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LOOKING AHEAD

December 26, 2006 (the date of publication in Russian)

Yaroslav Butakov

THE SHANGHAI PROJECT

Will SCO become a Eurasian Anti-NATO?

In the West, the Shanghai Cooperation organization, SCO, is frequently described as the second NATO, and viewed as a reincarnation of the Warsaw Treaty, this time under leadership of China. Some of the Russian analysts, in their turn, tend to suspect SCO to be serving as an instrument of imposing Chinese influence on Russia and the countries of Central Asia. Meanwhile, a number of nations, playing a substantial role in Eurasian policies, – such as India, Pakistan and Iran Ц are eager to acquire a member status in SCO. What kind of an organization it really is; what are the prospects of its enlargement; is it really likely to play the role of a military political alliance as a counterbalance to NATO in the expanse of Eurasia?

 

THE "CELESTIAL EMPIRE" SEEKS ALLIES

In 1996 in Shanghai, the leaders of five states – China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan Ц assembled for a debate on regional cooperation and security. Shortly afterwards, regular multilateral cooperation of those countries, in addition to summit meetings, was developing on the level of heads of governments, as well as ministers responsible for security and economic strategy. In this way, the "Shanghai Five" started its activity. In 2000, with Uzbekistan's entry, it expanded into "Shanghai Six". Since 2001, it is officially named Shanghai Cooperation Organization. It has acquired permanently functioning international executive bodies, the Secretariat and the Regional Antiterrorist Organization.

The five principles of CPR's foreign policy: non-intervention in domestic affairs, respect of sovereignty and political choice, friendly neighborhood, mutually favorable cooperation, and equality, have unofficially become the basic principles of SCO's work. In general, these definitions are acceptable for any state which seeks independence. According to an expert, "the five principles, proposed by China, were viewed by the new sovereign states of Central Asia as guarantees of safety of their territories and regimes, which was especially significant in the initial period of their independence".

From the very beginning, security issues comprised a significant point of the agenda. SCO's unique feature could be seen in the fact that it was the first military political alliance ever joined by China. In a certain way, SCO has become an essentially new chapter in the history of the "Celestial Empire"'s foreign policy. This fact may serve as an evidence of China's transition from its traditional political self-sufficiency towards an active role of one of the world's superpowers, which suggests a need in allies.

 

"THE SHANGHAI SPIRIT"

In the period of roughly five years, the doctrinal directives of China' foreign policy have underwent significant changes. The tenure of today's Chairman Hu Jintao had already been officially identified as "the period of transition from passive towards active foreign policy". China officially expressed the formula of the world system: "one superpower, many strong powers", a Chinese expression of the principle of multipolarity. SCO is regarded as one of the instruments of implementation of this principle.

The ideology, featuring SCO as a systemic model of intergovernmental partnership, was developed stage by stage. This ideology was reflected in the speeches of top officials. Jiang Zemin, the former Chairman of CPR, indicated already in a 1999 interview that the Shanghai summit of 1996 has "opened the pathway to intergovernmental cooperation based upon the concept of security of a new type" (italics mine – Y.B.). At the opening session of the SCO Forum of May 2006, Deputy Executive Secretary Serik Narysov (Kazakhstan) identified SCO as a structure, "oriented towards construction of a just democratic architecture of international relations". According to his words, SCO's significance is expressed in the fact that SCO is "an only inter-civilizational organization of a regional type". "SCO's zone of responsibility", as this functionary expressed himself, involves "an opportunity to prevent a conflict of civilizations".

The expression of "Shanghai spirit" has become a milestone of SCO. According to the Joint Statement on the Summary of the First meeting of the leaders of parliaments of SCO member states, convened in Moscow on May 30, 2006, "since its foundation, SCO has reached impressing results due to firm implementation of the Shanghai spirit, reflected, primarily, in mutual confidence and benefit, equality, mutual advice, respect of diversity of cultures and civilizations, and commitment for joint development". The Shanghai spirit was defined as "unique experience and great achievements in development of cooperation among six states, essentially important for the cause of establishing a new model of regional cooperation and inter-state development".

