The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) is a Eurasian political, economic, and security organisation, the creation of which was announced on 15 June 2001 in Shanghai, China by the leaders of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan; the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Charter was signed in June 2002 and entered into force on 19 September 2003.[1] These countries, except for Uzbekistan, had been members of the Shanghai Five group, founded on 26 April 1996 in Shanghai. India and Pakistan joined SCO as full members on 9 June 2017 at a summit in Astana, Kazakhstan.


The Shanghai Five grouping was created 26 April 1996 with the signing of the Treaty on Deepening Military Trust in Border Regions in Shanghai, China by the heads of states of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan.

On 24 April 1997, the same countries signed the Treaty on Reduction of Military Forces in Border Regions in a meeting in Moscow, Russia.[2] On 20 May 1997, presidents of Russia Boris Yeltsin and prime minister of China Jiang Zemin signed a declaration on a "multipolar world"[3].

Russian President Vladimir Putin, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Chinese President Jiang Zemin, Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev, and Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, at one time the leaders of the Shanghai Five.

Subsequent annual summits of the Shanghai Five group occurred in Almaty, Kazakhstan in 1998, in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan in 1999, and in Dushanbe, Tajikistan in 2000. At the Dushanbe summit, members agreed to "oppose intervention in other countries' internal affairs on the pretexts of 'humanitarianism' and 'protecting human rights;' and support the efforts of one another in safeguarding the five countries' national independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity, and social stability."[4]

In 2001, the annual summit returned to Shanghai. There the five member nations first admitted Uzbekistan in the Shanghai Five mechanism (thus transforming it into the Shanghai Six). Then all six heads of state signed on 15 June 2001 the Declaration of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, praising the role played thus far by the Shanghai Five mechanism and aiming to transform it to a higher level of cooperation.

In June 2002, the heads of the SCO member states met in Saint Petersburg, Russia. There they signed the SCO Charter which expounded on the organisation's purposes, principles, structures and forms of operation, and established it in international law.

In July 2005, at the summit in Astana, Kazakhstan, with representatives of India, Iran, Mongolia and Pakistan attending a SCO summit for the first time, the president of the host country, Nursultan Nazarbayev, greeted the guests in words that had never been used before in any context: "The leaders of the states sitting at this negotiation table are representatives of half of humanity".[5]

By 2007 the SCO had initiated over twenty large-scale projects related to transportation, energy and telecommunications and held regular meetings of security, military, defence, foreign affairs, economic, cultural, banking and other officials from its member states.[citation needed]

In July 2015 in Ufa, Russia, the SCO decided to admit India and Pakistan as full members. Both signed the memorandum of obligations in June 2016 in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, thereby starting the formal process of joining the SCO as full members.[6] On 9 June 2017, at a summit in Astana, India and Pakistan officially joined SCO as full-fledged members.

The SCO has established relations with the United Nations in 2004 (where it is an observer in the General Assembly), Commonwealth of Independent States in 2005, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2005, the Collective Security Treaty Organization in 2007, the Economic Cooperation Organization in 2007, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in 2011, the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA) in 2014, and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific in 2015.[7]

In 2017, SCO's eight full members account for approximately half of the world's population, a quarter of the world's GDP, and about 80% of Eurasia's landmass.

Organisational structure

Structure of the SCO.png

The Council of Heads of State is the top decision-making body in the SCO. This council meets at the SCO summits, which are held each year in one of the member states' capital cities. The current Council of Heads of State consists of:

The Council of Heads of Government is the second-highest council in the organisation. This council also holds annual summits, at which time members discuss issues of multilateral cooperation. The council also approves the organisation's budget. The current Council of Heads of Government consists of:

The Council of Foreign Ministers also hold regular meetings, where they discuss the current international situation and the SCO's interaction with other international organisations.[8]

The Council of National Coordinators coordinates the multilateral cooperation of member states within the framework of the SCO's charter.

