The Multilateralist

Where does Shanghai lead?

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization — a Central Asian regional group that includes China and Russia — is beginning a major counterterror exercise next week in Kazakhstan. About a thousand Chinese troops and another thousand Russian forces are participating. This follows SCO anti-terror drills in Russia itself earlier this month. Despite this recent burst of activity, ...

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization — a Central Asian regional group that includes China and Russia — is beginning a major counterterror exercise next week in Kazakhstan. About a thousand Chinese troops and another thousand Russian forces are participating. This follows SCO anti-terror drills in Russia itself earlier this month.

Despite this recent burst of activity, Evan Feigenbaum, a former deputy assistant secretary of state for Central Asia, is skeptical that the organization is headed anywhere productive. He sees an organization that has coalesced recently around counterterrorism because its members don’t have much else in common. He notes that the organization has gone from being a relatively tight network of countries that shared a border with China (originally the Shanghai Five) to a diffuse group that includes far-flung dialogue partners and observers. "What do dialogue partners such as Belarus and Sri Lanka have in common?" he asks.

Feigenbaum also sees the recent SCO emphasis on military drills and exercises as evidence of Moscow’s influence, as well as growing concern about the state of affairs in Afghanistan. "The organization began as primarily a Chinese vehicle focused on resolving border disputes. The Russians have embraced it somewhat belatedly and have tried to import a certain military and ideational component; China has become more focused on economics."  It would be ironic if Moscow and Beijing started to tangle over the direction of an organization designed, in part, to cement their relationship.

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