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Regional leaders gather in Kazakhstan for Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit

2 min

Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan convened in Kazakhstan, the leading economy of Central Asia, for a regional summit aimed at countering Western influence.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan and  Vladimir Putin © X

Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan convened in Kazakhstan, the leading economy of Central Asia, for a regional summit aimed at countering Western influence.

The summit brought together several countries with strained relations with the West, highlighting the ongoing geopolitical shifts.

During a bilateral meeting in Astana, the Kazakh capital, President Erdogan extended an invitation to President Putin to visit Turkey.

Since the onset of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Ankara has offered to mediate between Kyiv and Moscow. President Putin held a series of bilateral talks with other heads of state and is scheduled to meet with President Xi Jinping in the evening ahead of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit.

This encounter follows their previous summit in China in mid-May, where President Putin sought increased support for his war in Ukraine amidst frequent joint denouncements of American "hegemony" in international affairs by both Moscow and Beijing.

The SCO, currently comprising nine member countries (China, India, Iran, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, and Tajikistan), is envisioned as a cooperative platform rivaling Western organizations, aimed at promoting a "multipolar" world order—a term frequently used by Russian and Chinese leaders. Iran recently joined the SCO, and Belarus, Moscow's key ally in the Ukraine war, is set to be announced as a new member on Thursday.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, in an interview with the Kazakh news agency Kazinform, highlighted the importance of showcasing alternative international platforms where the interests of all states are respected.

The SCO claims to represent 40% of the global population and about 30% of the world's GDP.

Despite these significant figures, internal dissensions remain among its members. While Presidents Putin and Xi aim to present a united front against the West, they remain economic competitors, particularly in Central Asia—a region rich in hydrocarbons and crucial for trade between Europe and Asia. Tensions also persist between China and other member countries, such as India and Pakistan.

Central Asian leaders, from a region pivotal to China's Belt and Road Initiative, have been courted by Presidents Putin, Erdogan, and Xi. 

This trend has intensified since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, with Moscow seeking to maintain its influence over these former Soviet republics, now closely linked to China through major economic projects.

Central Asia, led by Kazakhstan, is a key element of China's New Silk Road initiative, launched over a decade ago by President Xi Jinping. The Chinese president praised the "eternal strategic partnership" between Beijing and Astana in a letter published by the Kazakh state media outlet, Pravda of Kazakhstan.

Western countries are also keen to maintain their presence in the region, with several European leaders recently visiting Central Asia.

The expected admission of Belarus will bring the SCO's membership to ten, marking a significant expansion for the organization founded in 2001. The SCO has grown as a bloc counterbalancing Western influence, with a focus on security and economic issues. The organization aims to combat what Beijing refers to as the "three evils": separatism, terrorism, and extremism.

The increasing importance of the SCO is underscored by the presence of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at the Astana summit.

However, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, expected in Russia later this month, will not attend.

Iran, currently awaiting the second round of its presidential election following the death of President Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter accident in mid-May, will be represented by its interim president.

In addition to its member states, the SCO includes 14 dialogue partner countries, such as Turkey and Gulf Arab states.

At the conclusion of the Astana summit, China will assume the rotating presidency of the SCO for the 2024-2025 period, setting the stage for continued strategic developments and geopolitical maneuvers within the organization.



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