The Secretariat of the SCO is the primary executive body of the organisation. It serves to implement organisational decisions and decrees, drafts proposed documents (such as declarations and agendas), function as a document depository for the organisation, arranges specific activities within the SCO framework, and promotes and disseminates information about the SCO. It is located in Beijing. The current SCO Secretary-General is Rashid Alimov of Tajikistan, appointed to the office of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Secretary-General on January 2016.[9]

The Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS), headquartered in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, is a permanent organ of the SCO which serves to promote cooperation of member states against the three evils of terrorism, separatism and extremism. The Head of RATS is elected to a three-year term. Each member state also sends a permanent representative to RATS.[10]

The official working languages of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation are Chinese and Russian.


  Member states[11]
  Observer states
  Dialogue partners
  Guest attendances

Member states

Date Country
26 April 1996  China
15 June 2001  Uzbekistan
9 June 2017  India

Observer states

Putin with representatives from Iran and Mongolia, observers in the SCO, at a meeting of the Council of Heads of Government in 2005.

Afghanistan received observer status at the 2012 SCO summit in Beijing, China on 6 June 2012.[12]

In 2008, Belarus applied for partner status in the organisation and was promised Kazakhstan's support towards that goal.[citation needed] However, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov voiced doubt on the probability of Belarus' membership, saying that Belarus was a purely European country.[14] Despite this, Belarus was accepted as a Dialogue Partner at the 2009 SCO Summit in Yekaterinburg, and after applying in 2012, was granted observer status in 2015.[13]

Iran has observer status in the organisation, and applied for full membership on 24 March 2008.[15] However, because it was under sanctions levied by the United Nations at the time, it was blocked from admission as a new member. The SCO stated that any country under UN sanctions could not be admitted.[16] After the UN sanctions were lifted, Chinese president Xi Jinping announced its support for Iran's full membership in SCO during a state visit to Iran in January 2016.[17]

Mongolia became the first country to receive observer status at the 2004 Tashkent Summit. Pakistan, India and Iran received observer status at the 2005 SCO summit in Astana, Kazakhstan on 5 July 2005.

Dialogue partners

Afghan President Hamid Karzai at an SCO summit in 2004.

The position of Dialogue Partner was created in 2008 in accordance with Article 14 of the SCO Charter of 7 June 2002. This article regards Dialogue Partner as a state or an organisation who shares the goals and principles of the SCO and wishes to establish relations of equal mutually beneficial partnership with the Organisation.[18]

Nepal was granted dialogue partner status in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) at the group's 2015 summit in Ufa, Russia.[19]

Sri Lanka was granted dialogue partner status in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) at the group's 2009 summit in Yekaterinburg.[20][21]

Turkey, a member of NATO, was granted dialogue partner status in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) at the group's 2012 summit in Beijing.[12] Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has stated that he has discussed the possibility of abandoning Turkey's European Union membership candidacy in return for full membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.[22] This was reinforced again on 21 November 2016, after the European Parliament voted unanimously to suspend accession negotiations with Turkey.[23] Two days later, on 23 November 2016, Turkey was granted the chairmanship of the energy club of SCO for the 2017 period. That made Turkey the first country to chair a club in the organisation without full membership status.

Guest attendances

Future membership possibilities

In June 2010, the SCO approved the procedure of admitting new members, though new members have yet to be admitted.[16] Several states, however, participate as observers, some of whom have expressed interest in becoming full members in the future. The implications of Iran joining the organization has been given much thought academically.[24] In early September 2013 Armenian Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan said during his meeting with his Chinese counterpart that Armenia would like to obtain an observer status in the SCO.[25]

Meanwhile, in 2012 Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka applied for observer status within the organization.[26] Egypt[27] and Syria have also submitted applications for observer status,[28] while Egypt, Israel,[29][30] [31] Maldives and Ukraine[32] have applied for dialogue partner status.[33][34] Iraq also signaled its interest in becoming a Dialogue Partner of the SCO in 2017 during the visit to SCO headquarters in Beijing of Mr. Ahmed Tahseen Birwari, the Iraqi ambassador.[35] Bahrain and Qatar have also expressed interest in joining SCO.[36]

Vietnam also signaled its interest in becoming a Dialogue Partner of the SCO in 2011 during the trip to Hanoi of Mr. Kirill Barsky, the special envoy of the Russian President to the SCO. According to expert opinion, there are potential disadvantages and advantages of Vietnam’s becoming a member of the SCO in following main areas: balancing her relations with China, Russia, and the US, defense of the territorial integrity and potential for economic benefits.[37]


Cooperation on security

The SCO is primarily centered on its member nations' Central Asian security-related concerns, often describing the main threats it confronts as being terrorism, separatism and extremism. However evidence is growing that its activities in the area of social development of its member states is increasing fast.[citation needed][38][unreliable source?]

