Shanghai Cooperation Organization: A Pioneer of Practicing Multilateralism and Building a Community with a Shared Future for Mankind

By Sun Linjiang

On November10, 2020, leaders of the members and observers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) met via video link at the 20th Meeting of the SCO Council of Heads of State. At this fruitful meeting, leaders of SCO members signed and released a Moscow Declaration, issued six statements on COVID-19, the 75th anniversary of victory inWorld War II, the spread of terrorist, separatist and extremist ideologies through the Internet, cooperation in international information security, the threat of drugs, and cooperation in the digital economy, and adopted several documents covering cooperation in health and medicine, development at the sub-regional level, and external exchanges.

With the current situation and the future development of the SCO in mind, President Xi Jinping delivered at the meeting important remarks entitled “Carrying Forward the Shanghai Spirit and Deepening Solidarity and Collaboration for a Stronger Community with a Shared Future”.Heput forward, for the first time, major initiatives on building an SCO community of health, security, development and cultural exchanges, and offered a China plan for the development of the SCO. His remarks gave regional countries greater confidence in forging ahead together, and enriched the vision of a community with a shared future for mankind. The above proposals were warmly received by all those at the meeting.

The world today is undergoing major changes unseen in a century. COVID-19 infections continue to rise; economic globalization is facing headwinds; and unilateralism and protectionism are on the rise. It is against such a backdrop that the meeting was held, attracting much international attention. President Xi Jinping and other leaders attending the meeting drew up a blueprint for the future of the SCO, identified the mission and responsibilities of the organization going forward, and sent a strong message of the SCO acting on the Shanghai Spirit, upholding multilateralism and responding to risks and challenges. This message injected strong impetus into the joint efforts of the international community to foster a new type of international relations and a community with a shared future for mankind.

I. Building a community of health for all would be instrumental in defeating COVID-19. The SCO has set an example for fighting the pandemic in solidarity.

COVID-19 is wreaking havoc all over the world. It is yet another reminder that countries stand to rise and fall together in a close-knit community with a shared future. In this day and age, it is simply impossible to stay immune or fight alone. Walking away from the international community and into isolationism is not a way out either. Only solidarity and closer international cooperationcould lead us to a final victory over the coronavirus.

In his initiative for a community of health for all, President Xi Jinping called on SCO countries to support the crucial leadership role of the World Health Organization (WHO) and to oppose attempts to politicize the pandemic or mislabel the coronavirus, thus setting the tone for SCO cooperation on COVID-19. With the lives and health of people and the expectations of fellow SCO countries in mind, President Xi Jinping put forth suggestions to strengthen regional countries’ joint response to COVID-19, establish hotline contacts between SCO members’ centers for disease control (CDCs), and deepen cooperation on traditional medicine. He pledged to actively consider SCO countries’ need for vaccines, demonstrating the sense of responsibility of a major country in international COVID-19 cooperation.

The leaders at the meeting supported President Xi Jinping’s initiatives and reached important consensus on opposing the stigmatization of COVID-19 and strengthening international cooperation. A statement on COVID-19 response issued at the meeting underscored the commitment of SCO countries to uphold the Shanghai Spirit and support each other in fighting the virus, and called for closer international cooperation to strengthen the global health system, boost the potential of the WHO, and protect people’s lives and health. These political consensus and cooperation measures cater to a shared need to contain COVID-19. They represent an SCO solution for regional public health security and an SCO contribution to closer international cooperation on COVID-19.

II. Building a community of security for all is an important guarantee for peace and development. The SCO has helped to maintain security and stability in Eurasia.

The worldis witnessing flare-ups of international hotspot issues and regional conflicts. While Eurasiancountries are coping with the economic and social impacts of COVID-19,external forces have stepped up infiltration and interference to exert their influencethrough domestic political agenda in some countries. “Three forces of terrorism, separatism and extremism” are also attempting to stir up trouble during the pandemic. The mounting pressure on regional countries to protectpolitical security and social stability indicates more risks to the security environment in the region.

In his initiative for a community of security for all, President Xi Jinping called on SCO countries to deepen solidarity and mutual trust, to follow the vision of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security, to support each other in protecting political security and social stability, to stand firm against external interference in the internal affairs of SCO members under whatever pretexts, and to enhance closer law-enforcement and security cooperation. He welcomed the participation of other parties in the Global Initiative on Data Security launched by China, which envisions a peaceful, secure, open, cooperative and orderly cyberspace.

The leaders of SCO members set out plans for strengthening cooperation in the field of political security. They highlighted the need to step up political dialogue, collaboration and coordination, to deepen cooperation in cracking down on terrorism, separatism and extremism, combating drugs, and protecting information security, to keep the outer space free of weapons, and to restore peace and development to Afghanistan at an early date. The leaders shared the view that if terrorism, separatism and extremism are allowed to go unchecked, if drug trafficking runs out of control,and if information security is at risk, there will be no security, stability, development or prosperity for the region. In a special statement issued on this subject, the leaders of SCO membersfirmly opposed propagation and instigation of terrorism, separatism and extremism, supported crackdown on drug trafficking, and called for global efforts to build a community with a shared future in cyberspace and ensure that information communication technologies are used for the purpose of achieving economic growth and bettering people’s lives. These positions and propositions demonstrate the resolve of SCO members to jointly uphold regional peace and stability and the role of the SCO as an anchor for regional security.

III. Building a community of development for all is an effective way of promoting common prosperity. The SCO has kept injecting momentum into regional integrated development.

