"Friday-the-13th" SCO Summit in Central Asia: Focus on Syria and Afghanistan

16 Sep 2013

The 2013 summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization once again revealed the member-states do a better job at developing a common rhetoric on international politics than agreeing amongst themelsves on concrete development-oriented initiatives.

The thirteenth summit of the SCO, hosted on September “Friday the 13th“in Bishkek, gathered leaders of all six member-states as well as the presidents of Afghanistan, Iran, and Mongolia, along with high-ranking officials of India and Pakistan, the SCO observer states. Regional security dominated the agenda, with particular focus on the situations in Syria and Afghanistan.

Not surprisingly, the Bishkek Declaration, the main output of the summit, supported the Russian initiative of placing all chemical weapons of Syria under international control for further destruction. Other paragraphs rhetorically mentioned the member-states’ commitment to building a prosperous and independent Afghanistan, support for a peaceful resolution of the situation over the Iranian nuclear program, and concern over the unilateral development of anti-missile defense by individual states, and so on.

The postponement of the U.S. Congress vote on attacking Syria and the ongoing (as of 13 September) talks between John Kerry and Sergei Lavrov provided a relatively easy context for the member-states to adopt a common message on Syria.

Still, the Uzbek President Islam Karimov managed to add a short but important verbal caveat, saying, “It would be understandable for us and the world community if Syria itself came up with such an initiative [of submitting chemical weapons to international control and joining the UN Chemical Weapons Convention].”

No progress, however, was recorded on one of the key economic initiatives – the establishment of the SCO Development Bank. Beijing has long been lobbying for such a bank and has committed to contribute $10 billion towards its capital. Russia, skeptical of the initiative, suggested creating the SCO Development Fund. The summit revealed no actual debate on the topic and the final declaration simply stated the need for further efforts on these initiatives.

In the meantime, Xi Jinping demonstrated Beijing’s commitment to go forward with bilateral development cooperation with the investment-hungry Central Asian states. He combined his trip to the summit with bilateral visits to all Central Asian states (except Tajikistan, whose leader visited Beijing in May 2013), articulating his vision for the “Silk Road economic belt” as a model for regional cooperation and signing some important agreements stipulating allocation of nearly $30 billion in investments in Kazakhstan, $15 billion in Uzbekistan, and $3 billion in Kyrgyzstan, asEurasianet reported.

Shairbek Juraev is with the OSCE Academy in Bishkek, blogging for PONARS Eurasia on Central Asian issues. The comments made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.