by Zafar Bangash (Main Stories, Crescent International Vol. 51, No. 8, Rabi' al-Awwal, 1444)
Coming close on the heels of the Vostok-22 week-long military exercises (August 31-September 7) that included in addition to Russia and China, forces from a number of other countries, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Samarqand, Uzbekistan, was a major global event. Discussions and agreements during the September 15-16 summit have already caused a tectonic shift in global politics. The western corporate media, as usual, tried to rubbish its significance. Given 24/7 coverage of the queen’s funeral, few media outlets bothered to even report the SCO summit.
Comprising eight member States—China, Russia, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan—the intergovernmental organization was founded in Shanghai on June 15, 2001. Islamic Iran is about to become the ninth member. It signed the declaration accepting SCO rules, paving the way for its full-membership in March 2023. Not surprisingly, President Ibrahim Raiesi was the star attraction at the summit.
Focusing mainly on regional security issues, the SCO’s fight against regional terrorism, ethnic separatism and religious extremism has aroused interest from a broad range of players. With regional development also part of its priorities, four countries with observer status have expressed keen interest in acceding to full membership. These are: Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran, and Mongolia.
Six others are referred to as “Dialogue Partners”. They too are desirous of joining, some more than others. The six are Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Turkey. In 2021, the decision was made to start Iran’s accession process to the SCO as a full member, and Egypt, Qatar as well as Saudi Arabia became dialogue partners.
The line-up of countries showing interest in joining the SCO clearly indicates its importance. It also signals the changing pattern of global politics. The US-led unipolar world is dead and buried. A multipolar world has emerged based on the principle of mutual respect rather than threats and bullying.
In addition to formal meetings, the most significant development was the one-on-one meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. The Chinese leader made clear that China and Russia will act as “responsible global powers” and work diligently to secure the emergence of a multipolar world order. He contrasted this with the US-led unipolar world “disorder” based on arbitrary “demands” emanating from Washington DC against governments that wish to pursue independent policies.
Not surprisingly, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was effusive in praising the Xi-Putin conversation as “excellent.” Prior to their meeting and addressing Putin directly, Xi had already stressed the common China-Russia objectives:
“In the face of the colossal changes of our time on a global scale, unprecedented in history, we are ready with our Russian colleagues to set an example of a responsible world power and play a leading role in order to put such a rapidly changing world on the trajectory of sustainable and positive development.”
Several points are noteworthy. First, Xi stressed China playing the role of a “responsible world power”. This is not mere rhetoric; China has no history of attacking or occupying other peoples’ lands. This contrasts sharply with the conduct of western colonial powers that have ravaged the world, especially in Africa, Asia and South America.
Second, the Chinese president emphasized “sustainable and positive development.” This was a reference to China’s multi-trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) that is not only connecting the Eurasia landmass through road and rail links but also developing industries and other infrastructure in the region. Connectivity is the buzzword.
Russian president Putin endorsed this plan fully. “Fundamental transformations have been outlined in world politics and economics, and they are irreversible,” he said. The reason is simple. Political and economic alliances are underpinned by security and human development as part of the Global Development Initiative (GDI).
Immediately, the leading trio of Eurasian integration—China, Russia and Iran—went to action. Islamic Iran has already signed a $400 billion 25-year agreement for infrastructure development as well as oil and gas explorations with China. At the SCO summit, it was announced that a business delegation comprising 80 leading Russian companies would visit Iran after the summit.
Since both Iran and Russia face illegal American and western sanctions, President Raiesi told his Russian counterpart that “Iran does not recognize sanctions against Russia.” This was another slap on the face of the western bullies that indulge in coercion and blackmail to get their way.
Iran-Russia relations have deepened considerably. Only July 19, Putin visited Tehran for an important meeting. It was ostensibly to advance the Astana process over Syria by meeting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iranian President Raiesi, but there was also a more important purpose. It was to deepen the strategic partnership between the two countries, as the United States Institute of Peace stated in its ‘Iran Primer’. The Middle East Institute had a similar view, saying Putin’s visit would not only “bring Iran and Russia closer but also establish a long-term relationship”.
During Putin’s July 19 visit, a number of important agreements in oil and gas exploration were signed. Russia’s giant oil and gas company, Gazprom signed a $40 billion agreement for exploration in Iran. Other agreements included banking and financial sectors with emphasis on using local currencies in trade, moving away from the dollar. The Rahbar, Imam Seyyed Ali Khamenei also received the Russian president at his office, signaling the importance Tehran attaches to relations with Russia.
The other important development with far-reaching implications was the meeting between Russia, China and Mongolia. “There were no official leaks, but this trio arguably discussed the Power of Siberia-2 gas pipeline – the interconnector to be built across Mongolia; and Mongolia’s enhanced role in a crucial Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) connectivity corridor, now that China is not using the Trans-Siberian route for exports to Europe because of sanctions,” according to the Eurasia expert, Pepe Escobar.
If the SCO summit and its aftermath has caused sleepless nights in Washington, Brussels, London, Paris and Berlin, there is good reason. A multipolar world order has emerged based on cooperation, mutual respect and connectivity rather than American unilateralism and exceptionalism. While US mischief-making will not be completely banished, the world can look forward to a better future than what has been witnessed in the last 30 years.