Due to COVID-19, the world economy is faced with the most severe recession since World War II, and economic and social development in countries around the world has come under great strain. China, however, has not only cemented its steady economic recovery, but also scaled up its efforts to foster a new development paradigm with domestic circulation as the mainstay and domestic and international circulations reinforcing each other. The Chinese economy has continued to play a positive role as an anchor and engine of the world economy. Countries across the region look forward to greater multilateral and bilateral practical cooperation with China and higher-level regional economic cooperation to advance their respective economic and social development.

In his initiative for a community of development for all, President Xi Jinping called on all parties to seek true development of mutual benefit and good development with sustainability to facilitate economic recovery and betterment of people’s lives. President Xi Jinping pointed out that SCO members need to forge greater synergy of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) with national development strategies as well as region-wide cooperation initiatives; enhance connectivity and further integrate industrial, supply and value chains for unimpeded economic circulation in the region; facilitate economic reopening through the “fast track” that steps up mobility of people and the “green lane” that quickens the flow of goods; and seize opportunities from the new round of technological revolution and industrial transformation to step up cooperation in the digital economy, e-commerce, artificial intelligence and smart cities. President Xi Jinping stated that next year, China will host a China-SCO forum on the digital economy industry in Chongqing, which will provide a platform for innovation cooperation among parties.

The leaders of SCO members reaffirmed their commitment to strengthening the rules-based, open, fair, inclusive, transparent and non-discriminatory multilateral trading regime with the World Trade Organization at its core, and reiterated their opposition to unilateral trade restrictions and protectionism in international trade. At the meeting, documents including the Action Plan for 2021-2025 to Implement the SCO Development Strategy until 2025 were approved, pointing the way forward for cooperation in various areas. A statement was issued on cooperation in the digital economy, making clear the common position of the parties in expanding cooperation in emerging areas such as e-commerce, artificial intelligence and smart cities.

IV. Building a community of cultural exchanges for all provides firm support for cementing long-standing friendship. The SCO has created a platform for closer people-to-people exchanges among countries in the region.

Respect for diverse civilizations and pursuit of common development is an important feature of the Shanghai Spirit. While SCO countries have different histories, national conditions, social systems, cultures and traditions, they all stand for drawing wisdom and strengths from divergent civilizations, deepening mutual understanding and recognition, and promoting trust and respect among the people and bringing them closer together. Over the years, the countries have carried out a wide array of cultural exchanges and steadily increased people-to-people interactions. Through such exchanges, the people have witnessed the good-neighborliness and friendship among their countries and translated into action the vision of equality, mutual learning, dialogue and inclusiveness among civilizations. This has cemented public support for the development of the SCO and the prosperity of the region.

In his initiative for a community of cultural exchanges for all, President Xi Jinping observed that each civilization is distinct and none is superior to others. He called on all parties to continue to deepen mutual learning among civilizations, enhance good-neighborliness and friendship, and nourish people-to-people amity. President Xi Jinping announced that China will host an SCO non-governmental friendship forum next year, and will continue to hold SCO Youth Campus events, to which 600 young people will be invited in the coming three years.

The leaders of SCO members highly commended the outcomes of SCO cooperation in people-to-people exchanges and reaffirmed their dedication to expanding cooperation in such areas as culture, education, technology, tourism, health, disaster relief and media. They expressed their readiness to hold a cultural year and other events to celebrate the SCO’s 20th anniversary, which will offer platforms for deepening mutual understanding and forging closer bonds among the people and make the SCO a model of regional cooperation where diverse civilizations coexist in harmony and the people enjoy enduring friendship.

V. Building a community with a shared future for mankind is the right way to go. The SCO will play a trailblazing role in this respect.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the world’s victory against fascism and the founding of the United Nations (UN). The world is now standing at a new historical starting point. Regrettably, even today, the international system with the UN at its core is still under the threat of Cold War mentality, power politics and unilateral acts of bullying. Where human society is headed in the next 75 years is a question on the mind of the whole world.

President Xi Jinping called on all parties to draw lessons from the past and to act to champion multilateralism, improve global governance and uphold the international order. He noted the importance of following the principle of extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits and ensuring that global affairs are discussed by all, the governance system is built by all and development fruits are shared by all, as this is the way to build an open, inclusive, clean and beautiful world that enjoys lasting peace, universal security and common prosperity.

Through 19 years of exploration, the SCO has found a path of cooperation and development befitting its status as a new type of regional organization. It has become a stellar example of peaceful coexistence and mutually beneficial cooperation among countries of different sizes and with divergent social systems, histories, civilizations, ethnicities and cultures. It has also made great endeavors to advance multi-polarity and democracy in international relations. At the meeting, the leaders of SCO members reiterated their support for the UN in playing a central coordinating role in maintaining international peace and security, promoting global development and protecting human rights in accordance with the UN Charter. They voiced firm commitment to such principles as equality, respect for national sovereignty and territorial integrity, non-interference in internal affairs and no use or threat of force. They also reaffirmed their dedication to seeking peaceful settlement of international and regional disputes through political and diplomatic means and their support for greater efforts to improve the international economic governance system. The leaders stressed that as an influential and responsible participant in today’s system of international relations, the SCO will continue to contribute to maintaining peace and security.

We believe that the SCO is presented with new development opportunities as it enters the next 20 years. Carrying forward the Shanghai Spirit and shouldering the responsibilities of the times, SCO countries will forge ahead with a pioneering drive and continue to lead by example in following multilateralism and building a community with a shared future for mankind.

Sun Linjiang is Director-General of the Department ofEuropean-Central Asian Affairsof the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.