Now There are Ten of Them

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The formal outcome of the 24th SCO summit in Astana was 25 documents signed by representatives of the member countries.

Among these documents, there are practical ones that will certainly lead to the intensification of joint work. These mainly concern security issues, which is one of the main goals of the organization: a cooperation program in the field of combating terrorism, separatism, and extremism for 2025–2027, an anti-drug strategy for the next five years, and a plan for cooperation in the field of information security. As the President of Russia said at a press conference following the meeting, there are plans to create a unified center for responding to security threats.

Another significant outcome of the event was the admission of Belarus into the organization, making it the tenth SCO member. This prompted observers to talk about the significant scale of the union. With ten members, the organization has become more formidable, especially with the status of partners and observers that includes 14 more countries. Indeed, the SCO countries are home to about 40 percent of the world’s population, and their GDP accounts for about a quarter of the world’s total. The SCO includes the two most populous countries in the world, China and India, with a combined population of over 2.8 billion people. The SCO also includes Pakistan, with a population of 241 million, as well as Russia, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. However, the inclusion of Belarus is more of a significant step towards turning the organization from a regional to a global entity, if one can put it that way. Although the SCO seems to be still defining its role in global affairs, as well as its status and development, the strategy for the development of the organization until 2035, signed at the summit in Astana, and the decision of the Council of Foreign Ministers on improving its activities will likely contribute to this.

Among the issues that were discussed again but remain difficult to resolve is the creation of a settlement system or even a currency of its own (the latter proposed by Iran, for which this is particularly relevant). The leader of the newly admitted Belarus said his weighty word on this matter. Alexander Lukashenko, with his characteristic directness, urged his colleagues to stop bowing to the dollar and to take «certain» steps to reduce its role at least within this structure.

President Putin also spoke about this, reminding that Russia has proposed creating its own settlement and payment mechanism. For Russia, in its current situation and given that trade with SCO countries increased by 25 percent last year alone, this is equally relevant. However, countries like China and India, whose major trade is oriented towards the West and based on freely convertible currencies, are not quite ready for this yet. Nevertheless, in bilateral settlements, the share of national currencies of SCO member countries is high and growing. The overall political outcome of the summit was the clear desire of member states to deepen cooperation aimed at strengthening a multipolar world and creating more equitable international relations based on the UN Charter and taking into account the security interests of all countries. This was expressed in the Astana Declaration and in the decision to endorse the initiative «On World Unity for a Just Peace, Harmony and Development». It was also reinforced by the participation of the UN Secretary-General in the summit. Guterres stated that the SCO has the power to solve many security problems. The SCO unequivocally opposed the creation of large-scale missile defense systems by some countries, which undermine global security. The organization also expressed a clear intention to ensure compliance with the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and the non-deployment of weapons in space.

It would be an exaggeration to say that the West is in a panic about what is happening in Eurasia. However, such large-scale cooperation among countries not controlled by Washington and Brussels cannot help but cause concern there. Certainly, Astana showed the failure of plans to isolate Russia and Iran as well. Despite various international court rulings, the President of Russia continues to travel the world, remaining a welcome guest in many capitals and at many forums. The participation of Azerbaijan and some Arab countries indicates that the SCO is actively engaged in energy security. And not in favor of the USA and its allies.

On the eve of the summit, seemingly authoritative Western publications, as if on cue, published articles stating that China had seized the initiative from Moscow in the post-Soviet space of Asia, increasing its presence there to Russia’s detriment. They wrote about allegedly worsening Russian-Chinese relations due to Beijing’s compliance with some trade sanctions. They also mentioned difficulties with mutual payments and refusals of Chinese companies and banks to work with Russian counterparts. As propaganda and disinformation experts urged, a big lie is born from a small truth.

Some aspects of this are indeed present. Take the cooperation between China and Kazakhstan, which is reaching a new level after the official visit of the Chinese President to Astana on the eve of the SCO summit. The trade volume between these countries exceeded $41 billion last year (Russia-Kazakhstan — $30 billion). The third branch of the China-Kazakhstan railway is already under construction. Investment projects are expanding. Such is the scale of China, such are its capabilities and ambitions.

However, overall, as the summit and the personal meeting on its sidelines between President Putin and Chairman Xi showed, the countries continue to work in harmony, their interaction is deepening, and sanctions even stimulate the processes of rapprochement to some extent. Notably, CNN, reviewing the summit in Astana, emphasizes that «the Eurasian club led by Russia and China, aimed at promoting the concept of an alternative world order, is expanding its composition». The Guardian calls the SCO an «anti-NATO» alliance.