 

MULTI-VECTOR PARTNERSHIP AS A NECESSITY

In its proceedings, SCO tends to acquire the role of a single organization, possessing a right for resolution of conflicts and military presence in its zone of responsibility (this term is also repeatedly used in SCO practice). One of the major factors, determining SCO's foundation, was the interest in joint prevention of separatism and terrorism without intervention from any other sides. Russia and China were encountering similar challenges, respectively in Chechnya and Eastern Turkestan (Xinjiang-Uighur Autonomous District).

For the countries of Central Asia, cooperation with Russia and China in the relevant aspects was also viewed as a priority, as these counties were facing similar extremist insurrections with a religious hue. For several years, Tajikistan had been shattered with a civil war, unleashed by Islamic radicals. Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan were regularly undergone terrorist raids from territories of neighbor countries. Similar potential threats were anticipated by Kazakhstan as well. In this view, SCO emerged as an instrument of mutual support of two major powers and the adjacent states for the same trans-border objective.

At the same time, if compared with the "trans-Atlantic solidarity", the "Shanghai spirit" is not sufficiently strong. Neither is SCO's efficiency as an instrument of containment of the US penetration into Central Asia.

This fact became spectacular in summer 2005, when the heads of SCO states issued a joint declaration on undesirability of the presence of military forces of any "external" states in the region (a transparent hint at the United States). Right thereafter, Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov demanded withdrawal of the US bases from his territory. His Kyrgyz colleague, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, was not so resolute, demanding only increase of rent for the US base in his country.

The lack of unity among SCO members is explained with the fact that all of its members with the exception for China, which had relied only upon itself for millenniums, had been following the so-called principle of multipolarity in their foreign policy. A. Bolyatko, a Russian expert, indicates that until today, the intensity of cooperation in the SCO framework is lower than that between Russia and NATO members.

 

EXPANSION UNDER THE GUISE OF COOPERATION?

During the last years, experts – especially Chinese specialists Ц emphasize the increase of economic aspects in the SCO cooperation, as compared with the aspects of security. The priority issues of cooperation are now: overcoming poverty; construction of transport corridors across the mountainous, communication-lacking areas of Central Asia, and guaranteeing energy security.

The latter issue is especially important for China, with its increasing dependence on energy imports. In the nearest future, Russian and Kazak oil and gas are expected to flow to China in high amounts. For China, these supplies are obviously regarded as necessary to be guaranteed not only by bilateral agreements but through a multilateral system of regional security, through the interests of all of the partners.

Still, China's greatest problem is overpopulation. It would be naive to admit that China would not try to use the structures and mechanism of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization for resolution of this problem. This objective may be viewed as one of the top advantages of SCO for China.

In its present shape, SCO is composed of countries with an active Chinese migration, which are also those countries which are regarded by China as its everlasting historical zone of influence. The ostensibly prior economic objectives, followed with rhetorics of "a new model of inter-civilizational relations", may be serving as a secure guise for implementation of plans of subtle expansion.

In this regard, the view of Chinese experts on SCO's prospects of economic integration is quite noteworthy. At the SCO Forum in Moscow, Hu Hao, member of SCO's Chinese Research Center, and deputy head of CPC's foreign policy commission, claimed that by year 2010, free transition of commodities, capitals and citizens (italics mine) across SCO may become a reality".

The forecasts of SCO's future should be based, primarily, on the analysis of China's immediate pragmatic interests, which that country will definitely tend to pursue. One more tendency is China's thrust towards global leadership. However, this role, which China has just started to assimilate, should not be overestimated in the prior motives of the "Celestial Empire".

In this regard, we should analyze the prospects of SCO's expansion, which has lately become a subject of serious discussions. The list of major candidates for membership includes the countries having now an observer status in SCO. Those are India, Pakistan, and Iran (leave aside Mongolia as an insignificant political player).

