Dr. Mehmood Ul Hassan
Director: The Center for South Asia & International Studies (CSAIS) Islamabad Regional Expert: Uzbekistan & Central Asia
Currently, the Republic of Uzbekistan holds the “Chairmanship” of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). In this regard, the 2022 annual summit of the SCO Heads of State Council will be held on September 15-16 in Samarkand.
Uzbekistan took over the chairmanship of the organization from Tajikistan on September 17, 2021. It is worth mentioning that Uzbekistan has already chaired the SCO “three” times: in 2004, 2010 and 2016. The SCO has eight permanent members, including China, Russia, India and Pakistan, four observer states and nine dialogue partners.
In this context, the visionary President of Uzbekistan H.E. Shavkat Mirziyoyev, outlined the strategic “priorities” and “tasks” of the SCO chairmanship which include further strengthening of the “potential”, “utility”, “scope” and “discretion” of the organization, ensure peace and stability in the region, reduce poverty, and ensure food security. Thus president Mirziyoyev covered all aspects of socio-economic prosperity and greater regional connectivity under the flagship of the SCO.
In this regard, corridors of knowledge, economy and political trust would play decisive role. Formation of an expert forum of information security and to introduce the position of the SCO Goodwill Ambassador would further enhance scope of the SCO. Holistic polices of greater “industrialization” preferably “green” through a program of industrial “cooperation” not “competition”, further strengthening of cooperation and coordination in the field of tourism and a comprehensive program for infrastructure development across the SCO countries would be value addition under the current chairmanship of Uzbekistan.
According to latest official statistical data (2021-2022) with the SCO strategic expansion, the total population of the SCO countries will be almost 3.5 billion, which roughly accounts for half of the world, and the combined GDP is estimated to be exceeding 25 percent of the global GDP. Now SCO is the world’s largest regional organization. The total territory of the member countries exceeds 34 million square kilometers, which is more than 60 percent of the territory of the Eurasian continent. It covers three continents Asia, Europe and Africa. So SCO holds the key of the further socio-economic prosperity and greater regional connectivity in which Uzbekistan being the connecting hub would play an important role in the days to come.
The Uzbek President has urged to devise a “holistic” and “comprehensive” plan for the development of intraregional trade through elimination of trade barriers, align technical regulations and digitalize customs procedures. Thus he presented the “strategic road map” for the qualitative economic expansion of the SCO which would provide “win-win situation” for all the member countries because greater business activities, inflows of FDIs, imports & exports, meaningful PTA, FTA and grant of custom & duty incentives would further enhance economic scope, and strategic utility of the SCO.
The government of Pakistan has been supporting the aims of SCO through its roadmap of regional security, socio-economic integration, eradication of poverty, peace in Afghanistan and promotion of international & regional trade, removal of trade & investment barriers and formation of joint strategy to combat terrorism.
According to reliable diplomatic sources, Uzbekistan, as part of its chairmanship of the SCO plans to hold more than 80 international events to develop a program for boosting trade inside the region and step up the engagement of member countries in the area of security in 2022. Thus security stimulates peace, stability and harmony in the region and safeguards vested socio-economic interest of all the member countries of the SCO.
In this regard, the policy makers of Uzbekistan have decided to stimulate economic cooperation and increase sustainable security partnerships. Primarily, it desires to expand the SCO agenda by including new items, i.e. development of digital technologies and innovation.
Moreover, enhanced health capacity building mechanism should be mantra of all the member countries in which Chinese extended BRI Silk Health Route may play a dominating role in the days to come. Thus Uzbekistan being chairman of the SCO intends to focus on institutionalization of artificial intelligence technologies and digitalization of societies and economies alike which would have multiplier socio-economic multiplier effects.
According to Abdulaziz Kamilov, the Uzbek foreign minister the upcoming SCO Heads of State Council in September 2022 will open an opportunity to unlock the organization’s potential in a new way and to strengthen its role and significance.
It seems that there is an urgent need to have a “unified approach” to achieve peace and stability in Afghanistan. In this connection, holding regular high-level meetings in the SCO-Afghanistan format may achieve wonders in terms of regional peace and stability.
On its part, Uzbekistan has been seriously advocating peace and stability in Afghanistan through sustainable socio-economic and geopolitical engagement with Afghanistan. It has been rigorously pursuing innovative humanitarian assistance diplomacy to stop mountains of debris and destruction. Thus Uzbekistan has become a regional facilitator and stimulator to achieve peace and stability in Afghanistan and beyond.
It seems that visionary leadership of Uzbekistan has further increased economic potential of its country through showcasing its real potential in various regional as well as investment forums and road-shows. Rigorous commercial and economic diplomacy has further highlighted its strategic importance and utility to achieve the dreams of greater regional connectivity.
Moreover, dynamic foreign policy has paved the way of greater regional and global political recognition. Thus under the SCO chairmanship, Uzbekistan hopefully would lead the member countries towards greater socio-economic integration, resolution of conflicts, combating state and non-state security threats, smart economies, smart living, green resolution, carbon neutrality, poverty reduction and e-commerce & government. In the past during its chairmanships Uzbekistan streamlined easy & smooth sailing of the SCO in terms of water diplomacy, conservation, biodiversity, climate change, delimiting border issues and legal modalities.
Historic studies reveals that twenty-one years ago, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan joined the SCO as founding members which indicates that the SCO is extremely important for strengthening stability and cooperation in Central Asia.
It hopes that Iran will soon become a full member of the organization which will open its doors to the Middle East, which is a strategically important region.
In the last five years Uzbekistan starts many relevant initiatives and proposals that contribute to improving its image in the international arena, corresponding to the priority areas of socioeconomic development, and actively contributes to enriching the existing agenda. It seems that Uzbek President Mirziyoyev visionary principles of constructiveness, pragmatism and initiative have been pushing the SCO in right direction of greater socio-economic prosperity and greater regional connectivity.
