Here’s What You Need to Know about SCO Summit in Astana

ASTANA—Astana is preparing to host the 24th summit of the Council of Heads of State of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) on July 3-4. The summit promises to be a pivotal event, addressing key regional issues and providing a platform for Astana to advocate for dialogue and diplomacy once again. 

The upcoming summit will focus on discussing strategies to address common regional and global challenges. Photo credit: SCO

What is SCO?

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization was established in Shanghai on June 15, 2001, by six founding nations: Kazakhstan, China, the Kyrgyz Republic, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. This intergovernmental organization evolved from the earlier Shanghai Five mechanism, reflecting a growing need for regional cooperation and security.

The SCO now has nine members, including India, Iran, and Pakistan, in addition to the founding members. There are three observer states – Afghanistan, Belarus, and Mongolia, and 14 dialogue partners, including Azerbaijan, Armenia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Türkiye. 

The Samarkand SCO summit in 2022 initiated the process of elevating Belarus’s status within the organization to that of a member state. 

The SCO represents 40% of the world’s population, and member countries contribute approximately over $23 trillion to global GDP.

Who is attending this year’s summit? 

Sixteen world leaders are expected to participate in the SCO summit in Astana. Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Astana on July 2 for a state visit and to attend the summit. 

Other leaders include Russian President Vladimir Putin, Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, and Kyrgyz President Sadyr Zhaparov.

India will be represented by External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar. Additionally, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev will be present. 

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, who is visiting Central Asia, will also attend the summit, arriving in Almaty on July 3.

“Such a high number of participants is due to the high interest in this event, as the summit represents a constructive dialogue platform for all interested countries,” said Alisher Tastenov, chief expert at the Asian Studies Department of the Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies (KazISS).

What is the agenda?

The upcoming summit, titled Strengthening Multilateral Dialogue—Striving Towards a Sustainable Peace and Prosperity, will feature a comprehensive agenda focusing on key areas of cooperation and development among member states.

Security and stability will be at the top of the agenda. 

At least 20 major documents will be considered at the summit. These include the Astana SCO Declaration, the SCO Development Strategy until 2035, the Energy Cooperation Development Strategy until 2030, the Program of Cooperation in Countering Terrorism, Separatism and Extremism for 2025-2027, and the SCO Anti-Drug Strategy for 2024-2029.

One of the major documents under the spotlight is an initiative On World Unity for Just Peace and Harmony, proposed by Kazakhstan. 

“It is aimed at strengthening confidence-building measures and maintaining stable development of all countries of the world. This initiative reflects the sincere intentions and determination of the SCO countries to develop global and regional security,” said Aliya Mussabekova, chief expert at the KazISS Asian Studies Department.

In an interview with the Chinese agency Xinhua, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said he expects the final decisions of the summit to fully embody the “fundamental principles of the Shanghai spirit – mutual trust, friendship, mutual benefit, and consideration of each other’s interests.”

“We expect strategically important decisions to be taken to improve the SCO further. The main areas of interaction for the medium term will be defined, and initiatives will be developed for an adequate and timely response to current challenges and threats,” said Tokayev.

Kazakhstan’s chairmanship 

The summit is a culmination of Kazakhstan’s chairmanship at the SCO, which it took over from India in July 2023.  

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev described the rotating chairmanship as a “very important and responsible mission.” 

“As one of the founders of the organization and an active supporter of the development of multilateral dialogue, Kazakhstan considers the organization as a permanent priority in its balanced foreign policy,” said the Kazakh President. 

Kazakhstan’s chairmanship agenda aimed to develop common approaches to resolving security issues, strengthening trade and economic cooperation, advancing environmental protection, and strengthening the bonds of friendship between people. This is what Kazakhstan always strives for on the global stage – lowering tensions and calling the international community to dialogue and diplomacy. 

Tokayev also said Kazakhstan seeks to strengthen the organization’s international influence by expanding its contacts with major international and regional organizations.

“More than 150 events have already been held, from New York to Beijing, from Nairobi to Moscow. Thus, the circle of SCO partners has expanded, and the legal and contractual base will be enriched with a number of documents,” said Tokayev. 

According to Mussabekova, Kazakhstan is focused on expanding economic partnerships within the SCO. “In general, Kazakhstan emphasizes the economic agenda and cooperation in the economic sphere within the SCO space. For example, the creation of the SCO investment fund and the creation of a base of economic preferences,” she added.

Gulnar Shaimergenova, director of Kazakhstan’s China Studies Center, noted Kazakhstan’s chairmanship in the SCO at a critical time marked by escalating geopolitical tensions and emerging threats from unresolved conflicts and new crises.

“The SCO has significantly impacted Kazakhstan, enhancing regional security and fostering economic development. The organization has provided Kazakhstan with a vital platform to address shared security challenges, particularly those related to terrorism, extremism, and transnational crime. Through the SCO’s Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure, Kazakhstan has improved intelligence sharing and operational coordination with other member states, leading to more effective counter-terrorism efforts in the region,” Shaimergenova told Kazinform news agency.

Multitude of benefits 

Experts agree that participation in organizations such as the SCO offers Kazakhstan a multitude of benefits spanning the economic, political, security, and cultural domains. 

Economically, the SCO provides a platform for Kazakhstan to enhance trade relations and attract investments from other member states, particularly from economic powerhouses such as China and Russia. The projects within the SCO space, especially in infrastructure and energy, further contribute to Kazakhstan’s economic integration and connectivity with the region.

According to data from the Kazakh government, Kazakhstan’s trade turnover with the SCO countries increased by 56.5% in five years, reaching $66 billion. In January-April 2024, the volume of trade within the organization hit $19.1 billion. 

Politically and security-wise, Kazakhstan gains significant advantages through enhanced cooperation on security issues such as combating terrorism, extremism, and drug trafficking.

Kazakhstan is also chairing several other organizations this year, including the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA), the Organization of Turkic States (OTS), the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea, and the Islamic Organization for Food Security (IOFS). 

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