View Full Version : Shanghai Cooperation Organization – Cooperation or Challenge?

Sutuq Bughra
20-12-05, 22:52
“ Orystan joldasyng bolsa, ay-baltang dayar bolsyn” (If you have a Russian friend, have your ax always ready)

“Qara Qitay qaptasa, sary orys akengdey bolar” (If black Chinese come, white Russian will seem as your own father)

Kazakh sayings

One of the events that might be defined as significant for the former Soviet space this week was the gathering of leaders of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) member-states in the Kazakh capital – Astana on Tuesday, July 5. The organization created in the beginning of 1990-Es on the base of revision of former Soviet-Chinese border issues comprised China and four former Soviet countries bordering with China – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russian Federation and Tajikistan. The five countries reached 2005 with a new member – Uzbekistan, and four semi-members with observer status – India, Iran, Mongolia and Pakistan. As Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev stated in his greeting speech on Tuesday, July 5, now one may say that the organization represents half of the humankind. That was a clear attempt to stress the importance of the organization, its role on the world arena. But the question is: What has really brought all those countries together except bordering with China (all the mentioned countries have joint borders with China, except Iran and Uzbekistan)?

By 1999-2000 all the border issues between four former Soviet republics and China have been basically resolved. Why Shanghai Cooperation Organization not only continues functioning, but also tries to seemingly expand and challenge the rest of the world?

High officials of India and Mongolia made it clear on Tuesday in Astana that the major reason for their interest in joining the organization as observers was economic. According to them, SCO’s economic potential is very high and they do not want to miss economic opportunities if they occur in result of that organization’s activities. Pakistan’s joining the club might be explained by its unwillingness to let its long-term regional rival India to be in the organization without any alternative. Representatives of other countries stressed other issues. Why?

It is clear that the major two countries within SCO with full-membership are China and Russia. What keeps these two regional rival-monsters to stick to each other? There seem to be several reasons. Putin tries to find allies in the changing world, which could create a balance to the Western influence in the world’ politics. Playing Chinese card is essential for Putin’s foreign policy-makers in terms of performing Russia’s significance in the world’s political scene. If you take into account that both China and Russia are members of UN’s Security Council and their votes are counted in that major International Organization, then it is clear who the SCO’s core consists of.

During Kazakh President’s speech at press conference in Astana on Tuesday, he mentioned several times about “joint efforts of SCO member-states against international terrorism.” That issue seems to be of more importance than economic cooperation for several member-states of the organization.

After September 11, 2001, Putin’s Russia and Chinese leaders immediately jumped in the U.S. boat called “fight against international terrorism.” To be precise, the Kremlin and Beijing started strong propaganda on turning national liberation movements on their territories into a part of so-called international terrorist activities. Russia’s “Chechen” headache is very similar to China’s “Uyghur” problem. 10 million Turkic-speaking indigenous nation of Muslim Uyghurs in Eastern Turkistan, called by Chinese as Xin Jiang (that means New Frontier in Chinese), has been fighting for its independence for many decades. In a short period of time from 1948 and 1951 Eastern Turkistan even existed as an independent state. History of Chechen resistance to Russian Empire’s expansion is also very well-known. Putin, whom U.S. President George W. Bush often calls “my friend Vladimir”, does his best to “prove” that Chechen resistance in nothing but a cell of Al-Qaeda in North Caucasus, ignoring the historic fact that Chechen nation has been fighting for its independence for several centuries, long before either phenomenon of international terrorism or Al-Qaeda even existed. That seems to be one more very important reason marrying the Russian Bear to the Chinese Dragon currently.

