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Rashid Alimov: Qingdao summit to show SCO’s growing role in global affairs

Ahead of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in China, SCO Secretary General Rashid Alimov speaks about the organization’s new activity scale and new tasks stemming from its expansion
SCO Secretary General Rashid Alimov Vladimir Gerdo/TASS
SCO Secretary General Rashid Alimov
© Vladimir Gerdo/TASS

- Rashid Kutbiddinovich, the current world situation is not particularly encouraging, frankly speaking. There is less stability and more tensions… What, do you think, are the reasons for these alarming trends in global development?

- The world is going through huge changes and a significant readjustment. You are right when you say that crisis brinkmanship has unfortunately become a persistent phenomenon. We can also see this kind of a situation in areas other than politics. Instability and uncertainty have been growing in the global economy. Despite some positive signs, the situation remains unstable, protectionist trends are strengthening, as well as other challenges in global trade, while risks related to exacerbating conflicts in a number of regions, mounting terrorist threats, illegal drug trafficking and organized crime, infectious disease epidemics and climate changes, have been rising.

The world clearly needs to develop a new effective global management model so that countries can resolve common issues facing mankind through cooperation based on equality and mutual respect. It certainly is a very difficult task given contradicting national interests, but it is the only way to overcome the current difficulties and reach a new stage of development. On June 9-10, 2018, SCO member states’ leaders will thoroughly discuss the regional and global situation, determining the cooperation development vector for all areas.

- How does the SCO evaluate the current state of affairs? What are member states’ approaches to resolving pressing issues?

- First of all, I would like to point out that 17 years ago, it was the leaders of SCO member states that brought forward a multilateral cooperation model based on equality, mutual respect and respect for each and everyone’s interests. This model implies the abandonment of the rule of force, the use of pressure and the domination of the weak by the strong. Thus, in keeping with the ‘Shanghai spirit’ standing for mutual trust, equality, mutual benefits, mutual rights, mutual consultations, respect for the diversity of cultures, the inclination for joint development under a changing global condition, the SCO has consistently continued to bolster equal and mutually beneficial cooperation in the areas of politics, security, economics, and in cultural and humanitarian ties.

Building good neighborly relations, friendship, cooperation, mutual respect for cultural and civilizational diversity and the varying social values of member states, the SCO has been maintaining and deepening trust-based dialogue and constructive partnership, showcasing an example of close fruitful interaction aimed at building a more fair and balanced world order based on equal, joint, indivisible, comprehensive and sustainable security, as well as on efforts to ensure the interests of each and every state in accordance with international law.

- It means that today, the SCO is one of the builders of a new world order, a more fair and balanced one?

- It will be no exaggeration to say one thing: the SCO is an organization of a new kind, which has already proved to be a popular platform for harmonizing the national interests of member states with regional ones. By the same token, it is a common fact that with the accession of India and Pakistan – two large Asian countries – the organization turned into the world’s biggest transregional union as far as the total area of its members goes, as well as their total population and economic capacities.

Besides, there are permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, four nuclear powers, the largest oil, gas and consumer goods producers and producers of the best healthy food among SCO countries. The SCO space holds about 20% of the UNESCO World Heritage sites. The unique and lively cultures of people living throughout this space attract more tourists and travelers every year.

What do I mean by saying that? The SCO has become a global organization and its influence on global affairs will only grow with time, while given the values that member states jointly promote on the international stage, the organization will facilitate the construction of an international relations system that will embody reciprocal respect, justice, equality and mutually beneficial cooperation.

- You have said that the SCO has become a global organization. This phrase must refer to the SCO’s 2017 expansion? The first summit of the SCO as “the Eurasian eight” will soon take place in the Chinese city of Qingdao. What can be expected from it? Will there be any surprises?

- Indeed, the upcoming summit in Qingdao will go down in the history of the organization as the first meeting of the ‘Shanghai Eight’ countries. The event will usher in a new stage of the SCO’s development. I believe that this phase will be marked by the SCO’s growing role and importance in global affairs. 

