By Benyamin Poghosyan
When Russia, China and four Central Asian countries signed an agreement to establish the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in 2001, few people imagined it would become one of the most significant organizations facilitating the emergence of a multi-polar world order, not least because two decades ago the United States was still enjoying its “unipolar moment”.
In Russia, a new president was still struggling to come to terms with the changed internal and external situations, and domestic instability, with US-China ties developing positively and the US supporting China’s bid to join the World Trade Organization. Against such a backdrop, the SCO’s establishment was seen as another attempt to foster regional cooperation in Central Asia which would have no significant consequences for the world.
What does the world look like at the end of 2021, the 20th year of the formation of the SCO?
Much has changed since 2001, from the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, the “Color Revolutions” in some former Soviet republics, the Russia-Georgia war in 2008, the global financial crisis, the “Arab Spring,” the West’s military intervention in Libya, the civil war in Syria and the rise and fall of the Islamic State group, to the Ukraine crisis, the US-triggered trade war against China and the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. These developments have dealt a serious blow to the West’s claim of the “end of history” and the global domination of “liberal democracy”, signaling the end of the US’ “unipolar moment.”
The world has entered the unchartered waters of transformation and instability, without any signs of what the post-unipolar world may look like. But one thing is certain, the emerging world order will be a multi-polar one with at least five leading players－the US, China, Russia, the European Union and India. Another feature of the emerging world order is the “regionalization of globalization” with intraregional political and economic relations and institutions playing an increasingly significant role.
The future multi-polar world may be based either on the “war-against-all” principle precipitating an era of permanent instability and conflicts among different poles reminiscent of the global situations preceding World War I and World War II or on the vision of genuine multilateralism. The latter means key global players maintaining constant communication and holding regular discussions based on the UN Charter to chart the future direction of the world.
As for the process of “regionalization of globalization”, it will significantly increase the role of regional organizations and initiatives in providing stability and establishing platforms for dialogue between regional players.
As an emerging global power, China is playing a vital role in shaping the emerging world order. And in keeping with that spirit, it has urged its partner economies to uphold multilateralism, follow the path of dialogue rather than confrontation, and promote inclusiveness instead of adopting self-centric policies at a time when the world is facing new, serious challenges.
These ideas resonate in many capitals, which are tired of confrontation and don’t want to be caught in a possible new Cold War between great powers. Hence, China needs to deepen and expand its diplomatic relations with the developed and developing countries to promote its development agenda. It also needs to create more channels to share its views on critical issues with the international community and fight against the anti-China propaganda.
Many Western governments and media outlets are spreading such notions as “debt diplomacy” and the “China threat” theory to spread anti-China sentiments across the world, including Africa, parts of Asia, Eastern Europe and former Soviet republics. So China needs to ensure the SCO, the Belt and Road Initiative and other regional and global development initiatives play a leading role in neutralizing the negative effects of such propaganda.
China should also pay more attention to public diplomacy, and modernize the functioning of its embassies and other institutions working abroad, especially because Chinese assistance to other countries is not being properly highlighted.
Over the past few years, the SCO has expanded its membership and role to become an important platform for dialogue in Eurasia. The inclusion of India, Pakistan, and recently Iran has transformed the SCO into an organization capable of dealing with complex regional issues.
Many other Eurasian countries have been cooperating with the SCO either as observers or dialogue partners, making the organization an invaluable platform for China to strengthen its diplomatic relations with other states. The success of the SCO is certain, because of its members’ agreement that the “unipolar world” order is over and the new world order should be multi-polar.
Also, China should more actively engage with the other Belt and Road partner countries through the “Digital Silk Road”, the “Health Silk Road” and other such programs to deepen diplomatic engagements with them. And given the growing scale of anti-China propaganda, the SCO, as a multilateral platform, should serve as an important channel to disseminate accurate information about China and its policies and make the establishment of genuine multilateralism a reality.
–The Daily Mail-China Daily News Exchange Item