At 16–17 June 2004 SCO summit, held in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, the Regional Antiterrorism Structure (RATS) was established. On 21 April 2006, the SCO announced plans to fight cross-border drug crimes under the counter-terrorism rubric.[39]

Grigory Logninov claimed in April 2006 that the SCO has no plans to become a military bloc. Nonetheless he argued that the increased threats of "terrorism, extremism and separatism" make necessary a full-scale involvement of armed forces.[40]

In October 2007, the SCO signed an agreement with the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), in the Tajik capital Dushanbe, to broaden cooperation on issues such as security, crime, and drug trafficking.[41] Joint action plans between the two organisations are planned to be signed by early 2008 in Beijing.[42]

The organisation is also redefining cyberwarfare, saying that the dissemination of information "harmful to the spiritual, moral and cultural spheres of other states" should be considered a "security threat". An accord adopted in 2009 defined "information war", in part, as an effort by a state to undermine another's "political, economic, and social systems".[43] The Diplomat reported in 2017 that SCO has foiled 600 terror plots and extradited 500 terrorists through RATS.[44]

Military activities

SCO leaders at Peace Mission 2007. Hu Jintao, Vladimir Putin, Nursultan Nazarbayev and Islam Karimov

Over the past few years, the organisation's activities have expanded to include increased military cooperation, intelligence sharing, and counterterrorism.[45]

There have been a number of SCO joint military exercises. The first of these was held in 2003, with the first phase taking place in Kazakhstan and the second in China. Since then China and Russia have teamed up for large-scale war games in 2005 (Peace Mission 2005), 2007 and 2009, under the auspices of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. More than 4,000 soldiers participated at the joint military exercises in 2007 (known as "Peace Mission 2007") which took place in Chelyabinsk Russia near the Ural Mountains, as was agreed upon in April 2006 at a meeting of SCO Defence Ministers.[46][47] Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov said that the exercises would be transparent and open to media and the public. Following the war games' successful completion, Russian officials began speaking of India joining such exercises in the future and the SCO taking on a military role. Peace Mission 2010, conducted 9–25 September at Kazakhstan's Matybulak training area, saw over 5,000 personnel from China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan conduct joint planning and operational maneuvers.[48]

The SCO has served as a platform for larger military announcements by members. During the 2007 war games in Russia, with leaders of SCO member states in attendance including Chinese President Hu Jintao, Russia's President Vladimir Putin used the occasion to take advantage of a captive audience: Russian strategic bombers, he said, would resume regular long-range patrols for the first time since the Cold War. "Starting today, such tours of duty will be conducted regularly and on the strategic scale", Putin said. "Our pilots have been grounded for too long. They are happy to start a new life".

On 4 June 2014, in the Tajik capital Dushanbe, the idea was brought up to merge the SCO with the Collective Security Treaty Organization. It is still being debated.

Economic cooperation

Russia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are also members of the Eurasian Economic Union. A Framework Agreement to enhance economic cooperation was signed by the SCO member states on 23 September 2003. At the same meeting the PRC's Premier, Wen Jiabao, proposed a long-term objective to establish a free trade area in the SCO, while other more immediate measures would be taken to improve the flow of goods in the region.[49][50] A follow up plan with 100 specific actions was signed one year later, on 23 September 2004.[51]

