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Belarus on the way to accede the SCO: prospects, plans and expectations

Belarus has been systematically working on acceding the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) for several years and is expecting to become its member in 2024. The State takes an active part in all main activities of the organization: political and diplomatic, trade and economic, cultural and humanitarian. In June 2016, during his first speech at a meeting of the Council of Heads of SCO Member-States in Tashkent, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko noted that the country considers the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as an important international platform for working out specific mechanisms for developing cooperation in countering the threats of terrorism, extremism, organized crime and advocates strengthening the economic dimension of the SCO in as the most important factor of stability in the Eurasian region.

If you look at the history of relations between the country and the organization, which began in 2010, Belarus regularly acts as a donor of various ideas, initiatives and projects. Therefore, the country expects to officially join the SCO as a proactive donor, and not as a simple recipient. "And even if you look at the earlier initiatives of our president, it is the creation of a specialized exhibition "AgroSCO" at the international forum of agrarians "Belagro". The Belarusian Head of State also proposed the creation of the SCO IT ecosystem and the digital neighborhood belt, initiatives to strengthen nuclear safety and peaceful use of atomic energy.

The initiatives announced by the President of Belarus at the SCO summit of Heads of State last year in New Delhi concentrated and comprehensively reflected the entire agenda of the organization. In fact, Belarus has proposed seven points of growth and development of the SCO in the near future. For example, countering information wars and fakes, threats in cyberspace. This is an urgent problem for the entire SCO space today, as well as the topic of the Great Eurasian Partnership, which echoes the long-standing initiative of the Head of the Belarusian state on the "integration of integrations". This initiative is unique, in our opinion. It presupposes the synergy of the SCO's potential with similar friendly interstate associations: EAEU, CSTO, BRICS. Most of the SCO Member-States are in all these blocs simultaneously. And the synergy of their potentials can much strengthen the entire Eurasian space, the entire Eurasian continent.

Belarus has traditionally acted as a donor in the field of food security. We have been and remain one of the main producers and suppliers of potash fertilizers in the world. We have developed agricultural engineering. Last year, food exports to various countries, including China, made about USD 8 billion. Food and agricultural products are, by and large, our oil. In this regard, we say that we still need the SCO Development Bank in order to finance all these projects. In the banking, financial and insurance spheres, it is important to continue the systematic convergence of payment systems, increase the share of national currencies in mutual trade, as well as develop financial mechanisms protected from external influence.

Belarus is also interested in "stitching together" the SCO's common transport space, including by launching projects such as the New Eurasian Land Bridge, the Belt and Road initiative, North-South and East-West transport corridors. It is also important for the country to maximize the acceleration of the passage of goods through further implementation of an integrated traffic management system based on digital technologies.

Trade cannot do without logistics and finance, which are currently the most vulnerable place given the illegitimate Western sanctions.

Let us also recall the humanitarian track, where the President of Belarus proposed to launch the SCO Festival of cultures in the image and likeness of the Slavic Bazaar in Vitebsk, to hold it traditionally and in all countries on a rotating basis. "The idea of creating the SCO youth platform occupies an important place. Because all our ideas will already be implemented by young people who are 20-30 years old today. This is our future. Therefore, this set of measures that was announced last year, which in many ways echoes the initiatives of many SCO members, once again emphasizes our philosophy and priorities of moving to this organization.

We look at the SCO as an additional point of support in a turbulent world. We also see the SCO as a partner organization, a fellow-thinker who seeks to pursue a sovereign independent course based on mutual respect for cultures, traditions, and civilizational approaches. Also, of course, the SCO is an additional tool for us to implement our updated foreign policy course, which involves moving towards the Global East and the Global South.

The President of Belarus, in cooperation with other countries and organizations, always focuses on the economy. At the same time, the Belarusian Head of State rightly believes that the economy cannot develop in an unsafe environment. The SCO was originally established in 2001 as a structure for ensuring regional security in the Central Asian region. To develop the economy, a safe environment is required. Security issues are, of course, one of the main priorities. Therefore, Minsk strongly supports, for example, the expansion of cooperation between the CSTO and the SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure in areas of mutual interest.

Projects are also implemented by specific people. And for this, we need more communication in order to enrich each other within the framework of intercultural communication, become stronger, understand each other better and expedite the projects that our leaders are planning.

Meanwhile, neither the SCO nor the BRICS, which Belarus also plans to join, yet have such an advanced common economic space, which was formed within the framework of the Eurasian Economic Union and in the Union State of Belarus and Russia. Therefore, of course, the top priority for us is the further improvement of economic integration, which currently exists in the post-Soviet space in the formats of the Union State, the EAEU, and the CIS. And if we talk about the military-political component, then the guideline, of course, is the Collective Security Treaty Organization.

And finally, Belarus sees the SCO primarily as an opportunity in terms of expanding the horizons of economic cooperation in this space. Our expectations are that there will be more cohesion and unity in this association. And then this effect would give an impetus to the accelerated development of all major areas. We need to learn to move away from national selfishness, from protectionism, more boldly open markets to each other, and exchange technologies, especially between strategic partners.