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Official Statements:

The Association of South East Asian Nations and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization: Opportunities and Perspectives of Interaction

By H.E. Mr. Nurlan Yermekbayev

Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs

According to assessments of most of analysts, the Asia Pacific region will soon become the world ‘axis’ and primary ‘driving force’ of economic development. Today, Asia Pacific is a home for over 60 per cent of population on earth with its economy supporting almost 28 per cent of global GPD. Not only it constitutes the most significant share of the world economy, but has the highest conflict potential. For this reason, upholding peace and stability in the region becomes indispensable to obtain sustainable growth in this vast space. In this view, the very effective mechanism for discussing and resolving issues such as countering threats and challenges in the region is the ASEAN, Association of South East Asian Nations which is similar to the Shanghai Cooperation Agreement (SCO) with respect to certain aspects of its regional activity.  

With positive and progressive changes in the region, the ASEAN has grown into most influential regional organization in Asia: it has a population of over 500 million, a total area of 4.5 million square kilometers, a combined gross domestic product of about US$1 trillion.

From its establishment, on 8 August 1967 in Bangkok, the ASEAN has expanded its membership from 5 to 10 Member States, with Timor-Lester currently holding candidacy for full membership and PNG being an observer.  

The main political document of the organization viewed as ‘the key code of conduct for inter-state relations and interaction in the region’ is the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC) of 1976 that spells out fundamental principles governing within the ASEAN.

The ASEAN Charter, an historic agreement to establish the legal and institutional framework for the ASEAN as the premier inter-governmental organization of the region, was signed on 20 November 2007 at the 13th ASEAN Summit in Singapore by the Leaders of the 10 ASEAN Member States. In view of remarkable successes of the ASEAN over the past forty years, as blueprinted in the Charter itself, the ASEAN Secretary-General H.E.Ong Keng Yong named it ‘a document that merits launching a new era of the ASEAN.’  

The ASEAN Leaders resolved to establish by 2015 the ASEAN Community, comprising three pillars, namely, ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) based on the 1992-created ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA), ASEAN Security Community (ASC), which builds on the 1994-established ASEAN Regional Security Forum (ARF), uniting 27 Participating States, including 17 Association Partners with Russia, EU, USA, PRC, Japan, India, among them, and being ‘the pivot in building peace and security in the region’ as well as the primary forum for political and security cooperation; and ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC). The pillars are so structured for the future Community to have one voice, one identity, one vision to counter potential challenges.

As its major goals the ASEAN views to accelerate economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the region; to promote regional peace and stability through abiding respect for justice and the rule of law in the relationship among its members and adherence to the principles of the United Nations Charter. The Association intends to further exert its efforts in ascertaining its “core role” in Asia.                                

One of major directions in the ASEAN’s activity is promoting its partner relations with key Dialogue Partners in Asia Pacific and also with regional organizations through framing such relationship into Partner Dialogues such as “10+3”, being the ASEAN plus the PRC, Japan and the Republic of Korea (ROK) Dialogue and “10+6”, the ASEAN plus the PRC, Japan, ROK, India, Australia and New Zealand Dialogue, the so called East Asian Summit (EAS).         

To date, 8 meetings were held in the ASEAN plus Three Dialogue format whilst 3 of them were structured under the EAS framework, of which the last meetings revealed firm commitments of the Dialogue Partners to create within the period of 2015 to 2020 the East Asian Community to build on the strong foundation of the EAS forums.                                   

In 2002, the PRC and ASEAN signed the Framework Agreement on Comprehensive Economic Co-operation of which the end goal is to create the Free Trade Area between China and the ASEAN Ten. According to Chinese analysts, the ASEAN countries took best use of the momentum that evolved from the PRC’ economic boom and by establishing the Free Trade Area and forging close economic linkages with China, have gained dividends from this timely regional opportunity. Reciprocally, through cooperating with the ASEAN, China has become the most important player in Southeast Asia (4). In 2003 and subsequently in 2005, the ASEAN concluded similar framework arrangements with India and ROK. The November 2007 negotiations to finalize the Agreement on Comprehensive Economic Partnership (scheduled for signature by early 2008) between the ASEAN and Japan have also been successfully completed. Thus, the ASEAN, on its part, is consistently promoting multilateral cooperation in Asia.        

Over the past years, issues of countering terrorism through, among other things, establishing Security Dialogues have been in the core of the ASEAN’s attention. The SCO was formally founded in 1992 by the “Shanghai Five,” including the Russian Federation, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, China and Tajikistan, and was later endorsed on the basis of the historical Shanghai Agreement on Enhancing Military Trust in Border Regions (1996) and the Moscow Agreement on Mutual Reduction of Forces in Border Regions (1997.) It is an organization of multifaceted cooperation whose major goals and objectives are reflected in its Charter, (5) a document stating the establishment of the Organization in June 2002. The goals of the SCO include, inter alia, the development of multilateral cooperation to maintain and enhance peace, security and stability in the region; promotion of effective regional cooperation covering areas of politics, trade, economy, defense, law enforcement, environmental protection, culture, science and technology, education, energy, transportation, finance and other spheres of common interest for the SCO. In August 2007, during the 7th Summit in Bishkek, the SCO’s main document, - the Treaty on Good- Neighborliness, Amity and Co-operation was signed.       

