June 22, 2018

The Lessons China Taught Itself: Why the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Matters

By Abigail Grace

China’s changing political landscape and the recent accession of India to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) marks the beginning of a new chapter for one of China’s first self-founded multilateral groupings. First established in June 2001 by China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s initial activities were primarily focused on security, namely combatting the “three evils”—terrorism, separatism, and extremism (Shanghai Cooperation Organization, June 15 2001). This year’s leader-level summit marks the first instance in which Indian Prime Minister Modi will join the grouping as a full member, introducing a democratic counterweight into an organization historically dominated by China, and to a lesser degree, Russia.

Despite this unique constellation of actors, Western onlookers have frequently discounted the relevance and importance of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (Council on Foreign Relations, October 14 2015). Highlighting internal dissent between China and Russia, few tangible outcomes, and an under-emphasis on strengthening economic partnerships, critics of the organization paint the grouping as ineffectual. Largely absent from previous outcome-focused Western analyses is a close look at the lessons that China itself has learned on advancing its geostrategic interests through multilateral organizations.

A review of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s activities reveals that China perceives the organization as a blank canvas to hone its own approaches to leading on the international stage. Chinese official newspapers and netizens have described the organization as a forum for China to explore and implement a new model of international relations. Moreover, official releases from the SCO itself acknowledge the need for the group to continue refining coordination and organization mechanisms, indicating that China’s strategy for engaging the organization is evolving as the SCO’s issue set expands in scope. Thus, the current value of the SCO is as a forum for China to define and articulate its interests, shape the focus of international institutions based on its own domestic priorities, lobby its neighbors to adopt its approach, and codify those views within an internationally legitimate multilateral process.



Read the Full Article at The Jamestown Foundation

  • Commentary
    • May 11, 2022
    Sharper: The Authoritarianism Challenge

    Autocratic leadership is on the rise globally. Even in democratic nations, leaders are eroding checks on their power and weakening institutions. The use of illiberal technolog...

    By Anna Pederson

  • Commentary
    • April 27, 2022
    Sharper: Taiwan

    Taiwan plays a pivotal role in East Asian and global affairs. It has long been a central point of contention in the strategic competition between the United States and China. ...

    By Anna Pederson & Jacob Stokes

  • Video
    • April 27, 2022
    If India won't readjust ties with Russia, questions will be asked about Indo-US ties

    ThePrint's Senior Consulting Editor Jyoti Malhotra speaks to Lisa Curtis about the impact of India's relationship with Russia on ties with Russia. Watch the full interview fr...

    By Lisa Curtis

  • Commentary
    • The Observer Research Foundation
    • April 26, 2022
    Creating Waves in the Indo-Pacific: Reverberations from Russia’s War in Ukraine

    Russia’s war in Ukraine is making it increasingly difficult—perhaps impossible— for India to be able to straddle the US-Russia divide for much longer....

    By Lisa Curtis

View All Reports View All Articles & Multimedia