From 13 to 15 June 2019, two major events will take place in Central Asia: the 19th summit between Heads of States of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan and the 5th Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.
Both events are taking place as international relations have taken a disturbing turn amid new turbulence prompted by the unilateral actions of the Donald Trump administration. On the one hand, the arms control and non-proliferation system is being dismantled because of Washington’s withdrawal from the JCPOA and INF Treaty (as well as, presumably, from the New START Treaty). On the other hand, we are observing the destruction of the world order and international economic system. The US is focused on the implementation of its own development objectives and puts American interests exclusively at the forefront, while ignoring the need to maintain the international system, in effect destroying it and creating instability.
The principles and mechanisms that had been formed over the past few decades, which had outlined the framework for a code of behaviour among states and ensured relative strategic stability, are now losing their relevance as a result of Washington’s actions. Pundits are now using newly-introduced terms such as “new Cold War”, “trade war” and “technological war” in describing relations between the United States and Russia, as well as between the United States and China.
This constitutes a serious breakdown of the global system, and serves as a harbinger of its fragmentation. Countries throughout the world have found themselves coerced by Washington; there is an urgent need for hedging the risks and threats emanating from the US by adopting standards and systems which offer an alternative to the existing global ones. A number of standards and systems in completely different areas, which until recently were considered “global public goods”, cannot be considered as such anymore, since they are used or can be used by Washington to exert pressure or deter countries that are competing with the United States. This applies, for example, to the international interbank data transfer and SWIFT payments system, Visa, MasterCard and other payment systems, the global Internet, GPS navigation systems, Android and iOS operating systems, etc. etc.
Against this background, the SCO and CICA member countries are faced with the acute task of finding joint responses to the challenges arising from the Trump administration and rapidly changing international politics, as well as with the task of clarifying plans and strategies for the development of the SCO and CICA. The list of countries whose presidents will attend the CICA summit deserves special attention, since this may indirectly indicate that they belong to a group of countries “opposing” Washington in one way or another. The presidents of 12 states: Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Iran, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka will be present at the summit of the 27 CICA member countries.
Just a week before the SCO and CICA summits, Russia and China – the two most influential states among the SCO and CICA members, had the opportunity to participate in a broad exchange of views on the most serious global and regional issues, as well as clarify the principles of bilateral relations, priorities, goals and areas of cooperation on the world stage. The agreed positions of the two countries were reflected in the two joint statements adopted during the state visit of the President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping to Russia: a joint-statement on Strengthening Global Strategic Stability in the Modern Age and a Joint Statement on Developing Comprehensive Partnership and Strategic Interaction Entering a New Era (June 5, 2019).
Special attention is paid to several provisions contained in these documents, which are indirectly related to the activities of the SCO and the CICA. The first is the intention of Russia and China to join efforts “with like-minded countries in order to protect the world order and the international system, which are based on the goals and principles of the UN Charter.” In fact, the entire text of the Russian-Chinese joint statement on developing a comprehensive partnership and strategic interaction bears the criticism of Washington’s actions and the idea of the need for closer cohesion in order to support the world order and the international system. And, of course, speaking of like-minded countries in the protection of the international system, Russia and China primarily mean the SCO member countries.
At the same time, the second clause of the Russian-Chinese joint statement includes the principle of refusal to establish allied relations and non-direction against third parties as among the basic principles of Russian-Chinese relations. That is, even against the background of aggressive US activity against Russia and China, both states are excluding the possibility of a military alliance between themselves, which, respectively, means that there are no grounds for the SCO to becoming a wider military-political alliance or bloc (such fears are often voiced in the West).
On the whole, it seems that the current unprecedented high level of Russian-Chinese relations, deep reciprocal interest in providing mutual support against the actions of the Trump administration, readiness to seek compromises and join national development strategies and international initiatives (the Russian initiative of the Greater Eurasian Partnership and the Chinese Belt and Road initiative) create a very favourable background, giving a strong impetus to the development of the SCO and other interaction formats between the developing countries, including the CICA.
At the same time, two paths will develop simultaneously – as an economic path, including cooperation in finance and transport/logistics interconnectivity (this is facilitated by the Chinese Belt and Road initiative, the development of the EAEU and its external contour, Trump’s trade and economic agenda and Washington’s pressure on many countries throughout the world), as well as cooperation in ensuring regional security (amid the situation in Afghanistan and adjacent areas, as well as the dangers of terrorism and Islamic extremism).