The gathering in Samarkand allows member states to realise the economic potential the cooperation has to offer.

The two-day Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s (SCO) Heads of State Council summit is set to take place in Uzbekistan’s Samarkand on September 15 and 16.

Uzbekistan’s President Shavkat Mirziyoyev will host the multinational gathering consisting of eight countries.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been reported to fly to Samarkand on Thursday, where he will be expected to engage in robust diplomacy, with policy watchers looking at his meetings with the presidents of Russia and China, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, respectively.

Türkiye has been a dialogue partner of the organisation since 2012.

At present, the SCO comprises eight member states: China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Alongside Türkiye, there are five other dialogue partners: Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Armenia.

Iran, meanwhile, is reported to be accepted as a full member by the organisation, whereas Afghanistan, Belarus and Mongolia will join as observers.

This year, the Samarkand summit is happening at a crucial time, with the Ukraine-Russia conflict still ongoing and tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia also flaring up.

In the lead-up to the top leaders’ meeting, a defence ministerial conclave comprising SCO member states was concluded on Aug 23, and over a month ago, on July 29, the Council of Foreign Ministers’ gathering was held.

Here is a brief breakdown of what the SCO is and its significance at a time of evolving geopolitical situation in the Eurasia region.

The organisation

21 years ago, on June 15, 2001, leaders of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Russia and China gathered in Shanghai and laid the foundation of the organisation. 

It evolved from an earlier regional security grouping formed in 1996 after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when the Central Asian states gained independence from Moscow. 

Later in August 2007, the Treaty of Long-Term Neighbourliness, Friendship and Cooperation, ratified in Bishkek, solidified the organisation’s legal foundation.

One of the organisation’s key aims is to strengthen friendly, good neighbourly relations and mutual trust among the member states.

The SCO member states occupy over 60 percent of the Eurasian landmass and have a population of over 3.2 billion, with their combined gross domestic product accounting for about a quarter of the global total.

The scope

Initially focused on regional security, including border conflicts, terrorism and militancy, the SCO’s activities have expanded to cover economics and trade, transport and law enforcement. 

However, security and economic cooperation remain top priorities.

In the early days of the body, some Western commentators likened the SCO to a potential NATO-style grouping that could one day challenge the West. But the organisation, in practice, limited itself to smaller military exercises and security initiatives.

A key aspect that appears to be obvious in the functioning of the SCO is that China and Russia are the dominant members. While Russia regards Central Asia as its sphere of influence, it is the Chinese economic sway through its various infrastructure projects across the region that puts it in the driving seat.

The gathering in Samarkand provides an opportunity for the member states to realise the economic potential the cooperation has to offer.

Samarkand, Uzbekistan’s second-largest city and also a UNESCO-listed heritage site, is located on the historic Great Silk Road route and is home to over a thousand cultural sites reflecting its deep-rooted history dating back to the 8th century.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies