Note of Comment on President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’sParticipation to the Annual Summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation

Note of Comment on President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’sParticipation to the Annual Summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation

 

This year, the annual summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Heads of States was held under the chairmanship of Russia in a virtual format owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation has come a long way since its inception in 2001, undergoing a pragmatic evolution and diversification in agenda. Uzbekistan, as one of the founding members, has been an active participant and shaper of the agenda of the SCO which has evolved from a narrow focus on military and border matters to embrace a wide range of cooperation fields, including security, culture, connectivity, people-to-people exchanges and health, among others. The SCO is, in other words, a notable attempt to create a regional platform of multilateral governance in the Eurasian landmass, enhancing normative alignment, market integration, and collective security.

President Shavkat Mirziyoyev delivered his virtual remarks at the SCO videoconference summit. Allow me to elaborate on four of the points raised by President Mirziyoyev at the Summit.

 

  1. “Consolidation of economic interaction and the revitalisation of trade and economic ties”

The economic drivers of growth and integration across the SCO space have suffered serious setbacks this year, leading to the fragmentation of trade flows and supply chains.

As a result, the risk of an economic recession derived from the global pandemic is a very real threat. It is therefore crucial that – in addition to the utmost priority of saving lives –  economic activity resumes, supply chains recover, and financial markets stabilise.

The initial, fractured response to the COVID-19 pandemic needs to be replaced by mechanisms within the SCO framework for economic and financial cooperation and common strategies to attract Foreign Direct Investment. Moreover, to once again boost regional trade and investment flows, the coordinated loosening of tariff & non-tariff barriers to trade and other export-import restrictions raised during the pandemic needs to take place.

 

  1. “The pandemic has accelerated the digitalization process. Information technologies are becoming driver of economic growth”

There is indeed a huge potential for digital technology to stimulate economic growth which is particularly important in the Central Asian SCO member countries that are looking to diversify their economic portfolios and overcome major hurdles they face as a landlocked region. The need for digitalisation is certainly pressing as it has beneficial effects on a multitude of different areas of statecraft, improving public services and raising living standards, while creating new jobs for the region’s highly educated youth.

The pandemic has just made the digital transformation even more essential in order to ensure essential social and economic functions of the state.  Particular attention will need to be paid to preventing the accentuation of the digital divide (between urban and rural areas, for example).

The process is also essential in the pursuit of meeting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, in particular Goal 9 pertaining to industry, innovation and infrastructure, as digitalisation stimulates all three.

 

  1. “It is critical to expand joint counteraction to new challenges and threats to the health of the population of our countries”

Already in 2018, the SCO countries adopted a Statement on Joint Efforts against the Threat of Epidemics in the SCO Space. Some of the provisions included in this Statement are of particular relevance now: exchange of reliable information about infectious diseases in the SCO space and common response measures, exchange of best practices to enhance the resilience of systems created to cope with health emergencies, among others.

This COVID-19 pandemic can be a catalyst for putting the SCO health cooperation mechanisms into full use, deepen exchanges and cooperation in epidemic monitoring, scientific research, and disease control and treatment. Increasing the channels of communication between the SCO members centres for disease control for timely updates on cross-border transmission of communicable diseases, as the People’s Republic of China has suggested, would be important in this regard. Last but certainly not least, it is equally important to resist any politicization of the virus and the vaccine, as has happened in some corners of the world.

 

  1. “Never before has it been more salient not to miss the historic chance to achieve the long-awaited peace in Afghanistan.”

The ongoing peace efforts in Afghanistan are at a critical stage. If successful, they could help turn a page on the decades-long conflict in the country, thereby unlocking Afghanistan’s untapped potential, linking it with the rest of the world and restoring its historic role as a bridge between Central and South Asia. The SCO can provide a springboard for Afghanistan to participate in regional integration and improve connectivity with neighbouring countries.

At present, Afghanistan enjoys observer status at the SCO. It is expected that in order to play a more meaningful role within the SCO space, Afghanistan will seek full membership, a goal confirmed by (former) Minister of Foreign Affairs Salahuddin Rabbani at the 2019 SCO  Ambassadorial Meeting in Kabul: “in the coming years, we look forward to achieving full membership of the SCO, on which we need the support of all of you, as you rendered such support to India and Pakistan, which acquired full membership in 2017.”

In addition, the flurry of Uzbek initiatives to facilitate this process continues. In addition to well-known initiatives to improve transport connectivity and investing in education opportunities for Afghan youth, Uzbekistan continues to shape up as the foremost hub for discussing Afghanistan’s future. In this regard, and following the 2018 Tashkent Conference on Afghanistan, Uzbekistan plans to organise next year a high-level conference next year on the theme “Central and South Asia: Regional Connectivity; Challenges and Opportunities”.

Alberto Turkstra, Project Manager, Diplomatic World Institute