Influential SCO seeks to supplant G7

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Influential SCO seeks to supplant G7

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization has grown rapidly over the last decade. Once known as the Shanghai Five, the group has developed into the largest regional bloc in the world in terms of geographical coverage and population. Covering three-fifths of the Eurasian continent and representing nearly half of the world’s population, the organization is quickly becoming one of the world’s most powerful and influential groups. 

Most recently, as US President Donald Trump threw the G7 summit into disarray, the leaders of the SCO meeting stressed unity and free trade. There is no doubt that the organization is becoming more influential but, with the US seeming to have unilaterally resolved Asia’s most urgent security concern in North Korea, perhaps American leadership cannot be said to have waned.

The G7 met with the intention of showing a united front in the wake of the imposition of US tariffs on foreign goods, the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and sustained threats from Russia. Before even joining the meeting, Trump called for Russia to be readmitted to the club, having been excluded in 2014 after its annexation of Crimea. Thereafter, the president proceeded to blow up the gathering of America’s closest allies with a combination of erratic behavior and knee-jerk statements. Leaving the meeting having created a major diplomatic rift with Canada, whilst simultaneously in dispute with the French president and the German chancellor, he single-handedly derailed the summit of the world’s great and good. 

As with other crises, the Chinese and Russian presidents were only too keen to exploit these differences and project an alternative international decision-making structure. As Trump refused to endorse a joint communique with America’s closest allies, in stark contrast, the SCO meeting in China was a carefully choreographed public relations success. The summit’s official communique reaffirmed the intention “to continue strengthening practical interaction in the political, security, trade and economic areas” with a view to implementing a Treaty on Long-Term Good Neighborliness, Friendship and Cooperation. The Chinese media was quick to report that the Shanghai security summit succeeded, while the G7 faced “disarray,” highlighting once again the readiness of others to fill the power vacuums rapidly created by an unpredictable American president. 

The SCO was also keen to present itself as an influential and authoritative regional organization whose potential has grown remarkably following the accession of India and Pakistan last year. However, now that the US has successfully engaged with the North Korean regime, the ability of the SCO to somehow replace American leadership seems less likely. That is, of course, in the current international framework; what recent events have shown is that increasingly changeable US policy creates the possibility of major reorientations of alliances and partnerships worldwide.

With the SCO speaking the language of incentivizing trade and promoting cooperation, it is increasingly adopting the parlance of Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has recently positioned himself as a defender of international free trade.

Zaid M. Belbagi

Concerning North Korea, the US completely disregarded its 70-year alliance with Japan, illustrating to its allies that the president has little regard for such relationships. On the back of antagonizing Western allies, it is possible — and perhaps likely — that what Trump did at the G7 summit in Quebec last week will matter more to America’s long-term geopolitical future than any diplomatic coup he has achieved in Singapore. 

With the SCO speaking the language of incentivizing trade and promoting cooperation, it is increasingly adopting the parlance of Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has recently positioned himself as a defender of international free trade. In light of Trump’s recent barrage of tariffs and attacks on economic partners and the World Trade Organization, Beijing is presented with a real opportunity to be seen as a power committed to working alongside others to address global challenges. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has also stated that the “Shanghai Cooperation Organisation is working to establish a rational and just world order,” leaving observers in no doubt as to the group’s ambitions. 

The post-war Marshall Plan, with which the US helped rebuild Europe whilst extending its diplomatic and political influence over the continent, bears a greater resemblance to Chinese economic assistance taking place worldwide than current American policy. The US has been the major steadying force in international affairs since 1945. It has been the main driver behind the establishment and maintenance of the international organizations that have characterized the modern world order. Should the US be no longer interested in playing this unifying role, the balance of power in the world will be irrevocably changed. 

 The SCO includes the world’s two fastest-growing major economies: In the next decade, China will contribute around 30 percent of the total increase in global growth, with India accounting for another 10 percent. Within this context, the US will quickly come to realize that it will need its allies in a world that is not only increasingly competitive but, more importantly, built on the principles of free trade. 

  • Zaid M. Belbagi is a political commentator, and an adviser to private clients between London and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Twitter: @Moulay_Zaid
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