Between the 2017 summit in Astana and the upcoming summit in Qingdao, the SCO covered a rather long distance. As a result, around 20 documents have been put on the agenda of the forthcoming meeting of the Council of Heads of State, which concern almost all regional and global issues – from the uncompromising war on terror and extremism to the expansion of cooperation in the areas of the economy, trade and environmental protection. 

You asked about any possible surprises, which implies, as I understand, some unexpected or sudden occurrences. I would like to point out straight away that the SCO means, first and foremost, stability and continuity multiplied by rationality and common sense. This is why the SCO does not use categories such as surprises or sudden and unexpected decisions. Each decision is finalized during discussions involving 28 current mechanisms and numerous expert groups.

- Can any important political statements be expected? Particularly concerning the situation in Syria and developments on the Korean Peninsula?

- The Qingdao Declaration will be the summit’s main final political document. This important document will include SCO member states’ consolidated assessments of the current regional and global situation, and will also clarify the SCO’s approaches to resolving pressing regional and global issues, as well as define major areas of the organization’s activities for the near future. Being a comprehensive document, it will reflect all the global political patterns the SCO has been focused on. As the saying goes, let us wait and see.

- The SCO’s “Eurasian Eight” came to be as a result of the accession of India and Pakistan. What do you think these influential countries brought to the SCO? Has the accession of two outstanding and to a certain extent non-standard countries somehow made achieving consensus more difficult within the organization?

- Yes, some made dire forecasts and spoke about gloomy prospects. But today, a year after the accession, we are pleased to say that the SCO’s opening its doors to India and Pakistan – two influential Asian states – not only ensured the organization’s practical achievements but also paved the way for its growing credibility both at the regional and international level.

The accession of new powerful states provided the organization with huge, new opportunities that – given today's fragile international relations – became an additional foothold for unlocking the inexhaustible potential of the “Shanghai Eight” in all areas, including the international field.

At the same time, taking the SCO’s cooperation scale into account, our new partners have to work very hard to fit into all the spheres. I will tell you at once that they have been successful at that. For instance, the SCO has around 30 various mechanisms that were developing for years while the founding states scrupulously arranged their activities as the relevant agreements were made. In this regard, it is not an easy task to fit into the previously existing and well-tried methods of cooperation as it often requires additional effort and time. However, our new partners, supported by other parties, have been handling the task well.

- Given the accession of new members, does the SCO plan to designate English as another official language?

- It is a rather pressing question for our partners. The SCO’s immutable principles are enshrined in its founding document, the SCO Charter. It is kind of a constitution for us, a compass, if you will, that guides participants in cooperation. According to the SCO Charter, Russian and Chinese are the organization’s official languages so the designation of any additional language as an official one will require, first and foremost, amending the SCO Charter.  When joining the organization, India and Pakistan committed themselves to follow the letter and spirit of the SCO Charter, which particularly implies the use of the organization’s official languages while interacting with other member states. However, English is being actively used at all the SCO-hosted events and on the organization’s official website.

- Some people say that the SCO’s main priority is politics and regional security issues, others would focus on economic cooperation. What is your point of view?

- The SCO's unique character lies in its universal appeal. The "binding elements" included by the founding states in the association’s supporting structure create broad opportunities for the development of any forms and mechanisms of interaction within the SCO framework. Another one of its most important characteristics is that the organization is able to evolve depending on the requirements of the time, development of the situation, changing realities and objective needs.

Of course, today no one has any doubts that it is impossible to ensure sustainable development without providing the required level of security. It is similar to connecting vessels. In this regard, the issues of regional security and stability, countering the challenges and threats of terrorism, separatism and extremism, combating drug trafficking and organized crime have been and remain priority areas for the work of the SCO. The results of joint endeavors clearly demonstrate the extreme degree of its importance and relevance.

