SCO and China's path for peaceful development

China Plus Published: 2018-06-10 12:21:25
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By Rachael M. Rudolph

President Xi Jinping has opened the 18th summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Qingdao, which is the largest city in the eastern Shandong Province.  Overlooking the Yellow Sea, Qingdao is strategically positioned, connecting China with both South Korea and Japan.

Culturally rich Shandong Province was the home of Confucius and was the cradle of Confucian culture. President Xi has drawn on ancient Chinese classics and Confucian texts in his promotion of world peace.  Confucian ideals of inclusiveness, mutual benefit, and trust in social interactions are reflected in China’s foreign policy, which aims to establish relationships of mutual benefit and trust with all countries in the world.   Peace, cooperation, and integration are part of the essence of Confucianism, and accord with the goal of the SCO to promote harmonious relations among its members, observers, and all actors in Eurasia so that they can together walk hand-in-hand, and use the ideas of President Xi to create a common destiny and promote world peace through peaceful development.  

Chinese President Xi Jinping (C, front) and guests attending the 18th Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit head for a banquet in Qingdao, east China's Shandong Province, June 9, 2018.[Photo: Xinhua]

Chinese President Xi Jinping (C, front) and guests attending the 18th Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit head for a banquet in Qingdao, east China's Shandong Province, June 9, 2018.[Photo: Xinhua]

The idea of peaceful development has been central to China’s foreign policy under President Xi.   According to Zheng Bijian, a leading scholar on China’s rise, the goal of its foreign policy is to “integrate the interests of the Chinese people with the common interests of all peoples in the world, expand the convergence of interests with all relevant countries, at different levels and in different connotations, and make concerted efforts for the peaceful development of both China and the rest of the world.”   The SCO is, therefore, an important venue for Chinese foreign policy, the convergence of the interests of its members on matters of economic development and regional security, and incorporating the interests and values of others into developing a model of global governance.   

In terms of economic development, China’s Belt and Road Initiative, according to senior research fellow Xu Tao, brings more opportunities for the next stage of the SCO’s development, as all members of the SCO are partners in the initiative.  The Belt and Road has the potential to promote a dynamic approach that increases economic interdependence among member states, reduces the level of dependency on the informal economy at the national level among the smaller economies in the region, promotes the integration of the formal and informal economies, and facilitates the transition of some segments of the illicit economy into the licit economy. Such a dynamic approach to economic development is, arguably, necessary for the members of the SCO to transition security cooperation and intelligence sharing from an emphasis on traditional to non-traditional security threats.    

Non-traditional security threats, according to Qin Yaqing, “are not mutual threats among states; instead, they are threats nations and even all of humankind must face together.”    These types of threats are typically broken down into eight categories, namely terrorism, extremism, separatism, transnational organized crime, environmental security, illegal migration, energy security, and human security.  According to China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, the non-traditional security threats on the SCO agenda for the 18th summit include what the SCO refers to as the “three evils” of terrorism, extremism, separatism, along with transnational drug trafficking and cybercrime.  Their inclusion on the agenda is important because, as Yaqing highlights, institutional rules to manage threats among states are inadequate; therefore, one could not expect them to tackle new forms of threats such as these.  

At the same time, China’s foreign policy approach and any cooperative regional security initiative adopted by the SCO are likely to exacerbate existing tensions among certain political segments within the United States and preclude efforts to promote Sino-American security cooperation. Policymakers in the United States have consistently accused China of attempting to thwart American primacy in the region and in global affairs, and an approach that is not only contrary to American ideas of global governance but also excludes it will reinforce Washington hardliners opposition to Sino-American security cooperation, and negate the voices calling for an expansion in Sino-American security cooperation.  Sino-American security cooperation is, arguably, key to stability in the Asia Pacific, and it will later become essential for American operations in Africa.  

To conclude, the 18th summit of the SCO holds the promise of ushering forth a new phase of development and regional security cooperation among its member states and Eurasia. Member states and nations across Eurasia, as well as those who are part of and will benefit from the Belt and Road Initiative, have the potential to realize a common destiny and world peace if they have the will to not just make, but to act upon such a commitment. Will the Qingdao Declaration be just another pledge, or will it be something more?  How will China balance any efforts the SCO adopts toward economic development and regional cooperative security with its approach toward Sino-American relations?  All eyes from the region and world will be on China and the SCO to find out what is planned.  

(Rachael M. Rudolph joins Bryant Zhuhai as an Assistant Professor of Social Science in the fall term.  Her research focuses on Sino-American relations, US-North Korean relations, strategic security in the Asia Pacific region, and transnational crime.)

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