Interestingly “terrorism” turns to a very important word in the vocabulary of other Presidents representing the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Uzbek President Islam Karimov clearly announced participants in peaceful demonstration in Andijan in May as “terrorists”, trying to justify his decision to open fire against the protesters, among whom there were women and children. The number of those who lost their lives in Andijan massacre is not clear till now. Some witnesses, such as Galima Bukharbayeva of the Institute of War and Peace, say that hundreds if not thousands were shot dead in front of their eyes. Uzbek leader calls all the demonstrators “terrorists”, meanwhile many of the protesters called Russian President Vladimir Putin to interfere into the issues raised by them. The question is: If all the demonstrators had been so-called Islamic terrorists and militants, is it likely that they would have called Russian President to interfere? The answer is very clear and simple: never. Among hundreds of Uzbek refugees who fled Uzbekistan for neighboring Kyrgyzstan right after Andijan tragedy the majority are women, children and elderly people. After finding himself under harsh criticism for his decision to dismiss Andijan action of protest by force, expressed by Western democracies, Uzbek leader seems to demonstrate his sympathy towards Russia and China, the leaders of which openly expressed support to his actions in Andijan.

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev has indirectly supported his Uzbek colleague’s deeds in Andijan during his press conference in Astana last Friday, July 1, as well. He defined Andijan riot as “terrorist action” and said that Uzbek government had no choice but to shoot the demonstration. Why did Kazakh President make that statement now? Usually Nursultan Nazarbayev is very cautious when speaking about terrorism and terrorists. It looks like Kazakh President made it clear for those who plan to organize demonstrations similar to so-called “colorful revolutions in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan” that such attempts would end similar to what happened in Andijan. Presidential election in Kazakhstan is scheduled for December this year.

Speaking about “colorful revolutions” - Acting Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who came to power on the wave of the tulip revolution in Bishkek earlier this year, now finds himself in one boat with those who openly open fire or is ready to open fire against such revolutions. More that a paradox; one may say. But Mr. Bakiyev’s agenda seems to be clear as well. Representing the weakest country within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Kurmanbek Bakiyev has no other choice. Bakiyev needs support from Russia and powerful neighbors in the Presidential elections scheduled for July 10 in Kyrgyzstan. It is clear that the Kremlin still plays important role in politics within Central Asian states, especially in Kyrgyzstan. After all, even the ousted Kyrgyz leader Askar Akayev fled to Moscow saving his life but not reputation in the Russian capital.

Iran is a country that has been trying to expand its influence in Central Asian region since the collapse of the Soviet Union. But surely it is a bit strange to see Iran in one club with Russia and China – its major rivals in the “struggle for Central Asia”. One of the most important resolutions adopted in Astana at the summit of Shanghai Cooperation Organization was about request to the U.S. leadership to outline the schedule of dismantling U.S. military bases in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. That was a clear challenge to U.S. Foreign Policy and its military presence in Central Asian region. That is also an explicit answer to the question why Iran is an observer within SCO. Washington-Tehran stand-off has been lasting for more than quarter century now. It is clear that for Iran it is more convenient to be at odds with U.S. in the company of Russia and China rather than to do that alone.

U.S. officially rejected Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s request to observe possibilities for U.S. troops to abandon Central Asian region in the nearest future. But that request of the SCO seems to be just a beginning. One thing is very clear. “Great Game” for Central Asian region goes on and U.S stance and position in that old game is challenged by autocratic regimes of Russia and China. Meanwhile dictators of Central Asia, whom Bush administration often calls strategic partners in U.S.-led fight against international terrorism, seem to look for other allies, especially when Western part of the world imposes pressure over them demanding more openness, transparency, freedoms and democratization for Central Asian nations. It looks like Bush administration should revise its position on international terrorism, religious extremism and strategic partnership.

George W. Bush in his inauguration speech earlier this year stressed that U.S. policy on liberation of nations suffering under dictatorship will keep on going. In what form and how would such policy of White House continue functioning? What is more important for Bush administration: Expansion of democracy over the world or strategic partnership with dictatorships? That seems to be a question current U.S. leadership has to find a proper answer to.

Jean Tekey Jr.
Kavkaz Center