Written by Julia O’Malley

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) has evolved from the “Shanghai Five” into a new type of regional cooperation organization and now it plays a very important role in regional affairs in Central Asia. The attitude of the United States to the SCO has also changed sufficiently, which had a direct impact on the adjustment of the US policy towards Central Asia, and now the problem of building relations with the United States is an important problem facing the SCO.

American experts and scholars assess US policy towards the SCO as follows:
1. If the US is still present in Central Asia, it cannot simply ignore the SCO, since this organization is perhaps the only regional mechanism for effectively promoting cooperation between China and Russia and other Central Asian countries. The United States, Russia, China and the Central Asian countries have common interests in the fight against terrorism and in maintaining stability in the region, the United States should respect Russia and China in their search for regional stability, as well as in their common fight against Islamic terrorism. The United States should not allow itself to fall back into the mindset of the Cold War and “the Big game”, this could only lead to a zero result in geopolitical development. Military exercises of SCO members do not necessarily affect US interests. Positive interaction between the United States and the SCO can receive diplomatic support from Russia and China both in regional affairs of Central Asia and in global affairs, as well as prevent the SCO from becoming an anti-American group, while US participation in the multifaceted mechanism of Central Asia models their policy in the South-East Asia, South Asia and Northeast Asia.

2. The United States should become an observer of the SCO. Some scholars believe that the SCO should invite the United States as an observer, instead of maintain hostile relations that lead to increased tensions in the region. The US should cooperate with the SCO in some specific areas, such as border security and counter-narcotics, to end China’s concerns about the US policy in Central Asia. And the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure, officially created by the SCO in 2004 in Tashkent, can become a platform for practical cooperation between the United States and the SCO.

It should be noted that the United States and its allies cannot afford to ignore cooperation with the SCO, since there is no most optimal approach to address modern threats. The success of the SCO in international politics is difficult to ignore; UN members and political scientists worldwide recognize the success of the SCO. The SCO is ready for dialogue with the United States and its allies, but the West refuses to cooperate, considering the SCO a threat to American national security and international security. The United States systematically criticizes the Shanghai Organization, trying to form negative public opinion about the SCO in various regions of the world, primarily in the Asia-Pacific and Central Asia. As soon as the interests of the SCO and the United States in the Central Asian region rigidly intersected, Washington launched a massive information attack against the SCO. Western media, primarily American media, assert that “the SCO will hinder the spread of democratic values in the region, and the SCO will create a platform for opposing the US-led alliance existing in the Asia-Pacific.”

However, if we compare the interests of the United States and the SCO in Central Asia, we will find that the interests of both sides have much in common, which could be the basis for constructive interaction. To implement positive interaction, it is necessary to adopt an Action Program for the Development of the SCO and the US Strategic Dialogue. As a first step, the United States can encourage the SCO and NATO to engage in strategic dialogue in order to reduce mutual suspicion between China, Russia and Western countries. This strategic dialogue can help Washington recognize the SCO as well as help China recognize NATO. However, such collaboration requires that the participants demonstrate a high level of skill, flexibility and the ability to find mutually beneficial compromises. Then it is necessary to develop experimental cooperation in a number of key areas. Since the interests of the US and the SCO in promoting regional economic integration and combating drug trafficking and transnational organized crime coincide, the US and the SCO could start in these two areas. In the direction of “the regional economic integration”, promising cooperation between the US and the SCO is possible through the construction of transport infrastructure. The United States, in cooperation with the SCO members in Central Asia, primarily Russia and China, will more easily mutually benefit from increased transport infrastructure construction as well as improved overall transport network levels in Central Asia. The fight against drug trafficking and transnational organized crime can also be included in the area of experimental cooperation between the US and the SCO. For example, the Central Asian countries and Afghanistan can effectively integrate resources and information within the SCO, and the US and NATO can share relevant intelligence information with the SCO, contributing to a mutually beneficial situation. If these experimental collaborations can make some progress, then it will help build mutual trust and cooperation in other areas.

Today we can observe the growing interest of the international community to the SCO, the activities of this organization are closely watched by the leading geopolitical centers of power. Their interest is due to both a lack of information about the SCO and a certain fear of its transformation into a serious alliance in the Asia-Pacific and Central Asia. Due to the presence of certain objective and subjective obstacles, the interaction between the SCO and the Western countries is not developing as efficiently as the current realities require. However, we can unequivocally say that the dialogue between the United States and the SCO could contribute to solving the global problems of mankind, and also reduced tensions in the Asia-Pacific and Central Asia.