Shanghai Spirit pivotal in central and south Asia development: experts
The SCO first began in 2001 and has now grown to include China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan and India as its full members, along with a number of regional countries and international organizations as observers and dialogue partners. The SCO serves to facilitate regional cooperation among its members in three main areas – politics and diplomatic affairs, trade and economics, as well as cultural and humanitarian affairs.
The Shanghai Spirit, which embodies the core values of the organization, features mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality, consultation, respect for diverse civilizations and pursuit of common development.
Wang Dehua is the director of South and Central Asia Studies at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies. He says that China, which has taken this year’s rotating chairmanship of the SCO, has closely adhered to the Shanghai Spirit.
“Recently, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi said that since the last SCO summit in Astana, China has continued to implement the Shanghai Spirit, leveraging the organization’s new potential after its expansion, as well as enhancing unity and the pursuit of common development. Since then, China has hosted more than 100 meetings of multilateral cooperation mechanisms or large multilateral events under the SCO. These have effectively enhanced political trust, practical cooperation and cultural exchanges among member states,” says Wang.
Wali Zahid is President of Institute of Media & Communications, a think tank based in Pakistan. He says the Shanghai Spirit serves as a helpful tool in rebuilding mutual trust in a region that he says has been beset by a historical “trust deficit."
“If we take Pakistan and India, they have fought three wars, and they have come close to wars many times. But I think being full members by both India and Pakistan of the SCO, there’s a possibility that they can start talking to each other. And we just saw an example (recently), their DMOs, the Directors of Military Operations, they decided to sit together and bring the Line of Control ceasefire accord to the 2003 level,” explains Zahid.
Beyond political cooperation, Wang Dehua says the SCO can also play an integral role in implementing the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative and bring economic growth to the region. “We can say the region covered by the SCO converges very well with those of the Belt and Road Initiative. The population in countries within the SCO totals more than 3 billion. In terms of total area, China, Russia and India are all very large countries, and Kazakhstan. I think this region can help to demonstrate, facilitate and further develop the Belt and Road Initiative," says Wang.
“This part of the world is beset by poverty, it is beset by a lack of development. Probably in these countries, there is very little infrastructure. So what Belt and Road Initiative money and connectivity plans can do for Pakistan and countries in the region is this: China can bring best practice in high-level infrastructure development, so the countries can benefit,” notes Zahid. Zahid adds that with projects under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a flagship program of the Belt and Road Initiative, Pakistan has already been able to better address issues including energy deficits and a lack of transportation networks.