For example, in 2013-2017, the competent authorities of member states, whose interaction is based on the SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATC), thwarted over 600 terror-realted plots, eliminated more than 500 training bases, suppressed the activities of more than 2,000 members of international terrorist organizations. It is expected that at the Qingdao summit, heads of SCO states will approve the Cooperation Program in the fight against terrorism, separatism and extremism for 2019-2021, which will determine further efforts in this important direction. The program's adoption and implementation will contribute to strengthening global anti-terrorist cooperation in general. The document is intended to strengthen the countries’’ capacity to prevent terrorism, as recommended by the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy.

At the same time, one can see that in recent years, the SCO has been moving steadily and irrevocably along the path of expanding its economic component. The organization is working on a number of cooperation areas in the fields of trade and investment, transport, infrastructure, agriculture, and customs services.

In addition, advanced production clusters, including high-tech and science-intensive types, are located on the organization’s territory, there are all types of minerals, which make it possible to organize any kind of production cycles, from the extraction of raw materials to processing with a high share of surplus value. I believe that the approval by the SCO Council of Heads of State at the forthcoming meeting in Qingdao will be an important step in developing cooperation in the field of managing natural resources.

- The SCO is paying close attention to countering the drug threat, the extent of which hasn't been subsiding, on the contrary, it's been rising. What additional measures do you plan to take against this menace?

- SCO member states intend to build up cooperation in the anti-drug field. Work continues on the anti-narcotics strategy. In addition, the summit is expected to adopt the SCO draft on preventing the abuse of narcotics and psychotropic substances. This will significantly expand the horizons of our fight, complement joint and international efforts in the fight against illicit drug trafficking.

According to UN estimates, in 2015, 0.6% of the world's adult population suffered from drug-related disorders, including addiction. Reducing demand for drugs is one of the important areas of anti-drug cooperation within the SCO. The members' overall goal is to maintain the health and safe development of the public. The SCO stands for prevention of the use of and addiction to narcotic and psychotropic substances. This concept is designed to lead the way to the healthy, and safe development of children and young people so that they can unlock their talents and potential and contribute to society.

- And what does the economic trend of the SCO space look like today? Is there an economic effect from the efforts?

- In the modern world, it is impossible to imagine economic development in the conditions of autarky (self-sufficiency). On the contrary, economic cooperation and interconnected relationships, especially between neighboring countries, good neighborliness are the most important factor, and often the driver of development.

The interconnection of SCO member economies is due to their geographical proximity, and the agreements and joint programs in the field of regional economy that operate within the framework of the association are connecting links of progressive joint development.

For example, the largest associated transport and logistics system is at the formation stage within the SCO framework. Its legal basis was the Agreement of the (SCO) Member States on Creation of Favorable Conditions for International Road Transport. According to the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) experts, it covers more than 15,000 km of high-speed roads for unimpeded movement of traffic and transportation. Its longest road, which has no analogues in the world, exceeds 9,000 km, and in general, the routes open new landlocked countries with new opportunities in trade, economic, and transport-infrastructure cooperation, and promote regional interconnectedness.

Speaking about specific economic indicators, the SCO space accounts for 21% of the world GDP. At the end of 2016, the average GDP growth in the SCO space was 4.84%, almost double the world average.

Another interesting fact, in my opinion, testifying to the investment attractiveness of the regional economy and the existing system of economic relations in the region, is that 11% of the total volume of foreign direct investment in the world in 2016 was accounted for by the SCO Eight, which contributed to the emergence of almost 600,000 new enterprises in its space. At the same time, I would like to note that this does not include the statistics data on China, which we expect in the near future.

The SCO member states are steadily increasing their gold and currency reserves, the value of which is approaching $4 trillion. This serves as good economic support, as it guarantees execution of external debt obligations, and supports national currencies.

- What about humanitarian cooperation? Is there any success in this direction? In one of your recent speeches, you talked about establishing cooperation with UNESCO.

- The humanitarian track remains one of the priorities of the SCO. It has unconditional value and a special significance for us, since the organization has incredible cultural and humanitarian wealth. Today, the SCO is actively developing humanitarian contacts; there are new interesting projects that attract people from all over the world.