On its part, Tashkent has been actively participating in the process of cooperation in all areas of the SCO. Presently, Uzbekistan stands for greater regional connectivity, immense interregional trade and FDIs and also fully supports the proposals put forward by other SCO member states that meet common current interests.
Its pragmatic foreign policy vividly reflects its sincere and systematic diplomatic efforts through bilateral and multilateral diplomatic platforms, thus has immensely increased its meaningful and productive participation in the SCO. In this regard, its initiatives reflect the national interests and priority directions of the country’s development, and fully comply with the main activities aimed at sustainable development of the region.
Increasing economic stability and sustainability, political maturity and last but not least balancing foreign policy has further enhanced its role and scope in the SCO due to which it has become one of the most proactive members of the SCO.
Comparative analysis reveals that during 2017-2021 the Uzbek president proposed about “50 IMPORTANT AND RELEVANT INITIATIVES” at SCO summits which clearly showcase superiority of his unmatched strategic vision towards regional prosperity, peace and connectivity. It seems that the chairmanship of the SCO will allow Uzbekistan not only to continue its growth strategy within the organization, but also to enrich it with new and significant facets that will produce concrete results.
The leadership of Uzbekistan has decided to develop
a number of NEW LEGAL, CONCEPTUAL AND POLICY DOCUMENTS under the chairmanship of Uzbekistan in the SCO. It will cover and expand the multifaceted partnership within the SCO, a comprehensive program for the implementation of the Treaty on Long-Term Good-Neighborliness, friendship and cooperation of the SCO member states for 2023-2027, and a joint action plan for the development of intraregional trade.
It has further planned to complete the process of developing and coordinating the SCO concept on the TRANSPORT INTERCONNECTIVITY.
It is also planned to adopt the program on infrastructure development in the SCO Space, the program of action on cooperation between the leading medical centers of the SCO member states in the field of prevention of infectious diseases, the program on cooperation in the field of telemedicine, the memorandum between the authorized bodies of the SCO member states on cooperation in the field of museum affairs, the agreement on cooperation in the field of the use of renewable energy sources between the SCO member states and a number of other important documents.
The Republic of Uzbekistan should consider the following suggestions for the further strengthening of its role in the SCO:-
(a) Further BANKING AND FINANCIAL INTEGRATION of the SCO member countries is need of the hour. Sincere efforts should be carried out to prepare an ALTERNATIVE SCO CLEARING AND PAYMENT SYSTEM in order to avoid any imminent unilateral sanctions of the West.
(b) SWAPPING OF SCO MEMBER COUNTRIES NATIONAL CURRENCIES would be value addition to further foster business activities and interregional trade in the days to come.
(c) The activation of the SHANGHAI COOPERATION ORGANISATION INTERBANK CONSORTIUM (SCO IBC) should be mantra of every SCO member country.
(d) Facilitation from the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the New Development Bank should be sought to fill a large part of the gap in development funding within the region.
(e) The members of the SCO should continue consultations on establishing the DEVELOPMENT BANK AND THE DEVELOPMENT FUND OF SCO which will attract funds to joint multi-partner projects.
(f) Developing interaction in trade and economy, creation of favorable conditions for trade and investments based on principles of equality, fair competition, mutual respect, and benefit must be disseminated through the creation of JOINT SCO CHAMBER OF COMMERCE, JOINT FREIGHT & CUSTOM CLEARING COMPANY, JOINT MERCHANDIZED SHIPPING COMPANY AND JOINT INFRASTRUCTURE DEVELOPMENT BANK.
(g) There is an urgent need to develop JOINT LOGISTIC OR INTEGRATED TRANSPORT SYSTEM with the framework of SCO to stimulate interregional trade as well as greater regional connectivity. In this regard, Uztemiryulkonteyner, together with Russian RJD Biznes Aktiv, launched the first container train from China which would definitely boost trade & commerce activities.
(h) The deepening logistical challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have highlighted the need for NEW SHIPPING ROUTES. Thus SCO should search new trade routes and economic corridors in which Chinese BRI, CPEC and Gwadar Seaport would play an important role.
(i) SCO HEALTH BANK may be an innovative idea to further enhance member countries health capacity building measures and combating with COVID-19.
(j) Intensification of multisided economic cooperation should become the key strategic task for the upcoming decade of SCO activities through formation of genuine corridor of knowledge, regular holding of SCO countries exhibitions/expos etc. on reciprocal basis. In this context, building of TRADE HOUSES ON MULTILATERALLY BASIS would be a value addition to increase interregional trade volumes in the days to come.
(k) Drastic improvement and effectiveness of measures to support and develop MULTILATERAL COOPERATION OF MICRO, SMALL AND MEDIUM-SIZED ENTERPRISES OF SCO countries should be foremost priority.
(l) The creation of the INDUSTRIAL AND SPECIAL ECONOMIC ZONES should be pursued as soon as possible under the flagship of the SCO. Heavy presence of Chinese BRI in the Central Asia and the SCO needs to be further boosted. In this regard, UZBEKISTAN-SCO PROPOSED INDUSTRIAL ZONE will allow the implementation of joint projects with the SCO member states and foreign investors. The Economic Forum, the Week of Industrial Innovations, the Forum for Small and Medium Enterprises of the SCO Regions, the Forum for the Development of Industrial Cooperation, the Tourism Forum, the Forum of the Heads of the SCO Regions must be clubbed and coordinated.
(m) Security issues especially in Afghanistan and ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict needs deeper consideration and resolution. Thus SCO member countries should revisit its security policy.