By Sarah Lain
Nestled in an area of Beijing populated by restaurants and shops identifiable mostly in Cyrillic, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) headquarters is housed in the old Japanese Embassy. It has the look of an in-progress refurbished building with plastic still covering the carpet. The member states’ flags flutter proudly outside the prominent entranceway, and an enormous gate surrounding the building is guarded attentively.
Since its inception as the Shanghai Five in 1996, the organisation’s main focus has been to stamp out the “three evils” of terrorism, separatism and extremism. Currently, the member states of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and (since 2001) Uzbekistan hold annual summits, at which they discuss matters of security, counter-terrorism, counter-narcotics and plans for joint military exercises. However, the exact substance of what goes on within the headquarters’ walls is not entirely clear. There are few visible members of personnel inside and a laid-back atmosphere prevails. Most significant strategic discussion-making appears to take place at the summits in regional capitals rather than at the Secretariat itself. This has left the SCO open to accusations of inefficiency and a lack of concrete action on its objectives. The organisation’s representatives announce actions and strategy in vague terms. But the SCO is not valueless. In light of the drawdown from Afghanistan, it has the potential to do much more to secure stability in the region.