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'A Just Cause Finds Great Support': Xi Jinping and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization

By Xinhua|Jul 01,2024

"A just cause finds great support, and a journey with many companions gets far."

Chinese President Xi Jinping poses for a group photo with other leaders and guests ahead of the 22nd meeting of the Council of Heads of State of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, Sept. 16, 2022. (Photo/Li Tao, Xinhua)

Beijing/Astana - On June 15, 2001, then heads of state of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan gathered in Shanghai. Together, they announced the creation of a new regional group on the Eurasian continent -- the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

The SCO is the only inter-governmental organization named after a Chinese city. It has become a key venue for China to bolster its cooperation with countries in Central Asia and the broader Eurasian landmass.

Over the past decade, Chinese President Xi Jinping has attended every SCO head-of-state summit, including through video conferences during the COVID period. He shared at this multilateral platform his thoughts and proposals with other world leaders on ensuring regional stability, achieving more robust common development and contributing to a better world.

"A just cause finds great support, and a journey with many companions gets far." In Xi's eyes, the development of the SCO, which represents about half of the world's population and a quarter of the global economy, accords with the trend of the times and goes along with the direction of human progress.

"With peace, a country enjoys prosperity"

"The 'Three evil forces,' drug trafficking and transnational organized crime are serious threats to regional security and stability." When Xi first addressed the SCO summit in Kyrgyzstan capital Bishkek in 2013, he opened his speech with a clear and concise assessment of the security situation facing SCO members.

The SCO was born primarily for security reasons. Its predecessor, the "Shanghai Five," was formed to manage border security issues after the end of the Cold War. Terrorism, separatism and extremism, known as the "three evil forces," have for decades hung over Central Asia, becoming increasingly acute following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and the so-called Arab Spring.

As Xi debuted on the SCO stage, the region was facing a much more complicated security situation. The rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria caused a spillover of terrorist and extremist elements into Central Asia back then, resulting in more pressure for China and its SCO partners to forge strong security ties.

A representative of Chinese troops receives medals in the closing ceremony of the "Peace Mission 2021" counter-terrorism military drill of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization member states, at the Donguz training range in Russia's Orenburg Region on Sept. 24, 2021. (Photo/Mei Shixiong, Xinhua)

The Chinese leader stressed security cooperation at every summit and mentioned "security" more than 120 times in his 11 SCO speeches. For the Chinese leader, security is the bedrock of development, while stability is a prerequisite for prosperity.

"With peace, a country enjoys prosperity, just as with rain, the land can flourish." Xi once quoted this Uzbekistan proverb to explain his understanding of the relationship between security and development when attending the 2022 SCO Samarkand summit.

Xi pledged "zero tolerance" towards the "three evil forces" and underscored concerted efforts to eradicate them. He also urged the SCO members to help Afghanistan regain peace and push forward cooperation in tackling drug trafficking, organized crime, and nontraditional security sectors like cyberspace and outer space.

With the consistent push by Xi and his fellow SCO leaders, the SCO has, over the years, organized joint drills and cracked down on drug smuggling to cut terrorism financing. Those efforts have paid off. From 2013 to 2017, SCO member states foiled more than 600 terrorist crimes, captured some 2,000 terrorists and destroyed over 500 terrorist boot camps. Security mechanisms have improved, and joint drills have extended to cyberspace.

The SCO has also been a platform on which Xi expounded his new security vision for Asia -- a common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security.

The world today remains gripped by war and conflict. Xi has always been concerned with preventing war and achieving lasting peace. In 2022, he proposed the Global Security Initiative (GSI), a global public good provided by China to advance global security governance.

The guiding principle of the GSI is consistent with his security vision, offering China's solution to the question of the times.

Modern Silk Road

The SCO is naturally connected to Xi's signature proposal, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). All six initial SCO members were along the ancient bustling trade route between the East and the West, and the Chinese leader has further strengthened that connection.

During a state visit to Kazakhstan in September 2013, Xi proposed the Silk Road Economic Belt, an essential component of the BRI. Days later, when addressing the Bishkek SCO summit, Xi called on member countries to carry forward the Silk Road spirit.

Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers a speech at the Nazarbayev University in Astana, Kazakhstan, Sept. 7, 2013. (Photo/Wang Ye, Xinhua)

Over the decade, Xi has used the BRI as a key driver to promote China's practical cooperation with the SCO countries and to accelerate development. By aligning their respective development strategies, China and the SCO members have witnessed fruitful results in boosting infrastructure, trade and financial connectivity.

Earlier this month via video link, Xi, along with Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov and Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, hailed the signing of an inter-governmental agreement in Beijing on the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway.

The railway, as planned, will begin in Kashgar, a city in China's western Xinjiang, and enter the territory of Uzbekistan through Kyrgyzstan. In the future, it can reach West Asia and South Asia, becoming a main transport artery across the Asian continent.

