China-Russia Rivalry Will Destroy SCO

The two greater powers of North Asia have no reason to play equals in the region’s cooperation organization.

Remember the Shanghai Cooperation Organization? The prime ministers of the North Asian countries united in this platform met in Saint Petersburg last week to discuss regional integration but as is becoming the norm at their summits, they agreed on nothing important.

David Cohen sums up the predicament of the SCO at The Diplomat.

Russia used the meeting to push for the accession of India and Iran to the regional organization while China talked economic integration and free trade with Central Asia — both pet initiatives that would dilute the other party’s power in the group and which have been stalled for years.

Chinese and Russian interests are increasingly divergent. In Central Asia, they will soon be competitors for access to oil and natural gas. Their relations with India are completely asymmetrical while their desire for an American presence in Eurasia is ambiguous.

China doesn’t mind that American troops are permanently stationed in Europe where the United States are also constructing a missile shield which will dilute Russia’s nuclear menace. The Russians, on the other hand, will not object to America’s burgeoning military presence in East Asia which serves as a balance against Chinese expansionism.

The two great powers do share a concern for separatism and terrorism in their respective backyards. Central Asia is home to a score of ethnicities that could reasonably be defined as “nations” except the states which they live in hardly reflect their ambitions. China and Russia would rather keep the political constellation as it is there lest separatist violence incite similar uprisings in the Caucasus, Tibet and Xinjiang.

Because of their different security concerns elsewhere, the two cannot very well cooperate in this regard as part of the SCO however. China hopes to use the organization as a vehicle for economic integration instead but this contradicts Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s hopes for an “Eurasian Union” that is led from Moscow.

If India or Iran were admitted, it could wreck the SCO completely, writes Cohen. Add a billion people democracy to the mix and “the group is unlikely ever to be able to agree on anything.” Add Iran and the SCO could be turned into a gigantic rival to NATO except China has no desire to assume responsibility for another rogue, potentially nuclear state.

So the SCO’s future looks grim. Without committed participation on the part of the Russians and the Chinese, there’s very little reason for the other member states to continue to keep up appearances. Their leaders will meet together ever now and then as they would otherwise meet bilaterally but in terms of global significance, the SCO will soon peter out.