On 26 October 2005, during the Moscow Summit of the SCO, the Secretary General of the Organisation said that the SCO will prioritise joint energy projects; such will include the oil and gas sector, the exploration of new hydrocarbon reserves, and joint use of water resources. The creation of an Inter-bank SCO Council was also agreed upon at that summit in order to fund future joint projects. The first meeting of the SCO Interbank Association was held in Beijing on 21–22 February 2006.[52][53] On 30 November 2006, at The SCO: Results and Perspectives, an international conference held in Almaty, the representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry announced that Russia is developing plans for an SCO "Energy Club".[54] The need for this "club" was reiterated by Moscow at an SCO summit in November 2007. Other SCO members, however, have not committed themselves to the idea.[55] However, on 28 August 2008 summit it was stated that "Against the backdrop of a slowdown in the growth of world economy pursuing a responsible currency and financial policy, control over the capital flowing, ensuring food and energy security have been gaining special significance".[56]

At the 2007 SCO summit Iranian Vice President Parviz Davudi addressed an initiative that has been garnering greater interest and assuming a heightened sense of urgency when he said, "The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation is a good venue for designing a new banking system which is independent from international banking systems".[57]

The address by Putin also included these comments:

We now clearly see the defectiveness of the monopoly in world finance and the policy of economic selfishness. To solve the current problem Russia will take part in changing the global financial structure so that it will be able to guarantee stability and prosperity in the world and to ensure progress.
The world is seeing the emergence of a qualitatively different geo-political situation, with the emergence of new centers of economic growth and political influence.
We will witness and take part in the transformation of the global and regional security and development architectures adapted to new realities of the 21st century, when stability and prosperity are becoming inseparable notions.[58]

Leaders present at the SCO summit in Yekaterinburg, Russia in 2009.

On 16 June 2009, at the Yekaterinburg Summit, China announced plans to provide a US$10 billion loan to SCO member states to shore up the struggling economies of its members amid the global financial crisis.[59] The summit was held together with the first BRIC summit, and the China-Russia joint statement said that they want a bigger quota in the International Monetary Fund.[60]

Cultural cooperation

Cultural cooperation also occurs in the SCO framework. Culture ministers of the SCO met for the first time in Beijing on 12 April 2002, signing a joint statement for continued cooperation. The third meeting of the Culture Ministers took place in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, on 27–28 April 2006.[61][62]

An SCO Arts Festival and Exhibition was held for the first time during the Astana Summit in 2005. Kazakhstan has also suggested an SCO folk dance festival to take place in 2008, in Astana.[63]


Summit of Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) in 2007.

According to the Charter of the SCO, summits of the Council of Heads of State shall be held annually at alternating venues. The locations of these summits follow the alphabetical order of the member state's name in Russian.[64] The charter also dictates that the Council of Heads of Government (that is, the Prime Ministers) shall meet annually in a place decided upon by the council members. The Council of Foreign Ministers is supposed to hold a summit one month before the annual summit of Heads of State. Extraordinary meetings of the Council of Foreign Ministers can be called by any two member states.[64]

List of summits

Heads of State
Date Country Location
14 June 2001  China Shanghai
7 June 2002  Russia Saint Petersburg
29 May 2003  Russia Moscow
17 June 2004  Uzbekistan Tashkent
5 July 2005  Kazakhstan Astana
15 June 2006  China Shanghai
16 August 2007  Kyrgyzstan Bishkek
28 August 2008  Tajikistan Dushanbe
15–16 June 2009  Russia Yekaterinburg
10–11 June 2010  Uzbekistan Tashkent[65]
14–15 June 2011  Kazakhstan Astana[66]
6–7 June 2012  China Beijing
13 September 2013  Kyrgyzstan Bishkek
11–12 September 2014  Tajikistan Dushanbe
9–10 July 2015  Russia Ufa
23–24 June 2016  Uzbekistan Tashkent[67]
8–9 June 2017  Kazakhstan Astana
9–10 June 2018  China Qingdao
TBD 2019
TBD 2020  Russia Chelyabinsk[68]
Heads of Government
Date Country Location
14 September 2001  Kazakhstan Almaty
23 September 2003  China Beijing
23 September 2004  Kyrgyzstan Bishkek
26 October 2005  Russia Moscow
15 September 2006  Tajikistan Dushanbe
2 November 2007  Uzbekistan Tashkent
30 October 2008  Kazakhstan Astana
14 October 2009  China Beijing[69]
25 November 2010  Tajikistan Dushanbe[70]
7 November 2011  Russia Saint Petersburg
5 December 2012  Kyrgyzstan Bishkek[71]
29 November 2013  Uzbekistan Tashkent
14–15 December 2014  Kazakhstan Astana
14–15 December 2015  China Zhengzhou
2–3 November 2016  Kyrgyzstan Bishkek
30 November 2017  Russia Sochi


