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Belarus on its way to the SCO. Expert aftertaste a week after the summit in New Delhi

Amid the recent SCO summit, the mass media were filled with enthusiastic reviews including in the light of Belarus receiving the status of a member state of this organization in 2024. Without questioning the importance of this event and its outcome, as well as the importance of the SCO in the context of our foreign policy in principle, the author suggests looking at the situation from a slightly different, more critical angle.

A number of Russian researchers believe that the SCO is at an important, but still a transit stage of development. Therefore, its geopolitical significance should not be overestimated. For more than 20 years, the organization has not been able to determine its mission (not declarative, but real), which even now looks fragmented and insufficiently clearly articulated.

There are no breakthrough initiatives in sight, rather the SCO is adapting to the new international realities and composition. The accession of Iran is a landmark event, albeit a formal one, since the decision on this matter was had been made a long time ago, now the procedure has simply been completed.

Belarus' accession to the SCO is also a step in the right direction, but it is premature to consider the organization a full–fledged alternative to the unipolar world. At least because of the blurring of the unifying idea and the civilizational community.

The geographical coverage of the participating states and an even wider range of nominees puts the SCO in front of the need to develop effective decision-making mechanisms and control over their implementation. By the way, after the Samarkand summit, the process of reforming the executive bodies of the organization has been launched.

Different expectations of the SCO from different countries (which, in fact, was evident from the speeches of national leaders at the summit), coupled with their introduction of their bilateral and interregional contradictions into the agenda, further emphasize that the full maturity of the organization has not yet come.

A good example is India's refusal to sign the SCO Economic Development Strategy until 2030 due to references to China's political initiatives. New Delhi also once again avoided supporting the Chinese initiative “Belt and Road" (BRI) in the final declaration.

It seems that the current transformation of the system of international relations should accelerate the SCO “maturation”.

Some Kazakhstani experts predict a split in the organization if it does not move away from geopolitics and does not focus on the priority development of economic partnership.

At the same time, in its current form, the SCO is not yet about the economy. For many years, there has been talk about creating a development bank and a fund without obvious progress, there are no real projects in the line of the business council and the interbank association.

Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev spoke about this at the summit uncut: “For more than 20 years, it has not been possible to implement a single major economic project under the SCO auspices”. The reason for everything is the lack of financial support mechanisms for project activities. It is proposed to solve the problem by creating a joint investment fund within the SCO on the basis of the Astana International Financial Center.

That is, participation in the SCO in its present form can hardly be considered as an additional tool for developing new Asian markets and attracting investment.

In addition, there are already other competing formats of interstate cooperation and integration in the economic sphere in Asia. In particular, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC, 21 countries), including Russia and China. At the initiative of the United States, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP, 11 countries) was created, but without Moscow and Beijing. There is also a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership initiated by China (15 countries), which opposes the TPP and somewhat oppresses APEC. It is also impossible not to mention the strengthening BRICS.

The cross-participation in these formats of the SCO member states and especially its locomotives – China and Russia – dissipates resources and does not allow the multiple initiatives that are voiced from summit to summit to materialize into concrete projects.

An important aspect remains the difficulties of pairing Chinese (BRI) and Russian (EEU) integration projects. It is just as difficult to combine participation in them as, for example, Ukraine and Moldova combine binding to the EU and the CIS at the same time.

It should also be understood that the BRI is promoted by China as a separate format outside the SCO framework. Objectively, it does not always coincide with Russian interests in everything, although Moscow supports this project politically.

Russia is particularly attracted to two of the dozen BRI's “corridors”: the docking of the Chinese “Silk Road” with the Mongolian “Steppe Route” and further with the Russian Trans-Eurasian Corridor (BAM, Transsib); and the sea corridor from the eastern ports of the PRC to the north through the Bering Strait and the Northern Sea Route. Apart from the above, the remaining routes bypass Russia through dozens of countries.

These economic corridors cannot be implemented without China concluding military and geopolitical alliances with transit countries. In turn, the basic problem in Russia's relations with China is the lack of a long–term goal of joint development, in the presence of mismatched national macro-projects. At the same time, a formal military-political alliance is unacceptable neither for China nor for Russia.

The integration of the BRI and the EEU is an economic component that cannot be implemented without a geopolitical link. Therefore, the formula for the comprehensive strategic coordination of the interests of China and Russia has yet to be worked out.

Within the framework of the SCO, attempts are being made to resolve security issues, in particular, the problems around Afghanistan amid the increasing conflict in Asia as a whole. However, according to Russian experts, Asia does not have an arms control system, experience in conflict prevention by international organizations, as well as collective security institutions.

Therefore, it is necessary to develop a separate function of conflict resolution in the SCO simultaneously with the integration with other cooperative and integrative formats. For example, in the form of a Forum on Eurasian cooperation, Security and Development under the joint leadership of Russia and China.

The blatant globalization of the actions of the United States, NATO and the EU forces the SCO (CSTO, EEU) to adjust its initially regional agenda. Part of the tasks of ensuring the security and development of Eurasia can be solved in cooperation with external players, such as the UN, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and other structures, which would allow the SCO member states and the organization itself to be brought into a new geopolitical reality.

Thus, in the context under consideration, the SCO today is a Eurasian macro-project that simultaneously performs the functions of a political coordination forum, an economic union, and in the future also an energy club.

In Belarus, the SCO is an object of special and close interest as the most representative regional organization, especially against the background of systemic pressure and attempts to isolate Minsk from the West.

However, in the foreseeable future, the SCO is unlikely to become an anti-Western platform, since only Russia and Iran are in acute conflict with the West. The rest are maneuvering, trying to maintain working relations with the US and the EU and stay in the boat of global trade. Moreover, even the PRC, being the object of the harshest Western pressure, prefers to avoid direct confrontation with the United States, not to mention India, Pakistan, and the states of Central Asia.

The idea of giving the SCO a universal character is also unpromising. Voices in this regard are especially often heard amid the observed decline of the UN and other traditional multilateral platforms. Based on the logic of the transformations bing the case in the world today, the time of universal organizations has passed. Today, the trend towards regionalization is clearly visible – a more focused separation of national states, especially small and medium-sized ones, by region or interests.

It is obvious that the SCO is a regional bloc. Therefore, it must be strengthened and improved in this form. Moreover, the organization's activities are beginning to acquire practically oriented contours – transport, logistics, financial and economic projects are being laid in the basis of its foundation, which will ensure the connectivity of a huge region. The process of “gluing” this space still has to go through a huge number of difficulties and trials, but it has actually been launched and it can no longer be stopped.

It seems that Belarus should use the time waiting for the final decision on its membership in the SCO to its advantage, namely, pragmatically and objectively determine projects for each dimension on the basis of realistic plans. Specific proposals and priorities in this regard were announced in the speech of the Head of State at the summit. At the same time, there should be no illusions and inflated expectations like “five-year plan in two years” – the external perception of the image and symbolism in the East are important.

However, the most important thing is the resource security of future projects, since without trained specialists, professionals in their field in various sectors, they all risk remaining on paper.

Here it will be appropriate to recall the saying of the ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius, who said: “If your plan is for a year, plant rice. If your plan is for a decade, plant trees. If your plan is for life, teach the children”…