With the post-soviet countries successfully handling complex issues of defense and cross-border cooperation with China, the SCO has significantly expanded its own scope of interests. Undoubtedly, the interaction of enforcement bodies for purposes of ensuring regional security, stability and the rule of law in the region are of primary importance for the SCO because of the urgency to effectively respond to current risks and threats. In this regard, signing of the SCO Convention on Combating Terrorism, Separatism and Extremism in 2001 was successful to follow this suit. Along the similar goals, the Regional Antiterrorist Structure  (RATS) was established in 2004 as a permanent body of the Organization and now its operation is well underway.

In regard to enhancing regional security and stability, the SCO has on its agenda today the issues such as establishing an able mechanism of its operational response to emergencies of environmental and technogenic nature. The need to file a single register of terrorist organizations and of individual actors suspected in the involvement in terrorist activities and also a prospect of further expanding the cooperation within the SCO beyond its functional areas, potentially, to the sphere of migration are also on the current agenda.                          

New activity trends in the SCO framework are being actively explored, including promotion of trade and economic ties; investments; cultural and humanitarian exchange; resolving, collectively, ways and means of rational use of natural resources and of environmental protection. Especially promising, in our view, is the cooperation in areas of energy, transportation and transit. In essence, the SCO countries do avail of all necessary conditions, namely, vast fossil reserves, mature network of export outlets, rapidly developing petroleum industry infrastructure and electric power grids. In this regard, Kazakhstan suggests adopting the Asian Energy Strategy to create the SCO’s unified energy market, enabling a more efficient internal use of resources within the SCO. It also suggests establishing zones of cross-border trade between Member States through effective coordination of Action Plans of Prospective Development of Cross-Border Territories, and through the joint use of infrastructure and transport communications network.                                  

While noting of latest trends in the development of the SCO, it needs paying special attention at the internationally increasing influence of the Organization. During 2004 and 2005, Mongolia, India, Pakistan and Iran became observers in the organization; Belarus, Nepal and Sri-Lanka had their intent to be observers known. Because relevant legal mechanisms such as norms-setting have not been developed yet, the moratorium on new membership is enacted for now. However, the Secretariat and the SCO Member States are currently working together to elaborate forms of cooperation that could be mutually acceptable for both, Member States and Observers. In 2004, the Organization itself underwent through the procedure of obtaining observer status in the UN General Assembly, and it now maintains ongoing regular contacts with ESCAP and UNDP. Within the period of 2005-2007, the Memoranda of Mutual Understanding between the SCO and the ASEAN, CIS, EurasEC and OCST have been finalized; similar documents are currently being processed between the SCO and the ECO and CICA.

The SCO is a noval type organization with no ‘heavy load’ inherited from the cold war era; as such it is open to cooperate with other polars in international politics. A prove to this is the ongoing rapprochement between the SCO, EU and OSCE as well as with other organizations.

Two and a half years have passed since signing on 21 April 2005 the Memorandum of Mutual Understanding between the Secretariats of the SCO and ASEAN, determining major trends of cooperation and interaction of Parties in areas of economy, finance, tourism, environmental protection, use of natural resources and social development, including, among others, the cooperation in energy sector and on issues related to combating transnational crimes. Undoubtedly, given globalization processes, the document offers new opportunities for widening and deepening mutually beneficial cooperation between the two institutions, in favor of the ASEAN and SCO Member States. However, practical implementation of provisions of the Memorandum is yet to be started. It will be in process after the Parties will have elaborated, through consultations and negotiations, the concrete forms, methods and mechanisms of interaction. In view of this, the SCO Member States tasked the Secretariat of the Organization during the inter-ministerial consultations held on 21 November 2007 in Dushanbe to develop, in near future, a practical Plan to implement the Memorandum and to submit it for approval.

Q: What do we get from such cooperation and what are its future perspectives?  

Given the current situation, both the organizations, besides that they pursue similar goals in a number of areas such as defense, politics, economy, environment and humanitarian dimensions, have both had themselves recognized within international community as legal personalities; have signed and sealed founding documents; adopted major political agreements such as on amity and cooperation. Moreover, Member States of the SCO and ASEAN are linked to one another and bound by geographic location and by common vision for the Asia Pacific region. Participants of both organizations are eager to enhance peace and stability in respective functional areas and to establish mutually beneficial cooperation in economy, transportation, culture and tourism. The ASEAN is interested in adapting a broader multifunctional lever offering a variety of forms, instruments and mechanisms of interaction. To this fact, the ASEAN, with forty years of its work experience, could view the SCO as an important conduit for Asia Pacific to engage more of the Asia. Else, it can provide more of the common good to such relatively young structure as the SCO is.

It is widely known that in modern world the role of regional organizations becomes more significant; and as their number grows, the competition among them becomes more tough. An account of these tendencies singles out a particular way of countering contemporary risks and threats, that is, instituting Partner Relations between various institutional formations on the Eurasian space, namely, the OSCE, SCO, ASEAN and CICA. The Dialogue of Cooperation in Asia (DCA), the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC), the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), the Eurasian Economic Cooperation (EurasEC) are also among these. In this realm of regional institutions the SCO and ASEAN, as largest among them, would have to eventually become stronger segments of ‘the security belt’ between Europe and Asia.

An accession to the ARF, as envisaged in the next year plans of Kazakhstan, an active member of the SCO, and one of the founding members of the CICA; currently, its acting Chairing State, and also the Electee for the 2010 OSCE Presidency as merited throughout 14 years of the country’s active membership in this organization, is deemed to essentially facilitate the process of constructing the mutually reinforced bridge of stability and will usher in new opportunities of intra-regional interaction.   

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