SCO Summit in Tashkent: from railways to peaceful nuclear energy

Victoria Panfilova, columnist of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, specially for Vestnik Kavkaza
SCO Summit in Tashkent: from railways to peaceful nuclear energy

Last weekend, a meeting of the Council of Heads of Government of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) was held in Tashkent with the participation of representatives of observer countries - Afghanistan, Belarus, Mongolia and Iran and honoured guests from Turkmenistan. Following the event, 15 documents were signed. According to experts, the most active participant of the forum was Belarus.

Among the priority areas, the SCO Secretary General Vladimir Norov noted the implementation of the SCO development program until 2035, which covers the economy, trade, investment, agriculture, logistics and the cultural and humanitarian sphere. Special attention was given to rail transportation, without the development of which other projects are hindered. “To strengthen transport connectivity in the SCO space, we propose to develop a program for the creation of modern multimodal logistics centers. It is also necessary to intensify cooperation between the railway administrations of the SCO states to create new and use more efficiently existing highways. Afghanistan should be more actively involved in the development of the SCO transport network,” Norov emphasized.

According to the SCO Secretary General, on the territory of the state-members, more than 13 mln km of roads (almost 20% of all world highways) and 244 000 km of railways were laid, which contribute to the development of regional transport connectivity. Since 2020, it is planned to launch new international automobile corridors that will provide the possibility of unhindered international road transportation from eastern Europe to the eastern coast of China.

The Uzbekistan-Kyrgyzstan-China railway, which is designed to provide Central Asian countries with an access to the markets of Europe, East and Southeast Asia, the Middle East and the ports of the Mediterranean Sea, is a stumbling block in this direction. For more than 20 years, the parties have not been able to agree on the route through the territory of Kyrgyzstan. According to Vladimir Norov, during a recent expert discussion, the Chinese side proposed possible sections of the railway that will be the shortest route from China to the countries of Europe and the Middle East. According to experts, the transportation of goods in the amount of at least 5 mln tons per year can fully cover the costs of its construction. According to the expert on Central Asia and the Middle East, Alexander Knyazev, a failure to complete the project means only partial involvement of Uzbekistan in the railway component of the Chinese Belt and Road initiative through a network of Kazakhstan railways.

As a compensation for the contradictions with Beijing, Kyrgyz Prime Minister Mukhammedkalyi Abylgaziev invited the SCO countries to participate in the creation of a logistics complex on the country's border with China and reconsider an idea of creating the SCO Bank and Fund with their further deployment in Bishkek.

“Among the really interesting initiatives that were voiced at the summit and deserve to be developed, we can single out the proposal of the observer country, Belarus, to create a mechanism for regular meetings on atomic energy and nuclear safety within the SCO. In June 2019, the SCO countries in a declaration following the summit of the Heads of Governments in Bishkek emphasized their intention to continue cooperation on arms control and peaceful use of nuclear energy. For Iran, this issue is one of the most important, including in the SCO format, and also considering Iran’s readiness to reduce its obligations under the JCPOA for the fourth time in the upcoming days,” Alexander Knyazev told Vestnik Kavkaza.

No less interesting were the bilateral meetings that took place on the sidelines of the Tashkent SCO meeting. In particular, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Chief Executive of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (IRA) Dr. Abdullah Abdullah discussed projects that will allow the Afghan economy to overcome the crisis and become an active participant in the regional political and economic processes. Dmitry Medvedev invited the SCO countries to join efforts and provide assistance to Afghanistan.

Note, Medvedev and Abdullah refused the translator’s services and spoke in English. According to the expert on Afghanistan, Andrei Serenko, Kabul political circles consider this as Dr. Abdullah’s desire to avoid unnecessary witnesses in a dialogue with the Russian Prime Minister. According to Kabul, the situation reminds secret negotiations or political bargaining that Dr. Abdullah and the Russian side possibly conducted under cover of the SCO summit. Now Afghans wonder what exactly Dr. Abdullah was offering Moscow, and what he would like to get in return.