The clue is in the name. The Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO) groups six countries—China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan—and aims to be the dominant security institution in its region; but its origin and purposes are largely Chinese.
So it looks rather worrying from a Western point of view that the group has agreed to expand and that India, Pakistan and Iran are all keen to join: the rise of a kind of China-led NATO to which even America’s friends, such as India and Pakistan, seem drawn. Yet that is to misunderstand the sort of organisation the SCO aspires to be. It does indeed pose a challenge to the American-led world order, but a much more subtle one.
On September 11th and 12th the SCO held its 14th annual summit in Dushanbe, Tajikistan’s capital. It agreed to adopt procedures for expansion, first for those countries that are already observers. India and Pakistan are likely to join in the next year. Iran is at present disqualified because it is under UN sanctions. Another observer, Mongolia, is a democracy and has long had qualms about joining what looks like a club for authoritarians. Afghanistan, the final observer, has other priorities.
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