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Expert praises grouping's multidimensional role

source:CHINA DAILY           editor:Zhang Wenni

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Cars run on the road in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, Sept 13, 2022. [Photo/Xinhua]

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization is becoming a mini United Nations from a civilizational context, an expert on Asia studies says.

"We have the Chinese civilization, Russian civilization, Indian civilization, the South Asian civilization," said Sourabh Gupta, a senior fellow at the Institute for China-America Studies in Washington. "We have the Turkic states out there. We have the Persian civilization with Iran signing a memorandum of joining the SCO. And as dialogue partners, we have Saudi Arabia and the Arab countries. So it is building itself out as a hub for multilateral exchanges, which I think goes a great distance in terms of engineering, peace, prosperity and stability."

The SCO, a Eurasian political, economic and security grouping, was founded in Shanghai on June 15, 2001, by China, Russia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. It is the world's largest regional organization in terms of geographic scope and population.

The 22nd summit of the SCO member states was held in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, on Thursday and Friday.

President Xi Jinping and leaders of Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, India and the host Uzbekistan attended the summit. The SCO issued the Samarkand Declaration on Friday, announcing that a memorandum on Iran joining the grouping was signed during the summit, and Iran became the ninth member.

"Samarkand was the crossroads of Central Asia," Gupta said. "Therefore I think it was important on this 20th anniversary when the SCO is beginning to do very well. Frankly, as one of the original founders of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, China must be there and must be represented in person."

Xi's attendance at the summit was his first such undertaking outside China since the pandemic broke out in early 2020. On the way he paid a state visit to Kazakhstan on Wednesday. Gupta stressed the significance and necessity of the trip.

It was the 20th anniversary of the SCO, which was guided by the Shanghai Spirit, he said. And as Uzbekistan's President Shavkat Mirziyoyev had suggested, it was important not only to adhere to the Shanghai Spirit but also to introduce something called the Samarkand spirit, relating to connectivity and building human connections.

Gupta said the SCO "has shown what an important role it has to play in Central Asia and in Eurasia with regard to facilitating multilateral cooperation in the region". He expressed his hope that Western countries would be "more generous and broad-hearted".

"Chinese, Russian, Persian, Arab, Turkic, Indian, South Asian civilizations are all finding interest in being attached to the SCO. And where is a Western organization which can talk of this sort of breadth and dynamism?"

Gupta suggested that Western countries, including the US, could reflect and "try to make their organizations as broad-based and inclusive as the SCO rather than looking at things through their habitual lenses".

"They have seen (the SCO) as an anti-Western body, which it is not. It is a non-Western body. They have seen this as a bloc-based body, which it is not. It is a non-bloc body."

Gupta linked the direction of the SCO to the concepts of the Global Security Initiative proposed by Xi, who put forward the initiative in April when delivering a keynote speech at the annual Boao Forum for Asia.

"The Global Security Initiative taps into longstanding principles of China's foreign policy," Gupta said. "I think the Global Security Initiative puts in a lot more meat on the bones of the philosophy of Chinese foreign policy."