 

THE TIGERS OF HINDUSTAN

Today, India is expressing a high interest towards cooperation with the Shanghai Organization, highly appreciating its activity. According to the view of Indian analysts, SCO has demonstrated a high potential and a strong leading capability in the region. For India, stability and security in the region of Central Asia is of great importance. This view is largely based upon concerns of threats of separatism and religious extremism in India itself, enhanced with the proximity of a major source of this instability, the boiling Afghanistan. The long-time confrontation with Pakistan, which had traditionally exploited the mentioned factors for weakening India, is also significant. Under the described conditions, India is vitally interested in involvement into a durable mechanism of multilateral cooperation, capable to neutralize or at least to mitigate those challenges.

For India with over a billion of population, as well as for the even more densely populated China, the issue of energy security is of prior significance. India's population is rapidly proliferating, reaching the Chinese proportions. The only way to deal with mass poverty, a natural side effect of rapid demographic growth, is an intensive development of economy. In this regard, India is clearly making a choice different from China, undertaking attempts to upgrade its scientific and technological potential through use of new technologies, rather than mounting cheap consumer goods and foreign-licensed PCs. Still, India's plans may face a failure in case the problem of import of energy resources remains unresolved.

Given the lack of own resources of oil and gas, the energy problem is exceptionally vital for India. It is especially spectacular in comparison with Iran. While in Iran, liters of gasoline are saved to get a US dollar, in India, dollars are saved to buy a liter of gasoline. It is noteworthy that Iran is viewed by India as the major source of fuel. Kazakhstan and Russia are of secondary importance, as Iran is the closest neighbor and therefore the key guarantor of energy security.

India is looking forward to construction of oil and gas pipelines from Iran. However, the two countries are separated from one another with the territory of an unfriendly Pakistan and an explosive Afghanistan, both of them lying between India and the republics of Central Asia. One more option is delivery of condensed gas by sea.

These considerations involve an important aspect. Pakistan has proposed to use the potential of the Gwadar port for arrival of tankers and ships with condensed gas from Iran, with further delivery to other interested countries, namely India and a similarly import-dependent China. This suggests construction of pipelines from Gwadar westward to India, and northward across the Karakorum to China. In this way, Pakistan is seeking a role of a major transit country for energy supply of both most populated countries of the world, collecting also its own share of resources in which it is also in a great need. Pakistan's interest in this project is obvious.

Exactly this project is most actively promoted by China. It could establish the shortest distance of delivery of high-quality and relatively cheap hydrocarbons from the Persian Gulf's basin. For decades, China pursues a friendly policy towards Pakistan. These relations originally emerged from confrontation of both countries with India, developing in the period when both China and Pakistan provided assistance for Afghan Mujahideen against the USSR.

Meanwhile, energy delivery to China is diversified due to alternative routes of transit across Russia, Kazakhstan, as well as Iran via Central Asia. Therefore, in case of necessity, China would not fall into dependence from the Pakistani pipeline. For China, the project of an energy transport corridor via Pakistan is of a different importance: along with solution of problems of self-supply, the links with Pakistan allow to impose pressure upon India.

Definitely, India views those plans with anxiety. For this country, the most secure route of import suggests delivery of condensed gas from Iran to the territory of its own. However, this version is just technologically insufficient for a due supply of the demands of a country with an over a billion people. Therefore, India remains interested in construction of pipelines across Pakistan, and therefore, in improvement of relations with that country.

In addition, India actually intends to distract a part of the export flow of Iranian hydrocarbons in its own direction. This requires agreements with China. Therefore, the multilateral framework of cooperation of Iran, Pakistan, India, and China is becoming a crucial factor of energy policy in the whole of Southern Asia. To a certain extent, SCO represents a ready-made mechanism of such a kind of cooperation in the sphere of regional security, especially in case it involves also energy security.

Still, one could suggest with high probability that India's role in SCO will never exceed the status of an observer. That is determined with a number of factors.

The first circumstance is India's traditional orientation towards the West. India is associated with a multitude of close economic, political and cultural ties with the countries of the Anglo-Saxon world. India's interests never contradict to the United States, and therefore, India is not so needed in the Shanghai project if its purpose is to create a counterbalance to the US.