We are actively developing the tourism vector. For example, in 2016 more than 200 mln foreign tourists visited the SCO. If we return to economic indicators, the approximate income from these trips was more than $280 bln. In this context, an important document to be adopted in the framework of the forthcoming SCO summit in Qingdao - the Plan of joint actions for the implementation of the SCO Tourism Cooperation Program for 2019-2020.

As I have already mentioned, about 20% of the World Cultural Heritage monuments on the UNESCO's list are located in the organization's space. Thus, the SCO area is the focus of colossal spiritual and cultural wealth. It is equally important to not only preserve and multiply it, but also to use it effectively for the benefit of present and future generations.

Establishing cooperation between the SCO and UNESCO should contribute to the development and strengthening of cultural and humanitarian ties, a better understanding of the unique features of cultural heritage sites created by the SCO nations and their broad presentation to the global community.

For this purpose, within the framework of the summit in Qingdao, it is planned to sign a Memorandum of Understanding on cooperation between the SCO Secretariat and UNESCO.

- What place do SCO activities give to young people, schoolchildren?

- The youth policy has been the focus of the SCO member states’ leaders since the first days of the organization was founded. The young generation from member states is seen as a strong support both in the sphere of socio-economic development of states and in strengthening national, regional and international security in general.

In this context, the Joint appeal of the heads of SCO member states to the youth and the SCO's Action Program for the implementation of its provisions suggest, in particular, a number of concrete measures to strengthen cooperation among the younger generation within the framework of the political, educational, cultural and interaction and information dimension.

The program will undoubtedly contribute to further strengthening of friendship between the youth of the SCO member states, expanding their activities in youth policy, searching for and the development of effective solutions to youth problems that concern the "SCO generation".

Speaking about working with young people, I will give an example - on the basis of the Secretariat for schoolchildren and students, an interactive "SCO Model" game is organized to promote young people from the SCO countries knowing the fundamental principles of the organization, mutual respect and equal dialogue.

The SCO will continue to actively develop the youth direction. Let me remind you that every fifth person in the SCO space is a young person from 15 to 24 years old.

- We have heard about other SCO humanitarian projects, including "Nine magic notes" and the SCO Marathon. Tell us more about them.

- We regularly conduct Days of Culture of the member states of the "SCO family". The projects you have named have become, if you will, "highlight" the work of the SCO Secretariat. When we started them, we did not think that they would attract such significant interest, moreover - outside the "SCO family". First, I mean the SCO Marathon, which attracts thousands of athletes from all over the world. This shows that people share the ideals of the organization that are close to them in spirit, and the principles of the "Shanghai spirit" resonate with them.

Developing the concept of the SCO Marathon, we first aspired to ensure equal opportunities and conditions for the participation of all those who wish to take part, regardless of nationality, age, physical abilities or other criteria. We plan to organize two new phases in the next 12 months, each of which, according to preliminary estimates, would have more than 15,000 participants from more than 20 countries.

Our other project - "Nine Magic Notes" has become truly unique, as it unites the most talented young musicians from SCO member states. Their performances turned into enchanting musical evenings, organized in the SCO headquarters, which attracted many listeners who in a new way discovered original, bright national piano performances. A gala concert will end the cycle with the participation of all eight musicians from SCO member states, which will be held on June 26 in the concert hall of the National Center for Performing Arts in Beijing. I invite you to enjoy beautiful music.

- The SCO summit in Qingdao, according to your estimation, will become a milestone in the progressive development of the organization. What are the prospects for the SCO?

- The prospects for the SCO are bright, although the way to the goals set in the SCO Development Strategy until 2025, adopted at the Ufa summit, will not be seamless. Leaders of the SCO member states show great concern for the organization, pay constant and unflagging attention to its comprehensive development. Thanks to this, in a short period of time by historical standards, the SCO took a worthy place on the global political map. Regardless of the architecture of international relations, the SCO will play a particularly important role with its positive, constructive agenda.