In the past few days, three OpEd's were published on the topic of the SCO and undoubtedly it is related to the recent completion of the gas pipeline between Turkmenistan and Xinjiang. This simple pipeline seems to have a profound impact on the regional security framework, Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The following are three examples of what they are saying on the street.
First comes from Alexander Cooley’s “Cooperation Gets Shanghaied” in the current issue of the “Foreign Affairs.” (here) Peter Lee’s “Russia-India ties sour in Central Asia” published by “Asia Times" is the second (here). And yesterday Japan Times released the editorial “Pipeline politics in Central Asia.” (here)
Cooley argues that the SOC is not the “anti-West” alliance once feared. As the Russia-Georgian war in 2008 revealed, China and Russia have a new agenda regarding the direction of the SOC. Russia's request for the recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia is against China’s principle of noninterference in other’s “internal affairs.” Given Central Asia’s non-integrated political, economic and cultural environment, Cooley continues to argue, “Ultimately, the SCO should deliver some tangible accomplishments before the West rushes to condemn or cooperate with it.”
Lee took a more positive approach on China’s agenda regarding the SOC. He argues that China is taking a soft-power approach towards the SOC to create a “profitable, stable, and strategically friendly backyard.” This approach already reaps the reward of new oil pipelines and reduces the support for an independent Xinjiang. Russia and India, on the other hand, are not sure what their [great] game is regarding Central Asia as argued by Lee, especially with “Russia eyeing India's rapprochement with the US with considerable jealousy and anxiety.”
The editorial from the Japan Times surprisingly argues that the pipelines are key instruments of influence in Central Asia. While competition will remain between Moscow and Beijing, both are aware of the dangers posed by political instability on their own door steps and thus they will work together when possible to stabilize the countries of Central Asia.
All three OpEd's agree that the SOC is not a military alliance. If the SOC is judged in this manner it will never accomplish anything. To view the SOC as a framework to address regional issues is more accurate. How effective members of the SOC will utilize this framework in the future is still an open question in China and Russia. Russia and China do not seem to share a common goal regarding SOC's function beyond creating a "stable" Central Asia.