The main event summit between the United States and North Korea is coming soon but there is also an undercard event that deserves your attention.
The annual Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit gets under way in the Chinese port city of Qingdao on Saturday, where leaders from an eight-member bloc are expected to address the big global issues, from the tensions on the Korean peninsula, to the Iran nuclear deal and U.S. trade policies. China will be looking to press a series of key cross-border matters, particularly the “Belt and Road Initiative”, and greater cooperation to combat the “three evil forces” of terrorism, extremism and separatism, according to state-run news agency Xinhua. Drug trafficking and cybercrime are also on the official agenda.
The SCO was originally created in 2001 with six-member countries: China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. It expanded to eight in 2017 with the admission of India and Pakistan — further underscoring some of the reasoning for the recent expansion of U.S. Pacific Command to U.S. Indo-Pacific Command. The bloc also has four observer states — Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran and Mongolia — and six dialogue partners, including Turkey, a member of NATO.
The Qingdao gathering coincides with the G7 summit in Quebec, Canada this weekend — a group of seven major advanced economies, six of which are NATO members. The SCO’s role has also expanded over the years, from regional security to political and economic cooperation, prompting critics to characterize it as a post-cold war Eurasian counterbalance to NATO.
What should you expect to see on the docket?
Iran and the recently upended deal with the Unites States.
The meeting will be the first overseas trip for Iranian President Hassan Rowhani since Trump decided in early May to pull out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, a withdrawal opposed by Moscow, Beijing and several major European powers.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin are likely to use the SCO summit to show symbolic support for the agreement.
The Xi and Putin Bromance
On Wednesday, Chinese state broadcaster CCTV aired an interview with Putin, in which the Russian leader played up his personal relationship with Xi in a recollection of the two celebrating his birthday in 2013, but Russia’s enthusiasm for this year’s summit will have a lot to do with the SCO’s admission of India and Pakistan as full members.
China is far less enthusiastic about the enlargement, particularly regarding India, who it sees in an adversarial light. China would much rather keep India on the outside of the SCO to make it less effective in the region. The Russians see the expanded SCO as a balance against the Chinese. No Putin/Xi bromance should be viewed without recognizing that they often pat each other on the back as recon for the knife placement in the future when needed.
India, Pakistan and China
The SCO will mark the second time in two months that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has visited China, reflecting efforts from both countries to improve relations strained last year by a protracted border dispute in the Himalayas. In his address to an Asian security forum in Singapore last weekend, Modi studiously avoided any mention of the Quad – a grouping of U.S., Japan, India and Australia — a gesture that won him points with China’s foreign ministry.
But Beijing has yet to secure Delhi’s support for its vast belt and road infrastructure plan. India sees the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a centerpiece of the plan that runs through disputed Kashmir, as violating its territorial sovereignty. India is unlikely to cede that kind of power to the Chinese anytime soon and given their extremely unfriendly history.
Xinjiang and Central Asia
Human rights groups and senior U.S. officials have been vocal in their criticism of Beijing’s sweeping crackdown on religion and tightened security measures in its far western region of Xinjiang, home to one of the biggest Muslim groups in the country, so expect that issue to also make its way to the conference floor. If history is any indicator, China will likely make public appeasements to Human Rights champions while continuing to follow their own status quo.
Featured Image: AP