Secondly, the problem of India's energy security has more than a single solution. The routes of oil delivery to India, due to its littoral geographic position, may be efficiently diversified. India has a possibility to deliver oil from any of the Gulf states, not only from Iran. Besides, India can use such countries of South Eastern Asia as Malaysia and Indonesia as additional but significant sources of hydrocarbons. With natural gas, things are more complicated, but in Asia's natural conditions, this fuel is not that essential for heating as in Europe.

Finally – this circumstance may be the most significant Ц China is not interested in India's membership in SCO, as India's presence would immediately challenge China's leading role in the Organization, and make the alliance incapable as a military political bloc. Presence of both great Asiatic powers in the same bloc, regarding their mutually debated territories, is generally absurd.

The option of Pakistan's membership in SCO should be viewed from the same standpoint. In case Pakistan is accepted without India, the latter would be forced into a hostile position towards SCO. Meanwhile, regarding the signs of an Indo-Chinese thaw, Beijing would hardly be interested in a new confrontation.

Thus, the triangle of Moscow, Beijing and New Delhi, once drawn by Yevgeny Primakov in his Prime Minister's tenure, exists only in the realm of geopolitical fantasies.

 

MINSK IS STUDYING CHINESE

In the context of the prospects of SCO's probable enlargement, Byelorussia acquires an unexpectedly important role. It is no secret that Minsk is developing relations with Iran, primarily in the energy sphere. Byelorussia is ready to invest in Iran's oil industry. Mutual economic interest is amplified with the fact that both Iran and Byelorussia have acquired a reputation of "rogue states" in the West. According to a number of reports, Lukashenko's November visit to Tehran was focused, in particular, on purchase of weapons from Belarus by Iran.

Simultaneously, Byelorussia's President is boosting bilateral relationship with China. By today, it is especially spectacular in the sphere of culture, expressing, in particular, in implementation of obligatory studies of Chinese in three schools of Minsk, and its introduction as the second foreign language in all the schools. The military cooperation of the two countries is expanding as well.

In case Byelorussia raises the issue of membership in SCO, Russia will hardly object. Moreover, Moscow may become a catalyst of this process. A framework of a future SCO, including Iran and Byelorussia, acquires a peculiar geopolitical circuit.

At the same time, the entry of the two "rogue states" in the Shanghai Organization, as well as membership of China and those Central Asia countries which are regarded as "authoritarian" in the West, is likely to determine SCO's image in the view of Western countries – not as an axis but rather an empire of evil, comparable with the Warsaw Treaty Organization.

Russia's membership in such an alliance definitely affects its relations with the West. That could be eventually to the better, as by today, Russia acquires more drawbacks than advantages from partnership with the West, losing one position after another. For China, the Organization may develop into a convenient moral and political substantiation for a coercive takeover of Taiwan. Still, China's ascent to new horizons of global policy is more significant.

 

THE BEIJING – TEHRAN AXIS

At the press conference under the title: "SCO: Probable Capabilities", held in September 2006 in Tehran, Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki claimed, "In case Iran becomes a full-fledged member of SCO, it will bring its high potential and constructive plans to the Organization". Obviously, Iran's entry in SCO as a full-fledged member will guarantee a durable international protection for implementation of its nuclear policy.

Meanwhile, such crucial SCO member states as China and Russia, unlike the powers of the West, are not very anxious about Iran's potential possession of nuclear weapons. Russia assists Iran in implementation of its nuclear project, setting hopes upon its peaceful nature. China does not see any threat for its security in Iran's nuclear ambitions as well.

The interests of China and Iran don't collide anywhere. At the same time, Iran is a powerful country from a military standpoint, and its possession of even "peaceful nukes" increases its military strategic potential. For SCO as a military alliance, and for China in particular, Iran is therefore a very valuable ally.

While Russia is developing its relations with Iran with a permanent anxiety about "what the West would say", China is consistent in its support of Iran's efforts in its ascent to the role of a regional power. Beijing's interest is obvious. By 2004, Iran had become the major oil supplier of Iran. In October 2004, the two countries signed an agreement on China's development of the Yadavaran oil province. In exchange for investments of 70-100 billion dollars, China is supposed to receive around 250 million tons of condensed gas and almost 1.4 billion barrels of crude oil from Iran.

