitly shows China’s intention to oppose unilateralism.  Also, China’s Defense White Paper indicated some concern for the National Missile Defense and Theater Missile Defense System as well as the renewed Guidelines for US-Japan Defense Cooperation did not exclude Taiwan from the scope of "the areas surrounding Japan[12] This brings to the other area of coinciding opinion between Russia and China.

Another overlapped opposition of China and Russia is the position on the National Missile Defense system. For example, during their meeting in Shanghai, in June 2001, both Putin and Zemin had a common opinion opposing US plans to build a national missile defense system. For example, CBS says “Russia and China are united by unease over American dominance of global affairs. Beijing is believed to be pushing the Shanghai Five as a regional counterbalance to Washington’s influence … Also Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Zhu Bangzao told ‘President Putin reiterated Russia’s principled position on that matter and China stated that it will continue to support in its effort to maintain the global equilibrium’”[13]. Especially the idea of Theater missile defense system is more threatening China which might include Japan and even Taiwan. Another Spokesman of Chinese Foreign ministry, told that “… I must stress that China and Russia hold relatively the same position on the American plan to develop NMD”[14].

On the other hand, not only National Missile Defense system is the common reason for China and Russia to cooperate but also there are some other reasons.  In the aftermath of Afganistan war, American military presence Central Asia is considered insecure in both Russian and Chinese interest. Russia considers foreign military bases a main threat as it is mentioned in the national security concept, and also Russia traditionally consider Central Asia as its own area of influence. There are Russian troops and military bases in Tajikistan (18-20000 troops), nuclear and space facilities in Kazakhstan, Russian-supported governments in most Central Asian countries. Also, according to Willy Wo-Lap Lam “generals were much more concerned about America’s “unilateralist” diplomacy as well as the expansion of American power in Central Asia[15]. On the other hand, China is now geographically besieged by American troops in the North-west, East and South East.

Additionally, for China and Russia, Islamic militancy is considered as threats especially their communication with Central Asian and other Islamic militant groups. On the other hand, Russia jammed with its local war in Chechen where fighters labeled by Russians as terrorists, are increasingly connected with other Islamic groups and criminal networks. Chinese Xinjiang region Uighur people with muslim as main religion often rebels and are involved in terrorist attacks where China pursues strict suppressive policies against national minorities also where Chinese nuclear facilities are located.

Besides, a vast energy resource in the region is attractive. According to some estimation China and India’s demand for oil and gas will drastically increase in the first decade of this century. Cohen refers that “China imported 30 million tons of oil in 1999; by 2010, it may import 100 million tons a year”[16]. This economic need necessitates China to develop economic cooperation with the region and especially favorable infrastructure.


*Possible features in the current official documents of SCO concerned about unilateralism

It is important to admit that it is too early to comprehensively evaluate on the actions of Shanghai Cooperation Organization. However, the SCO has produced several documents which has guided its current course actions. Therefore, it is also possible to draw some observation from some main documents of SCO. Shanghai Cooperation Organization is going to hold its summit in Saint Petersburg in June and will probably sign on its Charter. Nevertheless, the main goals and principles of Shanghai Cooperation Organization is reflected in its documents already produced. For example, the declaration  of head of states, states “ Shanghai Cooperation Organization firmly adhere to the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, the principles of mutual respect for independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, equal rights and mutual advantage, resolution of all issues through joint consultations, non-interference in internal affairs, non-use or threat of use of military force, and renunciation of unilateral military advantage in contiguous areas”[17]. Also, “The member states of the Shanghai Cooperation organization shall … jointly facilitate the consolidation of peace and stability in the region and throughout the world, believing that the preservation of global strategic balance and stability in the current international situation is of particular importance”[18]. These statements are not explicitly shows whether Shanghai Cooperation Organization is against unilateralism or not, but it could be used to justify prospective measures to favor multilateralism. Even the member countries of SCO agreed that 1972 ABM Treaty was major factor in global stability and disarmament. This united resolve on the issue of NMD is considered move against unilateralism. In the Joint Declaration in January Ministerial meeting in Beijing, emphasized the leading role of UN and its Security Council, and called on the International Security Assistance Force should carry out its operations according to the mandate of UN Security council which again implies the importance of multilateralism.

*Benefits for the Member States

All Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan were former Soviet countries in transition from centrally planned to market and from totalitarian to democratic rule. All four Islamic but not so strong as in Middle Eastern countries partly because of strong principle of Marxist atheism during communist period. However, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Islamic movement started to influence domestic political developments even leading to civil war in case of Tajikistan and other conflict in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan. The incumbent leadership have been supported by Russian elite due to its former communist connection and common view against Islamic radicalism except Uzbekistan. Another important feature is Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan have large oil and gas resources which is interested by other countries like China. Therefore, Shanghai cooperation organization will  provide more investment and the development of infrastructure (pipeline), and China will be new access to East Asian markets. On the other hand, due to its domestic conflict and instability, it might provide new opportunity to access to more weapon supply and other facilities under SCO. Also, SCO might be used as part of the game for competing interests of great powers. Even though, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan are members of SCO, they allowed US military to use their airfields which also provide more investment and improvement of respective facilities. In addition, as stated in the declarations, the better coordination and fight against Islamic militancy, drug smuggling, contrabands and terrorist acts will be introduced.

