Kazakhstan Hosts SCO Summit Amid Heightened Russia-China Cooperation

Eoin Kavanagh
Eoin Kavanagh
Eoin specializes in geopolitical analysis, with degrees in Political Science and Counterterrorism, and extensive international experience, including humanitarian work. Well-acquainted with challenging environments like Bosnia, Eoin primarily focuses on Eastern Europe. His strong OSINT and investigative skills are further enhanced by his proficiency in multiple languages, including rare ones, and his experience in data science and machine learning.

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On July 3rd, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit commenced in Astana, Kazakhstan, featuring prominent discussions between the heads of the member states, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization

The SCO is a regional political, economic, and security alliance founded in 2001. It aims to enhance regional cooperation and stability through dialogues and agreements on mutual security, economic development, and cultural exchange.

The SCO currently includes nine member states, which includes China, Russia, and several Central Asian countries with Turkmenistan being a notable exception among these nations. It was also announced that Belarus would join the SCO, following a preliminary agreement reached at the 2023 summit.

The SCO summit is seen by both Russia and China as a crucial platform for advancing strategic interests across Eurasia and countering what they perceive as Western hegemony. The summit aims to bolster security, stability, and development among member countries, promoting what the leaders described as “lasting peace and prosperity.”

The forum, spanning July 3-4, plans to execute 24 joint documents and issue a final declaration and statement by the end of the summit.

Deepening Sino-Russian Ties

Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping met during the summit. Both leaders reaffirmed the strength of Russia-China relations, describing them as at their peak, underpinned by equality, mutual benefit, and respect for sovereignty.

Putin also highlighted ongoing progress in the Russia-China economic cooperation plan, which extends through 2030. He noted positive trade dynamics for the first half of 2024 and expressed hopes for Xi’s participation in the upcoming BRICS summit in Kazan this October.

Xi, who had arrived in Kazakhstan a day prior to Putin, called for new drivers of development in bilateral cooperation with Russia, reflecting on Putin’s May 2024 visit to China as a pivotal moment for setting priorities. He emphasized the importance of safeguarding mutual rights and interests and adhering to international norms. Additionally, Xi indicated China’s readiness to discuss ways to strengthen the SCO framework.

However, Russo-Chinese relations are not only marked by cooperation, but also by competition. Both countries have historically maintained a complex and often cautious relationship, despite recent efforts to strengthen their strategic partnership, particularly within the SCO.

The suspicion between Russia and China stems from history. The two nations have experienced periods of hostility, some that trace back to the Sino-Soviet split during the Cold War, which left a legacy of mistrust.

Both countries compete for influence in Central Asia, a region rich in natural resources, strategically located, and pivotal for overland trade between Asia and Europe. Traditionally, within Russia’s sphere of influence, China is trying to extend its economic reach into the region through its New Silk Road project.

Furthermore, the two countries’ differing approaches to governance and economic policy add layers of complexity to their relationship.

Russia, in particular, is wary of being perceived as the junior partner in this alliance, especially as it relies on Chinese support to bolster its economy and military capabilities in its ongoing conflict with Ukraine, and given China’s rapid economic and technological advancements. China’s GDP and global economic influence far exceed Russia’s, which may contribute to an imbalance in their partnership.

Additional Diplomatic Engagements and Global Implications

The SCO thus becomes a platform for Russia to maintain its international status; in addition to the main sessions, Putin is scheduled for several bilateral meetings, potentially including discussions with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. These discussions are likely to touch upon a range of geopolitical issues, including the situation in Ukraine.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is slated to address the summit, underscoring the global importance of the discussions in Astana and the international community’s attention on that matter.

The SCO allows Russia and China to manage their mutual suspicions and competing interests in Central Asia, serving as a venue for both Beijing and Moscow to address concerns over each other’s intentions in the region while strengthening their ties. This gathering in Astana not only underscores the strategic importance of Central Asia, but also highlights the ongoing shifts in global power dynamics, particularly in light of increasing cooperation between Moscow and Beijing against a backdrop of complex international relations.