SCO in the system of foreign policy priorities of New Uzbekistan
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization is one of the youngest but dynamically developing international organizations. June 15 marks the 21st anniversary of the creation of the SCO. Over the past period, it has made a rapid leap from the format of an advisory mechanism to a full-scale interstate association.
Uzbekistan was at the origins of the creation of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, has made and continues to make a significant contribution to its progressive development. In 2021-2022, our country will preside over this authoritative association. Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs Vladimir Norov told the correspondent of the Dune News Agency about the initiatives of Uzbekistan put forward by President Shavkat Mirziyoyev within the SCO, the prospects for cooperation between our country and the association.
- Vladimir Imamovich, we are grateful to you for agreeing to answer our questions. Moreover, the SCO is not only one of the priorities of Uzbekistan's international cooperation, but also the organization in which you had the opportunity to work as Secretary General in 2019-2021. Please tell us what the SCO is today and what role it plays in the international arena?
- First of all, I want to emphasize that in a relatively short period, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization has gone a long way in development and has become an integral element of the global political and economic context.
Today, the SCO is the world's largest regional organization. The total territory of its member countries exceeds 34 million square kilometers. This is more than 60% of the territory of the Eurasian continent. The total population of the SCO countries is 3.2 billion people, which is about half of the world's population.
The organization unites 8 permanent members, 4 observer States and 9 dialogue partners.
The large "SCO family", numbering 21 countries, covers three continents – Asia, Europe and Africa. At the same time, interest from other countries in interacting with the structure in one format or another continues to grow.
The consistent expansion of the network of its partner organizations – the UN and its specialized agencies, ASEAN, CIS, CSTO, EAEU, CICA, ECO - contributes to the enhancement of the SCO's international authority. Currently, relations are being established with the League of Arab States and a number of other multilateral structures.
Today, the SCO space is a self–sufficient region in terms of the availability of huge reserves of raw materials, manufactured products, skilled labor and human capital, technological potential.
The total volume of the economies of the SCO member states is about 20 trillion US dollars, which is 13 times more than when it was created. The organization's space represents the most capacious consumer market in the world. Today, the total GDP of the SCO members has reached about ¼ of the global figure. By 2030, this figure may increase to 35-40%.
The SCO has enormous transport and transit potential, which is waiting for its practical implementation. In the context of the diversification of global supply chains, the creation of new international rail and road corridors in Eurasia in the East-West and North-South directions acquires a strategic dimension.
We must not forget that the SCO is a promising platform for strengthening inter–civilizational dialogue and cultural and humanitarian cooperation. The relevance of this direction is especially growing against the background of the aggravation of distrust and antagonistic sentiments in the world.
The participation of countries, each of which has a rich history and unique cultural heritage, in one organization contributes to strengthening mutual understanding and the spirit of cooperation in Eurasia.
- As is well known, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has designated the Central Asian region as the most important priority of Uzbekistan's foreign policy. How do you assess the SCO's role in strengthening Central Asian regionalism?
- The emergence of the SCO was primarily due to the emergence of a new situation in Central Asia after the collapse of the bipolar system at the end of the twentieth century, when the world was entering a new century with complex problems and unpredictable consequences. During that difficult period, the need for institutionalized regional cooperation of the young independent States of Central Asia in countering multifaceted new threats and problems was an objective reality.
In this sense, the emergence of the SCO was a direct result of efforts to ensure stability and security in Central Asia. And therefore, as the most important "added value" from the creation and activities of the SCO, its contribution can be considered, first of all, to strengthening stability and developing regional cooperation in Central Asia.
This is a recognized and time–tested fact.
Today, there is a significant contribution of the SCO to the preservation of peace and stability in the region. Its achievements are indisputable, first of all in the field of combating the threats of terrorism, extremism and separatism. It was within the framework of the SCO that, for the first time in the world, a multilateral document was developed that defined the concept of "terrorism" - the SCO Convention on Combating Terrorism, Separatism and Extremism of June 15, 2001.
Consistent work in this direction is being carried out by the SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure with headquarters in Tashkent, with the coordinating role of which joint effective measures are being taken to eradicate the causes, sources and manifestations of the "forces of three evils".
SCO anti-terrorist exercises are held on a regular basis, including the identification and suppression of the use of the Internet for terrorist, extremist and separatist purposes, as well as the international anti-drug operation "Web".