For China and Russia, as it is mentioned before, China and Russia both will have each other as opposed to American unilateralism especially on the issue of NMD or TMD systems. Also, this will counterbalance American presence in Central Asia, and curb Islamic militancy which can worsen the domestic conflict in respective areas. On the other hand, this coalition is used to defend against international criticism on the suppressive policies on minorities. Russia ignores China’s human rights violations in Xinjiang and Tibet and China in return ignores Russian operations in Chechnya. And China would be able to develop more sophisticated weaponry and military technology, joint technology with Russia. Nowadays, around 2000 Chinese officers attend Russian military schools annually. On the other hand, on Taiwan strait issues, Russia would side with China. In addition, China will have an access to new energy resources of Central Asia and increased economic cooperation. If China builds the pipeline, then it can even export oils further to East and South East Asian countries.

Interestingly, Russia is trying to build close ties with China in Asia, and Europe. In Asia Pacific, China and India are considered as the priority strategic partners, which mean Russia might be willing to include India as the next member of SCO. There are also some mentioning of other regional countries interest in joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization including India, these countries might be Iran, Pakistan, Mongolia.

In general, Shanghai Cooperation Organization is considered as loose coalition partly because of intersecting interest of its members especially contending interests of China and Russia over the Central Asia, which makes its unity weaker. Almost all of the economies are in transition and in great need of foreign direct investment and loans of western led international organizations such as World Bank, International monetary fund, World Trade Organization. Not only China and Russia, but also among other members there are some border disputes and other problems.  



The paper started with the hypothesis of whether Shanghai Cooperation Organization is anti unilateralism of the USA and beyond its stated goals, larger players in the coalition might have other goals of counterbalancing USA power. As far as the obtained evidences and documents of about Shanghai Cooperation Organization, it is not possible to conclude that this hypothesis is right but rather there might be some tendencies towards that direction fueled by mainly Russia and China. They successfully reached an agreement among the member states to stand for the multilateralism and ABM treaty of 1972. The principle of consensus in decision making the bigger powers in SCO cannot impose their will completely on all its members.

On the other hand, the coalition is based on mainly pragmatic mutually benefitial goals for member countries not on ultimate values, and mutual confidence. Therefore, it is not considered as alliance. The most important feature of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization is its multifunctional, flexible agenda, which can have issues ranging from terrorism to environmental protectionism, which means this institution can serve in different purposes at the same time.

Obviously, Russia might be willing to include India which have border disputes with China in the North West end of Himalaya. China and Russia would like to have counterbalance against American military presence in the region and also in global level to increase their roles by joining the same front. It is significantly important for China in terms of its own plan for development of North West by entering economic cooperation with regional countries while increasing its border cooperation and antiterrorist efforts.

There are certain parts in the statements of declaration and other official documents that can be used to pursue policies favoring multipolarity as opposed to unipolarity. Yet, however, since the organization itself has strong multilateralist principle, and consensus based decision-making will make it harder to unite on the every issues. Even when China and Russia have common opinion, it does not often mean consensus among other members some of whom might be interested in balancing the interests of big powers including USA. Nonetheless, so far the SCO reached certain consensus on the issues of NMD, territorial integrity and non-interference that are important because of their domestic conflict and Islamic militancy not only in the region but also in member countries of SCO.



1                    A.Cohen, “The Russia-China Friendship and Cooperation Treaty: A Strategic Shift in Eurasia?”  July 18, 2001   at http://www.heritage.org/library/backgrounder/bg1459.html , accessed in May 25, 2002.

2                    R.Cutler, “The Anti-Terrorist Coalition: A “New World Order” Redux? October 15, 2001 at http://www.fpif.org/commentary/0110coalit.html , accessed in May 3, 2002.

3                    J.Daly, “Shanghai Five expands to combat Islamic radicals” July 19, 2001 in Jane’s International Security News at http://www.janes.com , accessed in April 20, 2002.

4                    China’s Defense White Paper 2000 at http://www.chinaguide.org/e-white/2000/index.htm , accessed in May 12, 2002.

5                    Declaration of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (6/15/2001) at http://www.chinahouston.org/ accessed in May 10, 2002.       

6                    Documents about Shanghai Cooperation Organization http://missions.itu.int/~kazaks/eng/sco/sco01.htm - accessed in May 10, 2002.

7                    Joint Statement by the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Member States of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, January 7, 2002, Beijing, at http://www.great-britain.mid.ru/GreatBritain/pr_rel/pres1-02.htm , accessed May 16, 2002.

8                    Zhu Rongji, Report on the work of the government, March 3, 2002 at http://www.china.org.cn/english/28946.htm , accessed in May 23, 2002.

9                    Willy Wo-Lap Lam, “Beijing Blasts U.S. Weapons Strategy” Jan. 30, 2002, at http://europe.cnn.com/2002/WORLD/asiapcf/east/01/29/china.pla/index.html, accessed April 29, 2002.

10                Концепция внешней политики Российской Федерации (Foreign policy concept of Russian Federation) 10.07.2000 http://www.scrf.gov.ru/Documents/Decree/2000/07-10.html - accessed in May 20, 2002.

11                Концепция национальной безопасности Российской Федерации (National Security Concept of Russian Federation) January 10, 2000. http://www.scrf.gov.ru/Documents/Decree/2000/24-1.html

12                "Шанхайская пятерка": эволюция развития (Статья Министра иностранных дел РК Е.Идрисова в газете "Экспресс-К", 13 июня 2001 г.) http://www.mfa.kz/russian/art_130601.htm - accessed in May 20, 2002.


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