SCO Summit: Xi and Putin Advocate for a United Front Against 'External Forces'

Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin, during the 24th meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Astana, emphasized the need for the Eurasian security bloc to resist external interference and strengthen internal cooperation

by Sededin Dedovic
SCO Summit: Xi and Putin Advocate for a United Front Against 'External Forces'
© Bloomberg Television / Youtube channel

Chinese President Xi Jinping, at a meeting in Astana attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin, called on the Eurasian security bloc, founded by Moscow and Beijing, to resist "external interference." The 24th meeting of the Council of Heads of State of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), established as a counterbalance to the West, is being held in Astana.

The presidents of Russia and China have expanded the organization to include India, Iran, and Pakistan. "Faced with real risks, we must protect the right to development," Xi said at the meeting in Astana, according to Chinese state television CCTV.

The bloc must deal with "internal differences" peacefully, seek common ground, and resolve cooperation difficulties, Xi added. The Chinese president also emphasized the need to jointly promote scientific and technological innovations and maintain the stability and "smoothness" of industrial and supply chains.

Chinas Xi Jinping and Russias Vladimir Putin Hold Talks in Kazakhstan© Bloomberg Television / Youtube channel

The main meeting was held behind closed doors, but Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said earlier today that Putin would discuss his idea of creating a new set of Eurasian collective security treaties.

Xi and Putin met yesterday ahead of the SCO meeting, after which they announced that the countries they lead act in accordance with their own interests and that this is not directed against any other country.

Growing Ambitions

As the SCO gains international visibility and economic weight, its geopolitical ambitions also expand, CNN reports.

The expected admission of Belarus, which borders the European Union, "really underscores how the SCO's mission has changed in recent years," said Eva Zeibert, an expert on Chinese foreign policy at the Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS) in Berlin.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko attend a summit at the© Pool / getty Images

"Unlike Iran, the inclusion of Belarus does not bring much in terms of economic or security cooperation.

Therefore, I argue that it is more of a geopolitical move." With Russia in its third year of war against Ukraine, the SCO has become a key diplomatic avenue for Putin and a platform to show that he is not isolated internationally.

And as China's relations with the US have sharply deteriorated, Beijing is now less concerned about the SCO being labeled as an anti-Western organization—a perception that has only deepened after Iran's admission, Zeibert believes.

"They want the SCO to be perceived as a major bloc that can no longer be ignored," she said. "With the inclusion of all these countries, China and Russia want to show that they have many supporters of their worldview." And in that shared worldview, there is no place for the US in Eurasia, she adds.

At a meeting with senior officials of the foreign ministry last month, Putin presented a future vision of a "new system of bilateral and multilateral guarantees of collective security in Eurasia," with the help of existing organizations such as the SCO and the long-term goal of "gradually eliminating the military presence of external forces in the Eurasian region." "During my recent visit to China, President Xi Jinping and I discussed this issue.

It was noted that the Russian proposal is not contradictory but complements and aligns with the basic principles of China's global security initiative," said Putin, who visited Beijing in May.

Frictions and Discomfort

That broad vision of an alternative future will be the "main message" for China and Russia emerging from this SCO summit, said Bates Gill, a senior fellow at the National Bureau of Asian Research.

But Belarus' membership also raises big questions that will hang over the organization, he added. "It creates various kinds of problems and new questions about the organization's reputation, legitimacy, and mandate, given the nature of the Belarusian regime and its support for Russia's blatant violation of international law and invasion of Ukraine," he said.

"It is clear that the SCO can tolerate authoritarian regimes, but for the mandate of the organization, it further diversifies and dilutes its original focus, which was supposed to be on Central Asia." The expansion of the bloc has not been without frictions—especially with the admission of bitter rivals India and Pakistan—while tensions between Beijing and New Delhi have also flared up in recent years following deadly clashes on their disputed Himalayan border.

The group's increasingly anti-Western orientation following the acceptance of Iran and now Belarus has also caused discomfort among members who want to maintain good relations with the West, including former Soviet states in Central Asia.

"In some aspects, it puts the Central Asian states in a very awkward position," Gill said. "They pursue what they like to call multi-vector diplomacy. They do not want to be committed to dealing only with one major power, like Russia or China." Gill, who visited Central Asia in April and May, said there is ambivalence in regional capitals about the future of the SCO.

After the summit in Astana, China is expected to take over the rotating presidency of the SCO for a year. Source: AFP, CNN

Xi Jinping Vladimir Putin