Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov’s interview to Rossiiskaya Gazeta, June 13, 2019
Question: Mr Morgulov, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) has become an influence in regional politics, and it continues to consolidate its positions in global affairs. On June 13-14, President of Russia Vladimir Putin will attend a regular SCO Summit. What subjects do the participants intend to discuss, considering the current situation in international relations and the existence of political and economic hot spots?
Igor Morgulov: Indeed, since its inception in 2001, the SCO has become successfully integrated in the system of international relations over a rather short period, and it consistently asserts its authority worldwide. Over the years, the SCO has accumulated a solid contractual-legal framework. The organisation’s Charter and the interstate Treaty on Long-Term Neighbourliness, Friendship and Cooperation are the fundamental elements. About 70 agreements and other regulatory documents set the parameters for multi-directional cooperation between the member states.
Today, the organisation comprises eight countries: Russia, India, Kazakhstan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The SCO region accounts for almost 50 percent of the world’s population and about 25 percent of global GDP. These indicators highlight the SCO’s tremendous potential whose realisation is probably becoming the main item on its agenda.
The SCO could become a practical venue for launching work to forge a Greater Eurasian Partnership.
The universal nature of cooperation that encompasses politics, security, the economy, and cultural and humanitarian ties, is a distinctive feature of our organisation. With due consideration for the persisting threats of terrorism, illegal drug trafficking and trans-border organised crime emanating from territories close to the SCO perimeter, the task of maintaining security and stability is becoming an objective priority. This refers above all to the difficult situation in Afghanistan. The SCO strives to help resolve the crisis in this country through political efforts, including efforts to facilitate economic rehabilitation. The SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group, which meets regularly at the deputy foreign minister level on the initiative of Russia, aims to achieve these goals. The relevant roadmap sets forth specific steps. The SCO Secretary-General and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan are expected to sign it on June 13-14 on the sidelines of the meeting of the SCO Heads of State Council in Bishkek.
On the whole, the security sphere has seen a number of impressive achievements. Conventions and agreements for combating terrorism, illegal drug trafficking, crime and also maintaining international information security are currently in force. The enactment of the Convention on Countering Extremism allows any concerned state to join this document. The SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure is operating efficiently in Tashkent. The Peace Mission counter-terrorist exercises are held regularly.
Naturally, the SCO leaders will discuss in Bishkek a wide range of matters regarding SCO further development and deeper cooperation between the member states, including in the context of the global processes that inevitably affect our countries.
Question: The participants in the 2018 Qingdao Summit and the Dushanbe meeting of the SCO Heads of Government Council talked about the need for expanding economic cooperation. What steps are being discussed, and what decisions are planned to be adopted in Bishkek?
Igor Morgulov: I would like to emphasise that the SCO was initially established as an organisation for security cooperation. Over time, the members reached consensus on the need to supplement efforts in this field through the development of trade and economic ties. This goal is all the more topical when the SCO members, first of all Russia and China, and also Iran, an observer state, are targeted by unilateral protectionist measures and illegitimate economic sanctions. The consequences of illegal restrictions also affect other SCO countries. So all of us are firmly determined to promote international cooperation for preserving the leading role of the World Trade Organisation and a multilateral trade system under its regulations.
In addition, life itself dictates the need for deeper cooperation in economic and high-tech digitalisation, investment and industrial production. The SCO focuses on efforts to maintain transport, food, energy and environmental security.
The transport sector has made the greatest headway, so far: The inter-governmental SCO Member States Agreement on Facilitation of International Road Transport is being purposefully carried out. A road development programme and an agreement on facilitating integrated road transport management are being drafted.
The Food Security Cooperation Programme was signed last year. The drafting of the action plan (that calls for streamlining the legal framework, launching information and analytical work and training specialists in this field) will facilitate its implementation.
We are working to draft proposals to extend the practice of using national currencies in mutual transactions and settlements. The financial agencies in our countries are drafting a relevant roadmap.
The establishment of the Forum of Regional Leaders, at the initiative of Russia, will become an important event. The heads of state are expected to approve the Forum regulations during their summit in Bishkek. In addition to the SCO Business Council and Interbank Consortium, this mechanism will invigorate direct trade and economic ties.
Question: After the SCO Heads of State Council meeting in Bishkek in June the SCO Presidency will be transferred to Russia. What goals will Russia set for itself? What new steps to boost cooperation will be taken?
Igor Morgulov: The SCO Presidency is an honourable and responsible mission. Assuming this serious obligation, each SCO member country strives to make a special contribution to mutually beneficial and versatile cooperation.
A number of major decisions, primarily on the admission of India and Pakistan to the SCO, were adopted during Russia's previous residency that was crowned with the successful summit in Ufa in July 2015.
Much has been done in determining the goals for Russia’s forthcoming presidency. The Organising Committee was established by decision of President Vladimir Putin and the priorities to be promoted by over 90 events were endorsed.
We consider it particularly important to enhance the SCO’s role in international affairs during this presidency. With this in mind, we will pay special attention to increasing foreign policy coordination and promoting joint initiatives at the UN and other multilateral venues based on the rich experience of SCO cooperation.
The SCO’s contribution to stability and security and common efforts on countering terrorism, extremism and illegal drug trafficking is seeing growing recognition. Considering the magnitude of these threats, including in the SCO region, we are convinced of the need to continue improving the performance of the SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS), and to fully and consistently implement the SCO Programme of Cooperation in Combating Terrorism, Separatism and Extremism for 2019-2021 and the SCO Anti-Drug Strategy for 2018-2023 and a relevant action plan.
Additional steps will have to be made to enhance the economic dimension of the SCO’s activities. I would like to discuss this point in more detail. As you know, Russia suggested forming the Greater Eurasian Partnership – a broad integration configuration resting on a network of regional associations and transcontinental projects based on the principles of transparency and mutual respect.
Importantly, the idea of Greater Eurasia is consonant with the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative. Both visions have common roots and are characterised by a comprehensive approach and openness. There is no doubt that their implementation would make it possible to promote economic cooperation on the continent, develop a common transport and energy infrastructure and encourage technological progress. This “integration of integrations” would benefit all Eurasian countries.
Our idea is to establish Greater Eurasia around the most influential regional organisations, including the SCO, especially since it has amassed a rich experience of cooperation and, including its observer states and dialogue partners, actually makes up the heart of the vast Eurasia area. I am sure that the SCO could become a comfortable venue for forming the Greater Eurasian Partnership.
During our presidency we will also focus on people-to-people ties. The SCO member countries have a good work record in education, healthcare, culture, tourism and youth relations. We intend to work to increase the number of participants in the successfully functioning SCO Network University, the agreement on which was signed by Russia, Kazakhstan, China, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan as of today. The Russian part of the SCO Youth Council has ambitious plans as well.
The 75th anniversary of Victory in World War II will be marked during the Russian presidency. Naturally, the SCO will take an active part in preparing and holding events devoted to this memorable date. We plan to pay primary attention to promoting joint initiatives emphasising the intransient importance of our common victory for the destiny of humankind at the UN and other international venues.
To sum up, there is a lot of work ahead. We hope it will raise cooperation in the large SCO family to a new level.