BENAULIM: Middle Eastern participation in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization is expanding further as the security bloc announced new partners from the region during its foreign ministers’ meeting in India on Friday.
The SCO is a political and security group of countries spanning China, Russia, India and Pakistan, as well as most of Central Asia.
It has over a dozen dialogue partners and observers, from Eastern Europe to Southeast Asia.
Saudi Arabia approved a memorandum on becoming a dialogue partner in the SCO in March.
Qatar, Egypt, and Turkiye have the same status, while Kuwait and the UAE gained it on Friday during the SCO Council of Foreign Ministers meeting in Goa.
At the same time, Iran and Belarus became full members, while Myanmar and Maldives joined as two other dialogue partners.
“I’m delighted that four new dialogue partners will sign the MoU for their association with SCO today in Goa,” India’s Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar told reporters at the meeting’s venue.
“We welcome our new dialogue partners and hope to intensify engagement with them in the SCO format.”
Formed in 2001 by China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, the SCO has been expanded to include India and Pakistan, which helped increase its role as a counterweight to Western influence in the region.
Its move to have significant Middle Eastern membership is also seen in these terms.
“It is a question of moving the weight or the center of gravity from the Western world — the US and EU combined — to the Eastern world, the place where the population of the world actually now exists overwhelmingly, the place where the fastest-growing economies are also present,” Suhashini Haidar, diplomatic editor at the English-language daily the Hindu, told Arab News.
The group’s expansion, however, should not be interpreted as meant to pose a challenge to the West, but rather as a means to provide an alternative, she said.
“Countries in the Global South, whether in Asia, South America, or Africa, are trying to find alternatives and to diversify their options.”
For Manish Chand, president of the think tank Center for Global India Insights, the increasing Middle Eastern influence in the bloc was a “positive move” given the many complementarities between the region and SCO countries.
“One of the major points of synergy is that both regions are rich in energy. The Middle East is, of course, as we know, very rich in hydrocarbons. And Central Asia is also rich in hydrocarbons, as well as in hydroelectricity and other (forms of energy),” he said.
“Another important point that connects the two regions is that they are both very dynamic, emerging regions.” The security bloc’s newly forged and increasing cooperation with the Middle East is a way of transforming the group into a significant global player, Chand says.
“What they are doing by getting them inside the tent of the SCO is expanding the ambit of this organization, which is largely Eurasia-centric,” he said.
“Having these countries in the fold of the SCO would strengthen the grouping, diversify it and give it greater global weight.” –Agencies