The formidable Eurasian bloc SCO is set to become another brick in the beautiful edifice of multilateral cooperation as the world battles a complex tapestry of challenges. Representing more than 40pc of the world population and a quarter of global GDP, the resounding appeal of Shanghai spirit remains relevant to foster rational regional order. SCO rejuvenation is the quintessential embodiment of the multilateral world order to navigate the intricacies of emerging geopolitical and economic challenges jointly. The spectacular diplomatic clout of SCO is also one of the factors behind the surprising geopolitical calm in Asia.

Striking a defiant note, this year’s summit; comprising the most powerful nations across Asian landmass, is crucial as Russian ally Belarus could join the bloc in a historic breakthrough.

Asian powerhouses hope the latest meeting will pave the road to a pan-regional trade and connectivity regime with Central Asian members as a focal point. The prospects of peace in Afghanistan after the hasty US withdrawal could accelerate the pivot to Asia as the landlocked strategic country is the geographic linchpin of economic integration. SCO’s staunch efforts to craft a joint front towards pressing issues such as insurgency, separatism, the volatile situation of Afghanistan, and smooth implementation of connectivity projects debunk myths regarding the budding military alliance.

On the contrary, the inclusion of another major regional power, Iran, recently, in the SCO Council of Heads anchored the bloc’s standing as a symbol of a multipolar world order. Xi Jinping brilliantly articulated the spirit of solidarity in the 15th meeting of the Council of Heads of States “It is my conviction that by upholding the Shanghai Spirit and acting with unity and mutual support, we will surely enable the SCO to grow from strength and make new strides in a new historical stage”

The geopolitical context of SCO formation revolved around long-standing border disputes, confidence building among regional countries, and the promotion of multilateralism. As the politico-economic clout of its original founding members increased, the forum was largely seen as an instrument of balance of power against Western exceptionalism.  The rise of global militant threats and extremist proxies bequeathed another chance of unity to SCO members in 1998.

This institutionalized security cooperation strengthened strategic partnerships and finally resulted in the establishment of a Regional Anti-Terrorist structure. The initial agenda of economic cooperation was transformed into multi-billion dollar infrastructural projects, and an inter-bank consortium was established to finance these regional connectivity projects. Amid the promising rise of the SCO, Indian intransigence inflicted a debilitating blow to the broader idea of multilateralism last year, as Modi’s obduracy limited the agenda in the summit chair.

Under New Delhi’s rotational watch, last year’s virtual SCO summit emphasized a callous disregard for the core efforts of the organization and asymmetrically focused on cultural facets of a forum: start-ups and innovation, ayurvedic remedies, youth empowerment, and recognition of shared Buddhist heritage. Indian confrontational approach against Xi’s notion of a “Community of common destiny” is a deliberate attempt to frustrate the multilateral spirit of SCO.

Against this background of multi-layered interaction between regional and global politics, the 24th meeting of the Council of Heads of State of the SCO in Astana might prove to be a watershed moment in the steering of the bloc from ideologically driven security divergences toward action-based collaboration.

The multi-vector foreign policy of Kazakhstan is an attempt to untie collective strength toward inclusive multifaceted collaboration by SCO that can leave a momentous mark on the global stage.

Remembering the fact that this Central Asian country was a place where the project of the century, the “Belt and Road Initiative,” was proposed, the latest summit could infuse impetus into connectivity projects that would transform landlocked regions into trade hubs.

Astana Times revealed that Kazakhstan would submit a draft of the World Unity for Just Peace and Harmony as it looks to unify efforts to find peaceful solutions to simmering conflicts in the region, with geopolitical rivalry continuing unabated. The area has been burning with the trio of terrorism, separatism, and terrorism, and it hit members of Pakistan and Russia hard with terror attacks. So, security coordination may also emerge as the lynchpin issue at the Astana summit.

Underlining unique diplomatic breakthroughs, SCO has gathered keen global attention as it provides the example of a harmonious agenda despite varied models of governance, different cultural contexts, civilizational foundations, foreign policy objectives that are independent, and diverging models of development among its members. There are systemic attempts to brand SCO as an anti-West strategic alliance or Asian NATO though the bloc’s discussions have repeatedly called for a new type of international order based on equity, harmony, and economic integration. If, prior to its summit, the bloc had outlined a plan to increase the share of national currencies in bilateral trade between members, this paradigm shift could be taken unaccounted for by the US. Openness has been a defining feature of SCO since its inception.

Singaporean ex-diplomat and author Kishore Mahbubani has elegantly narrated that the Asian Century, the Eurasian Century, is already on, as Eurasia integration is spurred by BRI, AIIB, SCO, EAEU, and Russia-China strategic partnership.

SCO solidarity blatantly negates the zero-sum geopolitics and camp-based confrontation as it attempts to meticulously streamline divergent strategic calculus towards a cohesive regional community. In such times of geopolitical upheaval where diplomacy has been put on the back burner and several theaters of war pose grave threats to humanity, multilateral efforts reflect only viable silver linings. With its growing sphere of influence, demographic might, and ambitious agenda, SCO’s charm offensive will be poised to impart significant ramifications worldwide.

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