The secretaries of the Security Councils, the Ministers of Defense, the Interior, and the heads of the anti-drug departments of the Member States maintain a regular dialogue on a wide range of issues related to a wide segment of security.
Cooperation has been established on issues of ensuring international information security. A working group is functioning in this area, with the active participation of the Uzbek side, a corresponding cooperation Program has been prepared and adopted.
Nevertheless, the SCO's contribution to ensuring stability in the region is not limited to this.
In the practical activity of the organization, the issues of security and economic development are considered as interrelated key components. This is the important role of the SCO in maintaining stability and sustainable development in the region.
Despite the ongoing changes in and around the region, after more than 20 years, Central Asia remains the geographical core of the SCO. There is a full understanding among the Member States that ensuring stability and sustainable development in the region remains an imperative and for this reason these tasks should continue to be the focus of the organization's attention.
In the Declaration of the jubilee Dushanbe SCO Summit of 2021, the leaders of all member states unanimously expressed support for the efforts recently undertaken by the Central Asian countries to ensure sustainable development and the formation of a space of trust and friendship in the region, supported the idea of expanding the active role of the SCO in further strengthening their stability and socio-economic development. They also welcome the holding of regular Consultative meetings of the heads of State of the Central Asian region, which were initiated by the President of Uzbekistan.
The SCO's support for the new Central Asian process, which has been observed since 2017, is of course very important both for the region itself and for turning the organization's space into a zone of stability, mutually beneficial development and effective cooperation. In this context, we have every reason to believe that the term "Central Asian Spirit", which has emerged relatively recently in the international political lexicon, strengthens and enriches the doctrinal basis of the SCO - the "Shanghai Spirit".
It is obvious that the expansion of the membership of the organization, coupled with the rapidly changing situation in the region and in the world as a whole, makes certain adjustments to the SCO agenda.
This is an objective process, but it does not in any way detract from the role of the organization in our region. In fact, the connection of the largest countries of South Asia – India and Pakistan - to the SCO area of responsibility, as well as against the background of the emerging trajectory of expansion to the Middle East, new prospects are opening up for the Central Asian countries through the SCO: It is turning into a powerful multilateral platform for the joint development and implementation of mutually beneficial initiatives in the development of multi–structural interconnections in the vast Eurasian space - from transport, infrastructure, energy up to the "green" economy and digital transformation.
- Please tell us in this context about the priorities of cooperation between Uzbekistan and the SCO?
- The Shanghai Cooperation Organization occupies a special place in the structure of Uzbekistan's multilateral diplomacy. This is due to two fundamental points.
Firstly, our country, although it did not participate in the so-called "Shanghai Five", created in the mid-1990s to resolve border issues between China and a number of post-Soviet states (Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan), by virtue of its regional significance, played a very important role in the transformation of the aforementioned dialogue platform to a full-scale organization.
Secondly, as one of the six founding states of the SCO, Uzbekistan took a direct and active part in the development of the basic principles and constituent documents of the organization, as well as the creation and development of its institutional foundations.
The member States of this organization are the closest neighbors and strategic partners of our country. Multidisciplinary cooperation within the SCO serves to strengthen both multilateral regional and interregional cooperation and the development of cooperation with each of these states.
In the system of foreign policy priorities of the New Uzbekistan, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization is more than ever in demand as a multilateral platform for the implementation of an open, pragmatic and broad-based and mutually beneficial cooperation course.
Consequently, the modern strategy of our country in relation to the SCO is based on such key principles as initiative, constructiveness, pragmatism and openness to cooperation.
Uzbekistan is interested in fully unlocking the potential of the organization in the new conditions of its evolution, primarily by increasing practical cooperation in promising areas that meet the vital interests of all participating countries.
In 2017-2021, the head of our state put forward about 50 important and relevant initiatives at the SCO summits. Most importantly, these proposals are consistently implemented within the framework of the "roadmaps", regulatory, programmatic and conceptual documents of the SCO, as well as in the form of new mechanisms for multilateral cooperation.
The formula "The SCO is strong only when each of us is strong", declared by the President of Uzbekistan at the summit of the organization in 2020, fully reveals the essence of the constructive approach of the republic to this structure in accordance with the "Shanghai spirit".
Moreover, in his keynote speech at last year's Dushanbe summit, the President of Uzbekistan vividly demonstrated the line of initiative and openness, presenting the priorities of the Uzbek chairmanship in the SCO. These initiatives, while simultaneously reflecting the key tasks of our country's internal development and its interests in the field of international cooperation, successfully integrate the goals and objectives of the SCO at a new stage of its development.
Among them is the further strengthening of the SCO's potential by intensifying multilateral cooperation in such important areas as increasing intraregional trade, industrial cooperation, innovation, green and digital economy.
It is also important to implement the "Shanghai spirit" through the tools of people's diplomacy, tourism, strengthening friendship and good neighborliness, new cultural and humanitarian initiatives, enriching the SCO's agenda by promoting new directions and formats of cooperation in such promising areas as information and communication technologies, poverty reduction, plant quarantine, strengthening the SCO's global profile. and the expansion of its international relations.
- Could you explain in more detail the tasks and initiatives of Uzbekistan's chairmanship in the organization?
- Of course, everything I said above is not declarative statements, they are followed by concrete actions.
Thus, the Plan of the Presidency of the Republic of Uzbekistan provides for more than 80 major events, more than half of them have been implemented. They cover not only the areas of cooperation already established in the SCO, but also new areas in demand, such as the development of cooperation in intraregional trade, industrial cooperation, innovation, poverty reduction, digital transformation and others.
Thus, the Uzbek side has actually launched a number of new areas of cooperation within the SCO, contributing to the enrichment of its agenda taking into account modern realities.
New approaches and formats have been introduced to the organization of SCO events. They are held not only in Tashkent, but also in the regions, which allows our SCO partners to get a closer look at the potential for interaction that lies in the regions. Thus, meetings of the Council of SCO National Coordinators were organized in the cities of Nukus, Bukhara and Ferghana. A meeting of transport ministers was held in Khiva (May 12, 2022), and an international conference on poverty was held in Bukhara (May 26-27, 2022). It is planned to hold a number of events in August this year in Samarkand.
At the same time, ministerial meetings and meetings are accompanied by thematic forums and conferences. The Chairmanship of Uzbekistan has initiated and already implemented such major events as the SCO People's Diplomacy Forum (May 11-12, 2022), the Tourism Forum (May 20, 2022), the Forum of Traditional Medicine (June 7, 2022), the competition for the best startup projects among young talents of the participating countries of the organization.
All these platforms are saturated with an urgent agenda, important agreements are concluded on them, further joint plans are agreed upon, which is especially important in the conditions of the post-pandemic revival of the economies of the SCO member states. In a word, the format introduced by the Uzbek side allows us to achieve practical results and set new guidelines for representatives of the business communities of our countries.
Of course, the main focus of Uzbekistan's chairmanship is aimed at providing meaningful content to the current agenda of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
In order to implement the initiatives put forward by the head of our state during the presidency of Uzbekistan, drafts of 14 new conceptual documents have been developed. They are aimed at meaningful and institutional expansion of the spheres of interaction in the SCO.
Separately, it is necessary to highlight the projects of such documents new to the SCO practice as the Transport Interconnectedness Strategy, the Intraregional Trade Development Plan, the Infrastructure Development Program, the establishment of the SCO Goodwill Ambassador Institute.
All the initiatives put forward by the President of Uzbekistan are logically interconnected and complement each other. For example, through the development of domestic trade, it is possible to eliminate trade barriers, convergence of technical regulations and digitalization of customs procedures. During the presidency of Uzbekistan, these and other issues were reflected in the agenda of not only ministerial meetings and meetings. They will also be discussed with the participation of the business circles of the SCO member states as part of a series of major thematic events, such as the Economic Forum and the SCO Industrial Innovation Week, the Forum of Heads of Regions, the Industrial Cooperation Forum, the Exhibition of Fruits and Vegetables "Sunny Uzbekistan", and others.
A truly innovative project is the Uzbekistan–SCO industrial zone being created in the Samarkand region. This platform is designed to become an effective mechanism for the implementation of the Program to stimulate industrial cooperation between the business circles of the SCO countries, initiated by the President of Uzbekistan, allowing to attract additional investments, technological and innovative solutions for the production of products with high added value.
In turn, the initiative actively promoted by Tashkent to strengthen interconnectedness within the SCO is aimed at the effective use of the huge transport and transit potential in a wide area of the organization.
With these efforts, Uzbekistan intends, together with its partners, to use the opportunities of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to accelerate the practical implementation of the system of transport corridors, such as "Uzbekistan–Kyrgyzstan–China", "Termez–Mazar-I–Sharif–Kabul–Peshawar", "Lanzhou–Kashgar–Irkeshtam–Osh–Andijan–Tashkent-Mary" and other routes which, in the current geo-economic conditions, acquire a special strategic character.
