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Thursday, June 23, 2016, 16:45

Putting common development first

By Wang Hui

SCO must rise to regional security challenges while promoting economic cooperation such as the Belt and Road Initiative

Putting common development first The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which turned 15 on June 15, saw a good opportunity to review its achievements and chart a new course at the meeting of the Council of Heads of State in Tashkent on June 23 and 24.

In the run-up to the meeting in the capital city of Uzbekistan, however, speculation had been doing the rounds concerning the induction of new members and how the SCO will rise up to new security challenges in the region.

The memberships of Pakistan and India were approved last year at the SCO’s summit in Ufa, Russia, but a series of procedures needed to be carried out before the two countries could be formally admitted to the bloc.

Since its formation in Shanghai, the SCO — which groups China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan — has become increasingly effective in tackling regional issues. And now the time is right for the bloc to increase its membership and expand its influence and political sway.

Over the years, the bloc has set an example of forging multilateral cooperation in security and economic fields among countries with different cultural, political and development backgrounds.

By increasing its membership, its security and economic cooperation — which are badly needed in the region — will benefit more countries and more people.

The accession of Pakistan and India to the SCO would help improve the ties between the two South Asian countries, and thus contribute to peace and development in the subcontinent.

On the security level, it is believed the SCO will recalibrate its strategies in security cooperation to tackle new challenges in the region, which will enable it to play an even greater role in safeguarding regional peace and stability.

In fact, it was the common security concerns of the SCO member states that drew them together in the beginning.

The SCO has accumulated ample experience in security cooperation. For example, through joint anti-terrorism exercises it has effectively curbed the spread of the “three evil forces” of terrorism, separatism and extremism in the region.

The rise of terrorist groups in the Middle East — the Islamic State (IS) in particular — and the rampancy of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan pose real threats to Central Asia.

Official statistics from five Central Asian countries show that more than 2,000 of their residents have joined terrorist groups to carry out jihad, or holy war, in the Middle East.

With the world intensifying anti-terrorism campaigns, the possibility of IS terrorists spreading to Central Asia has become real. Some terrorists returning from the Middle East have already been caught in Central Asian countries while trying to instigate terrorist attacks.

Adding to the region’s security concerns, the Taliban and some other terrorist groups are gaining ground in northern Afghanistan. Their growing presence in some of the country’s border areas is increasing security pressures on neighboring Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

Therefore, the SCO must provide answers on how to deepen cooperation among member states in light of new security challenges in the region. The bloc needs to be more responsive to threats and potential risks, especially those posed by the Taliban in Afghanistan and the IS group in Central Asia.

As far as China is concerned, it has remained a staunch supporter of deepening all-round cooperation under the SCO framework. President Xi Jinping can expand the realm of the SCO’s cooperation and present new objectives for the growth of the bloc.

Beijing has proposed the Belt and Road Initiative which aims to link China with Europe by reviving ancient trading routes through Central Asia. The ambitious initiative has won the support of many countries along the ancient Silk Road because it will create opportunities for development for the entire region.

It would be in the development interest of all if SCO member states could better integrate their national strategies with China’s initiative.

After all, poverty and underdevelopment contribute largely to the hotbed that breeds terrorism and extremism. Common development, the ultimate goal of the SCO, will help rid these scourges from their very roots.

The author is China Daily Asia Pacific’s deputy editor-in-chief.

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