Saturday, 9 September 2017

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization

Jane Lambert
I've been a bit of a fan of Lord Digby Jones ever since I heard him speak at PERA in 2011 (see "Growth Through Innovation" - Digby Jones at PERA 26 July 2011). I agree that the 21st century belongs to Asia though with the slight caveat that North Korea is in Asia but I don't understand how the 21st century's belonging to Asia is supposed to strengthen the case for Brexit. I won't comment further on that point as the purpose of this blog is to inform and not to debate our relationship with the EU.  The inference to be drawn from Lord Digby Jones's tweet, however, is that we should be doing more trade with Asia and he is right.

It is, however, ironic that the largest countries of Asia are creating new political and economic organizations just as we are leaving the EU. On 9 June 2017 India joined China and Russia and a number of other states as full members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization ("the SCO"). Those three countries are also linked with the leading economies of Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa through BRICS. Their economies will be linked much more closely through the One Belt One Road ("OBOR") infrastructure project that will construct new ports, roads and railways and improve existing ones to facilitate freight and passenger transport between the SCO countries (see the One Belt One Road research group website of Oxford University's Law Faculty).

According to art 1 of its Charter, the SCO was established with the following aims:
  • "to strengthen mutual trust, friendship and good neighborliness between the member States; 
  • to consolidate multidisciplinary cooperation in the maintenance and strengthening of peace, security and stability in the region and promotion of a new democratic, fair and rational political and economic international order; 
  • to jointly counteract terrorism, separatism and extremism in all their manifestations, 
  • to fight against illicit narcotics and arms trafficking and other types of criminal activity of a transnational character, and also illegal migration; 
  • to encourage the efficient regional cooperation in such spheres as politics, trade and economy, defense, law enforcement, environment protection, culture, science and technology, education, energy, transport, credit and finance, and also other spheres of common interest; 
  • to facilitate comprehensive and balanced economic growth, social and cultural development in the region through joint action on the basis of equal partnership for the purpose of a steady increase of living standards and improvement of living conditions of the peoples of the member States; 
  • to coordinate approaches to integration into the global economy; 
  • to promote human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with the international obligations of the member States and their national legislation; 
  • to maintain and develop relations with other States and international organisations; 
  • to cooperate in the prevention of international conflicts and in their peaceful settlement; 
  • to jointly search for solutions to the problems that would arise in the 21st century."
Art 3 of the Charter provides that the main areas of cooperation will be the following:
  • "maintenance of peace and enhancing security and confidence in the region; 
  • search of common positions on foreign policy issues of mutual interest, including issues arising within international organisations and international fora; 
  • development and implementation of measures aimed at jointly counteracting terrorism, separatism and extremism, illicit narcotics and arms trafficking and other types of criminal activity of a transnational character, and also illegal migration; 
  • coordination of efforts in the field of disarmament and arms control; 
  • support for, and promotion of regional economic cooperation in various forms, fostering favorable environment for trade and investments with a view to gradually achieving free flow of goods, capitals, services and technologies; 
  • effective use of available transportation and communication infrastructure, improvement of transit capabilities of member States and development of energy systems; 
  • sound environmental management, including water resources management in the region, and implementation of particular joint environmental programs and projects; 
  • mutual assistance in preventing natural and man-made disasters and elimination of their implications; 
  • exchange of legal information in the interests of development of cooperation within SCO; 
  • development of interaction in such spheres as science and technology, education, health care, culture, sports and tourism."
The article enables SCO member States to expand the spheres of cooperation by mutual agreement.  

Art 4 establishes a number of organs through which the member states collaborate. Their constitution and functions are explained in arts 5 to 10.  Art 4 (1) and 11 establish a Secretariat which is the SCO's standing administrative body. Headed by a Secretary-General, the Secretariat provides technical and organizational support for the SCO. It also makes budget proposals that are considered by the governments of the member states.  Art 16 provides that decisions are taken by consensus and are implemented by the member states.  There is no SCO court or provision for arbitration. Art 22 provides for disputes or controversies arising out of interpretation or application of the Charter to be settled by member states through consultations and negotiation. The official languages of the SCO are Russian and Mandarin.

Although not formally linked to the SCO, the OBOR project is likely to contribute its economic underpinning. As the University of Oxford website observes:
"The implementation of OBOR requires a legal and constitutional structure that is suited to the complex and un-precedented issues that arise in such a cross-border and international undertaking.
One set of questions concerns the constitutional and international structures and changes that may be necessary to facilitate the success of the New Silk Road initiative. Are the constitutional orders of the many nations involved suited to the level of international cooperation required by the initiative? Do those constitutional orders share the common aims and objectives necessary for the initiative? How do international standards affect the constitutional orders and traditions of participating states? These are examples of the many interesting and complex issues for research and discussion."
To an outsider, the SCO is the obvious legal and constitutional solution but that may not be how it is seen by the governments of China, India and Russia or indeed the other SCO member states or participants in the OBOR project. No doubt it will be one of the topics under discussion at the One Belt One Road Summit at Oxford on 13 Sept 2017.

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