Relations with the West

Western media observers believe that one of the original purposes of the SCO was to serve as a counterbalance to NATO and in particular to avoid conflicts that would allow the United States to intervene in areas bordering both Russia and China.[72][73] In addition, while not a member state, the President of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad used his speeches at the SCO to make verbal remarks towards the United States.[74]

The United States applied for observer status in the SCO, but was promptly rejected in 2005.[75]

At the Astana summit in July 2005, with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq foreshadowing an indefinite presence of U.S. forces in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, the SCO requested the U.S. to set a clear timetable for withdrawing its troops from SCO member states. Shortly afterwards, Uzbekistan requested the U.S. to leave the K2 air base.[76]

The SCO has made no direct comments against the U.S. or its military presence in the region; however, some indirect statements at the past summits have been viewed by the western media as "thinly veiled swipes at Washington".[77]

European Parliament researcher expressed her view that "institutional weaknesses, a lack of common financial funds for the implementation of joint projects and conflicting national interests have prevented the SCO from achieving a higher level of regional cooperation".[78]

Geopolitical aspects of the SCO

SCO summit in Ufa, Russia in 2015

There have been many discussions and commentaries about the geopolitical nature of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. Matthew Brummer, in the Journal of International Affairs, tracks the implications of SCO expansion into the Persian Gulf.[79] Also, according to political scientist Thomas Ambrosio, one aim of SCO was to ensure that liberal democracy could not gain ground in these countries.[80]

Iranian writer Hamid Golpira had this to say on the topic: "According to Zbigniew Brzezinski's theory, control of the Eurasian landmass is the key to global domination and control of Central Asia is the key to control of the Eurasian landmass....Russia and China have been paying attention to Brzezinski's theory, since they formed the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation in 2001, ostensibly to curb extremism in the region and enhance border security, but most probably with the real objective of counterbalancing the activities of the United States and NATO in Central Asia".[81][82]

At a 2005 summit in Kazakhstan the SCO issued a Declaration of Heads of Member States of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation which addressed their "concerns" and contained an elaboration of the organisation's principles. It included: "The heads of the member states point out that, against the backdrop of a contradictory process of globalisation, multilateral cooperation, which is based on the principles of equal right and mutual respect, non-intervention in internal affairs of sovereign states, non-confrontational way of thinking and consecutive movement towards democratisation of international relations, contributes to overall peace and security, and call upon the international community, irrespective of its differences in ideology and social structure, to form a new concept of security based on mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality and interaction."[83]

In November 2005 Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reiterated that the "Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) is working to establish a rational and just world order" and that "The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation provides us with a unique opportunity to take part in the process of forming a fundamentally new model of geopolitical integration".[84]

The People's Daily expressed the matter in these terms: "The Declaration points out that the SCO member countries have the ability and responsibility to safeguard the security of the Central Asian region, and calls on Western countries to leave Central Asia. That is the most noticeable signal given by the Summit to the world".[85]

A 2010 analysis in American Legion Magazine said that 'Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao... has concluded that the United States is maneuvering "to preserve its status as the world's sole superpower and will not allow any country the chance to pose a challenge to it."'[86]

An article in The Washington Post in early 2008 reported that President Vladimir Putin stated that Russia could aim nuclear missiles at Ukraine if Russia's neighbor and former fraternal republic in the Soviet Union joins the NATO alliance and hosts elements of a U.S. missile defence system. "It is horrible to say and even horrible to think that, in response to the deployment of such facilities in Ukrainian territory, which cannot theoretically be ruled out, Russia could target its missile systems at Ukraine", Putin said at a joint news conference with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, who was visiting the Kremlin. "Imagine this just for a second".[87][88]

Leaders of SCO member states, as of 2018

See also


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Further reading

External links