Uzbekistan's proposed Strategy of Interconnectedness in the SCO space also contributes to the revival of Afghanistan's unique economic and transit role for the whole of Eurasia.
There is no doubt that Afghanistan is a key factor in ensuring long-term security and stability in the region. Unfortunately, due to the well-known events in the world, there is a slight decrease in the attention of the international community to Afghanistan. The tragedy of the Afghan people, if they are left alone with a humanitarian catastrophe, can result in new flows of refugees, an increase in the drug threat and a surge in terrorism.
No SCO state is interested in leaving a hotbed of instability in the heart of Eurasia and threats to the security of neighboring countries emanating from the Afghan territory. Today's realities require our organization to take more concrete actions and involve Afghanistan in regional initiatives, including infrastructure projects.
In this regard, the promotion of the development of consolidated approaches within the SCO regarding the post-war development strategy of Afghanistan naturally ranks among the key priorities of our country's chairmanship in the organization.
In short, the key priorities of the SCO chairmanship outlined by the President of Uzbekistan meet the interests of all parties and, most importantly, are aimed at ensuring stability, sustainable development and strengthening friendship and good–neighborliness throughout the SCO space.
- As you know, this year Uzbekistan, as chairman of the SCO, will host the Summit of the heads of the organization's member states. As far as we know, this meeting will be held in Samarkand in September this year. Could you tell us how the preparations for this summit are going and share your assessment of the role and significance of the upcoming event?
- It is absolutely true that Uzbekistan's chairmanship in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization is approaching the main event – the meeting of the Council of Heads of State in Samarkand, a solid package of new legal and conceptual documents designed to bring multifaceted interaction within the organization to a new qualitative level.
The choice of Samarkand has a deep meaning – this city has been a place of historical meetings and civilizational dialogue since time immemorial, a bridge of cultural and humanitarian mutual enrichment and the development of international trade, strengthening good neighborliness.
In the dynamic and proactive diplomacy of the New Uzbekistan, Samarkand has acquired a special dimension, acting as a unique platform for convening and promoting the most important international and diplomatic initiatives of our country. In recent years, the city has hosted a number of major forums, such as the International Conference "Central Asia: One Past and a Common Future, Cooperation for Sustainable Development and Mutual Prosperity" (2017), the Asian Forum on Human Rights (2018), which later transformed into the Samarkand Forum on Human Rights (2020), and others.
As Natalia German, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General and Head of the Regional Center for Preventive Diplomacy in Central Asia, noted, the impetus received from these platforms is vividly reflected in the "Samarkand spirit", which provides for discussion of topical issues of regional and global development in an atmosphere of good neighborliness, friendship and openness, contributing to the formation of new formats of cooperation in Central Asia Asia is the geographical axis of the SCO space.
The unique heritage of Samarkand and its new creative power perfectly correspond to the value basis of the SCO - the principles of trust, mutual benefit, equality, respect for the diversity of cultures and joint development.
Today, on the eve of the summit, the pearl of the Great Silk Road is experiencing a new birth with a large-scale reconstruction and is ready to host the largest political and diplomatic forum of the year in the Eurasian space.
In such a favorable atmosphere at the Samarkand Summit, the heads of state will discuss new challenges and tasks facing the SCO in the light of the profound transformation of modern international relations, and make a number of important decisions that will have historical significance for the further evolution of the Organization.
One of the key issues on the agenda of the summit is the further expansion of the SCO. A Memorandum on the obligations of the Islamic Republic of Iran in order to obtain the status of a SCO member state is already ready for signing. The document will practically open the way to full membership of this large Middle Eastern country in our Organization.
In addition, applications from about 10 more countries for participation in the SCO activities in the format of full members, observers and dialogue partners will be considered.
The summit is also expected to sign memoranda on establishing partnership relations between the SCO and a number of other international and regional organizations, such as LAS, UNESCO, ESCAP.
Against this background, the upcoming summit under the Uzbek chairmanship is of particular importance, providing a very timely and effective platform for the leaders of the Shanghai Eight to discuss a whole range of topical issues on the regional and global agenda.
All this inspires confidence that the Samarkand Summit will adequately mark the SCO's entry into the third decade, opening a new milestone in its evolution.
- Thank you, Vladimir Imamovich, for your time and a meaningful conversation!
- Thank you.