Amid the global strategic uncertainty, members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) – especially the Central Asian states – aim to establish closer ties and boost cooperation within the bloc. At a time when conflicts and security threats are on the rise, the regional leaders are expected to attempt to ensure peace and stable development in Eurasia.

The SCO is not a military alliance. It seeks to maintain regional stability and safeguard common security in Eurasia. The Astana summit will also be an opportunity to discuss economy and energy issues.

Indeed, economy and energy are among the major drivers of Central Asian countries’ foreign policy. During the Baku Energy Week held in Azerbaijan in June, connectivity and “pipeline policy” were the major topics. For Central Asia and the South Caucasus, further development of the Middle Corridor – starting from Southeast Asia and China, and running through Kazakhstan, the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan, and Georgia – seems to be a top priority.

Most recently, China, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan – all three members of the SCO – signed an agreement to build a key railway corridor as part of the Belt and Road Initiative, another step in creating better connectivity in the region. Besides transportation links, Central Asian nations are also seeking to strengthen energy ties and ensure sustainable management of water resources in the strategically important region. That issue was on the agenda of the Dushanbe Water Process in Tajikistan in June.

The leaders are likely to use the SCO summit to further discuss these issues as well as significant geopolitical developments. Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has emphasized the importance of preventing a geopolitical split between East and West, which attests to the fact that the SCO is a non-Western but not an anti-Western platform.

Most regional nations see the SCO as a format where “mutual respect, equity, justice and win-win cooperation” should prevail over confrontation and rivalry. According to Tokayev, the SCO should fight against “the three forces of evil” – terrorism, separatism, and extremism, while for Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, adopting a plan for economic cooperation until 2030 should be the major task of the upcoming summit.

What all member states have in common is an ambition to strengthen multilateralism as a key component of the structure of the SCO. Kazakhstan, which holds the rotating presidency of the SCO, has proposed to transform the bloc into an “effective multilateral cooperation mechanism.”

The fact that Belarus will join the SCO at the Astana summit indicates that the SCO – now representing over 60 percent of the Eurasian landmass and nearly 50 percent of the global population – has expanded to Eastern Europe. It is entirely possible that it will continue to expand. But although some African nations might seek to join it, for now the SCO will most likely remain focused on the Eurasian space. Given that Afghanistan already has an observer status at the SCO, the Taliban, aware of the importance of the summit, wanted to participate in it.

Over the years, the SCO, founded in Shanghai on June 15, 2001 by six countries – China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan – has evolved into a significant regional actor in Eurasia. It actively promotes world unity and peace, as well as digitalization, including the development of the digital economy, e-commerce, e-customs, e-logistics, and digital transport corridors. At the same time, the SCO summits offer space for the leaders to hold bilateral consultations.

Thus, the SCO summit seems to be equally important for both Central Asian nations seeking to strengthen their economies and improve their geopolitical position, and powers such as China and Russia. In order to increase the SCO’s role in the global arena, the member nations will have to find a way to create and implement more major joint economic projects. 

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