Qingdao Summit: China is still in the driver’s seat of the SCO

Qingdao Summit: China is still in the driver’s seat of the SCO

“June’s Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in Qingdao, Shandong saw visits from delegates of all SCO members, most notably leaders Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin of China and Russia. Despite it being promoted as a primarily multilateral organisation and platform, it is clear that this year’s summit reflects China’s role as its dominant force.”

By Benjamin Hawkin

June’s Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in Qingdao, Shandong saw visits from delegates of all SCO members, most notably leaders Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin of China and Russia. This is the fourth SCO summit to take place in China and the first outside of Shanghai or Beijing. The location of Qingdao, one of the world’s largest ports, symbolises the focus on Chinese trade and interests [1]. Despite the SCO being promoted as a primarily multilateral organisation and platform, it is clear that this year’s summit reflects China’s role as the dominant force within the SCO.

India has had a key role to play in regards to internal SCO politics and external influence at this summit. Following the accession of both India (which had been an observer state since 2005) and Pakistan in 2017, the SCO has become one of the world’s largest multinational organisations, including four nuclear powers. An issue that arose regarding India in the Qingdao summit is the country’s lack of support for the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative. India was the only country to not offer support, as President Modi stated during the summit that his country supported connectivity but did not want to sacrifice ‘sovereignty and regional integrity’ [2]. Modi’s dissatisfaction with the Belt and Road Initiative lies with a disputed part of Kashmir that is held by Pakistan but claimed as Indian territory by New Delhi [3]. This area of Kashmir is a major thoroughfare for future Belt and Road transport plans, and Modi objects to the Initiative including what India refers to as Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. It is hoped that future dialogue may resolve these issues; preliminary plans for an informal summit taking place in India in 2019 have been made [4]. This conflict was the only obstacle in terms of Chinese interests at the summit, however.

Thematically, the 2018 Qingdao summit followed an agenda put forward by Beijing’s interests. There was a noted push for the international community to help curb youth involvement in the ‘three evils’ that go against the ‘Shanghai Spirit’: terrorism, extremism and separatism [5]. This has been a recurring theme from previous SCO dialogue, pushed by China, and followed-up now by written agreements. Promoting a pan-regional agenda of curbing separatism and extremism ensures that Beijing’s fears over Taiwan, Tibet and Xinjiang are in part alleviated knowing that its neighbors are onboard.

In total, 23 cooperation documents were signed across the summit’s two-day span [6]. This notably included the approval of the ‘SCO Member States Programme on Cooperation in Combating Terrorism, Separatism and Extremism for 2019-2021’, a five-year cooperative anti-drug trade strategy and further cooperative agreements on the prevention of drug abuse [7]. Counter-narcotics is an area Beijing is seeking to solidify its stance on and crack down on trafficking with support from regional allies. China’s proximity to both the Golden Crescent and Golden Triangle, Asia’s two largest opium-producing areas, and abundance of large port cities makes it particularly vulnerable to the illegal drug trade. Tackling this is a top priority for China.

From a Chinese perspective therefore, this year’s summit has been viewed as a success. State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi stated that this year’s summit will be looked back upon as the ‘most fruitful’ SCO summit yet, and that the Qingdao summit represents a landmark reached in the history of the SCO [8]. This is undoubtedly based on the wide agreement across the board on Chinese-promoted issues. China has been able to put forward the Belt and Road Initiative, and bar a lack of Indian backing, has received enthusiastic support for this endeavour from SCO members. By reaching near-full support for the economic initiative, the Chinese goal of ensuring that all roads lead to China is made one step closer through local cooperation. Moreover, the ‘Shanghai Spirit’ and combating issues that China is seeking to resolve has been at the forefront of the 2018 summit’s discussion. By pushing forward the counter-narcotics and counter-extremism programs that are at a forefront of Chinese regional policy goals it is apparent that Beijing is in the driver’s seat of the SCO at present.

This all took place at the same time, under much less of a spotlight, than the G7 Quebec summit. Given the outcomes from the G7 Summit – Macron stating the other G7 countries would sign an agreement without the US if needed, and Trump’s twitter feuds with France and Canada – the rival SCO is growing in strength at an opportune moment [9]. The SCO has become a much more solidified and larger entity at a time of western disunity and infighting. By reaching a more united front across the organisation on issues of economic and political security, China’s regional objectives and goals can be achieved. The Qingdao summit has shown to China that it can proceed with its strategic aims of expanding the Belt and Road Initiative across the globe and tackling internal security with the backing of its local allies.

References

[1] Cooley, Alexander. 2018. "What’s Next For The Shanghai Cooperation Organization?". The Diplomat. https://thediplomat.com/2018/06/whats-next-for-the-shanghai-cooperation-organization/.

[2] Koopar, Amit. 2018. "SCO Summit 2018: India Refuses To Endorse Xi Jinping's OBOR At Qingdao". Business-Standard.Com. https://www.business-standard.com/article/economy-policy/sco-summit-2018-india-refuses-to-endorse-xi-jinping-s-obor-at-qingdao-118061000392_1.html.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Tiwari, Vaibhav. 2018. "Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Summit Highlights: Xi Jinping Accepts PM Modi's Invite For Informal Summit In 2019". NDTV.Com. https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/narendra-modi-in-china-live-updates-pm-modi-reaches-qingdao-to-attend-sco-summit-1864853.

[5] Konarovsky, Mikhail. 2018. "Thoughts On The 'Big Eight' In Qingdao: Some Thoughts On The SCO Summit". Russian International Affairs Council. http://russiancouncil.ru/en/analytics-and-comments/analytics/bonus-for-the-big-eight-in-qingdao-some-thoughts-on-the-sco-summit/.

 [6] Desheng, Cao, and Zhao Huanxin. 2018. "SCO Results Earn Praise Worldwide - World - Chinadaily.Com.Cn". Chinadaily.Com.Cn. http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/201806/12/WS5b1ec9eda31001b82571f65c.html.

[7] Konarovsky, Mikhail. 2018. "Thoughts On The 'Big Eight' In Qingdao: Some Thoughts On The SCO Summit". Russian International Affairs Council. http://russiancouncil.ru/en/analytics-and-comments/analytics/bonus-for-the-big-eight-in-qingdao-some-thoughts-on-the-sco-summit/. 

[8] Desheng, Cao, and Zhao Huanxin. 2018. "SCO Results Earn Praise Worldwide - World - Chinadaily.Com.Cn". Chinadaily.Com.Cn. http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/201806/12/WS5b1ec9eda31001b82571f65c.html.

[9] @EmmanuelMacron. “The American President may not mind being isolated, but neither do we mind signing a 6 country agreement if need be. Because these 6 countries represent values, they represent an economic market which has the weight of history behind it and which is now a true international force”, Twitter, 07 June 2017, 12:49pm. https://twitter.com/EmmanuelMacron/status/1004812693348511751

     @RealDonaldTrump. “Please tell Prime Minister Trudeau and President Macron that they are charging the U.S. massive tariffs and create non-monetary barriers. The EU trade surplus with the U.S. is $151 Billion, and Canada keeps our farmers and others out. Look forward to seeing them tomorrow.”, Twitter, 07 June 2018, 3:04pm. https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1004846478253273088

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