The countries of Central Asia are viewed by China as a convenient corridor for transportation of the major share of the above mentioned energy source. The new route is vitally important for both Tehran and Beijing. The fact that Turkmenistan is not an SCO member is not significant. Being jammed between major SCO member powers, Turkmenistan will have no opportunity for geopolitical maneuvers. Add China's diplomatic efforts in the relevant direction. During Turkmenbashi's visit to Beijing in April 2006, the two sides struck an agreement on delivery of 30 billion cub. m of Turkmen gas to China per year.

After the death of Turkmenistan's life-long President, one should expect active involvement of Iranian and Chinese agencies of influence in the power brawl in Ashgabat. The policy of isolation, once chosen by Turkmenbashi, could be regarded as a benefit by the terrified population only while "the Father of the Turkmens" was alive. Today, Turkmenistan is likely to get much more integrated in the regional policies. It is quite probable that in the nearest future, Turkmenistan will make its choice in favor of membership in SCO.

China, with its immense population and growing economy, is a too profitable purchaser of resources, and at the same time, a strong patron. Therefore, it is quite possible that energy cooperation with Beijing will soon involve not only Iran and Turkmenistan but also Azerbaijan. Thus, China's orbit of influence will expand far beyond its borders, marking its ascent to the role of a superpower.

 

IS CHINA GOING TO EXPAND?

Now, let's use our fantasy for a long-term forecast.

A lot of nations are likely to greet China's transformation into a real superpower, effectively challenging the United States in re-division of global influences. The model of inter-state relations, developed in the framework of SCO, makes the perspective of orientation towards China attractive for many. Unlike the United States, China demonstrates respect and even protection of sovereignty of other nations. Beijing is emphatically reluctant to intervene in domestic affairs of other countries. Beijing is not obsessed with implantation of, say, "values of Confucianism" into other cultures. Beijing does not declare that its interests encompass the whole world. On the contrary, it cultivates regional security and economic prosperity in the existing political framework. Due to this difference from the boring, didactic and intrusive Pax Americana, its alternative, Pax Chinensis, is gaining popularity across the globe. The Chinese model today enjoys sympathy in various regions of the world. Very distant nations, scattered across the globe and seeking a right to secure their own choice of political and social standards from the levelling globalist approach of Western democracy, address their hopes to China.

However, countries like Venezuela and Brazil are too far from China to have any grounds for fear of its expansion. Such nations of South East and Middle East like India, Pakistan and Iran, possess a potential of their own, based in demography as well as military power, which is sufficient to resist even a large-scale Chinese penetration. Russia and the counties of Central Asia are in a less favorable situation. They are too close to China, and they represent a more pragmatic interest for Beijing than "only" support on an international level. Roughly speaking, China is likely to make use of their friendly attitude, and later to swallow the closest satellite. This may happen without any assault on formal rights for sovereignty. It may just happen at a certain moment that the Chinese population constitutes a majority of some state, or a part of it. it is true that China does not impose its model of political design on anyone. It is just quietly and peacefully expanding in the surrounding space.

Two and a half millenniums ago, China occupied a territory between the Great Wall and the Yangtze river. Already in the VII century A.D., it spread from Tien Shan to Amur. Nobody can definitely say where the borders of the "Celestial Empire" will expand after the objectives of Hu Jintao's "period of active foreign policy" are reached.

 

SCO: A MEANS BUT NOT AN OBJECTIVE

Russia cannot allow itself to be oriented exceptionally at the Shanghai Community, neglecting other directions of security cooperation. Russia is uninterested in a monopolist domination of either the United States or China in the expanse of Central Asia. Therefore, the Shanghai Organization, where China is the major pole of influence, may serve for Russia both as a means of self-protection from American influence and an instrument for China's containment in the same political framework.

Russia's membership in SCO should be viewed as a means of resistance to the global hegemony of the United States. However, it should not transform into a means of assisting another superpower in establishing an alternative hegemony – as a "world of a Chinese design" is unlikely to be more favorable for Russia than a "world of an American design".


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