History, Goals of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization

Posted June 14th, 2011 at 1:10 pm (UTC-5)
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The prominent Asian regional alliance known as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization began as an informal grouping of five nations that attempt to resolve border disputes multilaterally to promote neighborly relations.

The “Shanghai Five,” formed in 1996, included China, Russia and three Central Asian states that share their borders: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The regional bloc grew to six members with the admission of Uzbekistan in 2001 and renamed itself the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Uzbekistan does not border China or Russia.

The group's 2001 expansion also entailed a broadening of its focus to include international terrorism, religious extremism and ethnic separatism — problems that affect all six nations. The SCO says one of its main goals is to maintain and ensure peace, security and stability in region.

Other major goals of the SCO include promoting cooperation on politics, education and economic issues such as energy, transportation, tourism, science and environmental protection.

SCO nations also seek to establish what they call a “new political and economic international order” that is “democratic, just and rational.” China and Russia, the bloc's two leading powers, agree that such a “new order” should limit the U.S. presence in Central Asia, which they see as their sphere of influence.

The United States has leased military bases in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan in the past decade to boost the U.S.-led fight against Taliban militants in neighboring Afghanistan. Uzbekistan evicted the U.S. troops in 2005 after the SCO called for a U.S. military withdrawal from the region earlier that year. But, the U.S. Air Force still leases a base at Kygyzstan's Manas airport.

Some analysts say China and Russia continue to compete with each other for dominance in Central Asia despite their cooperation within the SCO.

China has been trying to expand its economic ties to Central Asia because it is a key source of energy for the booming Chinese economy. The analysts say China prefers to reach agreements with Central Asian nations through the SCO rather than individually to create a more level playing field and avoid the appearance of bullying its smaller neighbors.

The analysts say Russia worries about China's growing economic clout in Central Asia. They say Moscow sees the SCO as a way to regain its historical status as a leading power following its domination of the region during the Soviet era.