In his video message, Xi described the railway as a strategic project of connectivity between China and Central Asia and a landmark project of the three countries' cooperation efforts under the Belt and Road Initiative.

Located in the heartland of the Asian continent, Central Asia's development has long been constrained by a lack of ports. Once completed, the railway will shorten the time needed to transport Central Asian products to major global markets and facilitate the integration of Central Asia with the global industrial and supply chains, thus boosting regional development.

The railway project was first proposed in the 1990s. Over the years, Xi has paid close attention to the project. In his interactions with leaders of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, both SCO members, he repeatedly called for a joint drive to restart this transformative railway project.

A railway staff member examines the first train of a new international multimodal transport route departing from Langfang City, north China's Hebei Province, July 4, 2023. (Photo/Jia Jun, Xinhua)

Former SCO Secretary-General Vladimir Norov hailed the BRI as "an important platform for multilateral cooperation" that benefits landlocked Central Asian countries, including his home country of Uzbekistan. The BRI has provided "the chance to go freely to the world market."

The railway is just one facet of China's booming cooperation with SCO members. Thanks to increased connectivity, trade is flourishing. Over the past year, trade between China and the five Central Asian countries hit a record high of about 90 billion U.S. dollars, up over 27 percent year-on-year.

Stronger bond

When it was China's turn to hold the SCO summit in 2018, Xi chose to host his colleagues in Qingdao, a coastal city in China's eastern Shandong Province. The choice has rich cultural implications.

Shandong is home to Confucius and Mencius, two Chinese sages, and the cradle of Confucianism. This ancient Chinese philosophy has significantly influenced many Asian cultures and has profoundly impacted the lives of the Chinese people and their way of thinking.

Xi welcomed the SCO leaders by quoting a famous line from Confucius: "What a joy to have friends coming from afar!"

Xi has long advocated for mutual learning among different cultures and civilizations. Since becoming China's president, he has made cultural interaction a trademark of his diplomacy. For him, the diversity of civilizations sustains human progress. In Qingdao, he first defined his outlook on civilization as comprised of equality, mutual learning, dialogue, and inclusiveness.

On many occasions, the Chinese leader also stressed the preservation of traditional culture and inheritance of cultural heritage. In his eyes, historical and cultural heritage is a precious resource that is not renewable.

This photo taken on Sept. 21, 2023 shows the historical sites in the ancient city of Khiva, Uzbekistan. (Photo/Li Muzi, Xinhua)

During the trip to Uzbekistan in 2013, Xi launched a joint project with the Uzbek side to restore historical mosques and Islamic schools to their glory of yore in the ancient city of Khiva, which was widely hailed as a shining pearl of civilization along the ancient Silk Road. With Xi's continuous attention and support, the project was completed in 2019.

When he visited the Central Asian country again in 2022, Xi presented Uzbek President Mirziyoyev with a miniature of the ancient city as a state gift in celebration of the two countries' joint efforts to restore the cultural heritage of the Silk Road.

Xi regards each civilization as unique, with none being superior to any other. "We should promote mutual learning between our civilizations and enhance good-neighborliness and friendship between our countries. This allows us to enhance public support for the SCO's long-term development."

Shared home

"The SCO is our shared home," Xi once said. From time to time, the Chinese leader would describe the SCO's growing membership as a "big family."

Whether a shared home or a big family, the SCO is always open and inclusive. It features non-alliance, non-confrontation and non-targeting of any third party. That starkly contrasts with exclusive clubs of nations driven by ideological bloc confrontation.

In recent years, the SCO has incorporated new members who recognize the Shanghai Spirit, which is defined by mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality, consultation, respect for diversity of civilizations and pursuit of common development.

Now, with nine member states, three observer states and 14 dialogue partners, the SCO is the world's largest regional organization in terms of geographical scale and population.

For Xi, mankind, living in the same global village, are increasingly becoming a community with a shared future in which everyone's interest is closely interlinked. Thus, he proposed the building of an SCO community with a shared future at the Qingdao summit.

A lights and fireworks show takes place in Qingdao, the host city of the 18th Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit, in east China's Shandong Province, June 9, 2018. (Photo/Li Xueren, Xinhua)

Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, a witness to the establishment of "the Shanghai Five" in 1996 as a senior Kazakh official, has been involved in the SCO activities from the beginning.

He expressed "a huge respect" for Xi and support for his visions. "I have no doubts about their positive impacts on developing the world, which must be free of discrimination, of sanctions, of pressure."

Xi's proposals are playing a very crucial role in building mutual trust and benefit among countries in a world characterized by growing instability, uncertainty and unpredictability, said Sheradil Baktygulov, a foreign affairs consultant with the Kyrgyz National Institute for Strategic Studies, a think tank.

"The thoughts of President Xi show the way for building a close SCO community," said Baktygulov, "and a bright future for the Eurasian continent."


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