The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in Qingdao (9–10 June) has been used by China to emphasise Asia as the world’s centre of gravity, the group’s ability to build a coalition, and its consensual decision-making process. China portrayed SCO unity by contrasting the Qingdao meeting with the unsuccessful G7 summit in Canada.
The organisation was established in 2001 by Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. It was created based on the “Shanghai Five,” erected in 1996. Its goal was to ensure border security between China and the countries established after the collapse of the Soviet Union. SCO’s main goals are to fight separatism, terrorism, and extremism. The organisation is being transformed into a forum for political and economic dialogue (e.g., discussion of global issues). It now consists of eight members, with India and Pakistan becoming full members in 2017. In Qingdao, the new members appeared in the SCO for the first time. Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran, and Mongolia have observer status, and Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Turkey are SCO “dialogue partners.” The organisation, therefore, mainly includes countries that are not fully-fledged democracies. China increasingly uses SCO for its own goals, which was particularly evident in Qingdao.
The Qingdao summit was an element of China’s “host diplomacy,” which meant organising meetings between non-Western and Chinese-initiated institutions. China wants to be perceived as a country shaping a new international order. The Chinese minister of foreign affairs, at a parliamentary session in March, said that the SCO summit would be one of the most important events in China this year (along with the Boao Forum for Asia, the Forum on Africa-China Cooperation, or FOCAC, summit in Beijing, and the China International Import Expo in Shanghai). China also wanted to gain support for its political concepts: The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the “community of shared destiny,” a Chinese version of globalisation. Other aims were to show the importance of organisations that include emerging economies, the consensual way of decision-making, the capacity to build coalitions with states that are absent from Western organisations or isolated (e.g., Russia and Belarus), as well as an alternative to global governance institutions.
The SCO leaders took a common position on the most important global issues. Chinese media used this to highlight the differences in results between the SCO summit in China and the G7 in Canada. In the Qingdao Declaration, the leaders supported, among others, the nuclear agreement with Iran, inter-Korean dialogue, including the role of Russia and China in solving the North Korean problem, reform of the global economic governance system, and opposition to protectionism. In his speech, Chinese leader Xi Jinping criticised hegemony, a cold-minded mentality, unilateralism, and anti-globalisation activities, which was clearly aimed at, though without explicitly mentioning, the U.S. The summit was also used to manifest good relations between China and other countries, such as Russia. A telling symbol was China’s first friendship medal, given to Russian President Vladimir Putin. A failure of the summit was India’s lack of support for BRI.