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A growing club led by Xi and Putin to counter the US is adding a staunchly pro-Russia member | CNN

🌈 Abstract

The article discusses the expansion of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a group of Eurasian countries led by China and Russia, which is set to add Belarus, a staunch Russian ally that has supported Moscow's war on Ukraine. The SCO's mission has evolved from a regional security bloc to a geopolitical counterweight to Western institutions led by the United States and its allies. The expected admission of Belarus highlights the SCO's changing priorities, as it is seen more as a geopolitical move rather than for economic or security cooperation. The article also discusses the frictions and unease within the SCO, as the expansion has diversified and diluted its original focus on Central Asia, and some members are wary of the organization's increasingly anti-Western orientation.

🙋 Q&A

[01] The SCO's Expansion and Changing Priorities

1. What is the main purpose behind the SCO's expansion, according to the article?

  • The SCO's expansion is driven by China and Russia's shared ambition to counter what they see as US "hegemony" and reshape the international system in their favor.
  • The admission of Belarus, a staunch Russian ally, is seen more as a geopolitical move rather than for economic or security cooperation.
  • The SCO is aiming to be perceived as a major bloc that cannot be ignored, with China and Russia wanting to show they have a lot of supporters for their worldviews.

2. How has the SCO's mission evolved over time?

  • The SCO was originally founded in 2001 to combat terrorism and promote border security, but in recent years it has grown in line with Beijing and Moscow's shared ambition to counter US influence.
  • The organization has expanded from its initial members (China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan) to include India and Pakistan in 2017, and is now set to add Belarus.
  • The SCO's mission has shifted from a regional security bloc to a geopolitical counterweight to Western institutions led by the US and its allies.

3. What are the concerns and frictions surrounding the SCO's expansion?

  • The admission of Belarus, which has supported Russia's invasion of Ukraine, creates problems and new questions about the reputation, legitimacy, and mandate of the organization.
  • The expansion has diversified and diluted the SCO's original focus on Central Asia, which has fueled unease among members that want to keep good relations with the West.
  • The increasingly anti-Western orientation of the SCO following the admission of Iran and now Belarus has also caused concern among some member states.

[02] The SCO's Relationship with the West and Central Asia

1. How do the Central Asian member states view the SCO's future?

  • The Central Asian states are pursuing "multi-trajectory diplomacy" and do not want to be committed to dealing with only one major power, like Russia or China.
  • There is an ambivalence in regional capitals about the future of the SCO, as they do not want to be forced to choose between the West and the SCO's anti-Western orientation.

2. How has India's engagement with the SCO changed over time?

  • India, the world's largest democracy, is skipping the 2023 SCO summit, indicating that it does not see the SCO as the most effective channel through which to pursue its interests in the region.
  • Last year, India hosted the SCO summit virtually, which allowed Prime Minister Modi to avoid the optics of welcoming Putin and Xi to New Delhi as it sought closer ties with the US.

3. How is China seeking to engage with Central Asia separately from the SCO?

  • China is establishing a more direct engagement with Central Asia, without Russia's involvement, through the China-Central Asia summit and the creation of a permanent Secretariat in Xi'an.
  • This suggests that China is seeking to find more common ground among the Central Asian states, as the SCO's expansion has made it less like an alliance and more like a strategic-vision organization representing a Eurasian identity.
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