Beijing hopes to secure more stable allies in the fight against Islamist terrorism, which could threaten its "New Silk Road" project. It has already been met with some success, says DW's Frank Sieren.
A special ceremony is taking place in Beijing on Thursday: Arch rivals India and Pakistan are officially joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a Eurasian political, economic and security organization, whose members will now make up 40 percent of the global population. There are only six other member states: Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Iran and Afghanistan currently have observer status.
The alliance forms a kind of Central Asian anti-terrorism ally for NATO, with which it shares similar goals. The SCO's member states want to guarantee their own security and stability through international cooperation. It's interesting to see what ends up being possible when there is an emergency situation. Who would have imagined just a few years ago that India and Pakistan would join the same security alliance, considering that each views the other as a threat.
Goods instead of arms
This outcome is largely due to Russia and China's negotiating skills. Both Moscow and Beijing have an interest in ensuring that the SCO is as broad as possible and, since it would have been offensive to only invite one country, this solution was preferable. Moreover, both Russia and China are lent more weight if India and Pakistan are on board. Russia wants to underline the fact that it can help to stabilize the region while China wants to prove to the US with its New Silk Road that stability is more likely through goods exports than weapons.
China does not want the billions that it has invested in the New Silk Road to have been in vain, if certain routes are too dangerous because of Islamist terrorism. Beijing already has enough to do to keep its own borders secure. The western province of Xinjiang is the target of frequent attacks. In February, eight people were killed in the province's South. In the large cities, like Kashgar and Urumqi, in the country's far west, security is tighter than elsewhere in China and there are police checkpoints and barricades everywhere.
However, it is harder to police the region behind China's western border. The route that is supposed to connect western China to the Pakistani port of Gwadar is over 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) long and crosses the mountainous and desertous region of Baluchistan, where there are not only large numbers of separatists but also members of the so-called "Islamic State" (IS). It was recently announced that IS kidnapped and killed two Chinese teachers on this route. Pakistan has pledged to tighten security and is deploying thousands of security staff. An army division of 15,000 men has been founded to protect Chinese nationals working on infrastructure projects in the region. This is the least that Pakistan can do considering that China has invested $57 billion (51 billion euros) and wants to open the New Silk Road in 2018. Pakistan will no longer be alone now that it is an SCO member.
Cooperation against terrorism
If solutions are to be found, it makes sense to work with the countries where there are Islamist terrorists instead of isolating them. As a result of joining the SCO, Pakistan will have access to its anti-terror network and will take part in the joint military exercises that China and Russia often stage.
It is a win-win situation. Thanks to new information, Pakistan will better be able to defend itself against IS. And Beijing will be able to exert influence over the New Silk Road's security thanks to closer military contact. This is also good for other SCO members. At the SCO's summit in Kazakhstan earlier this month, Chinese President Xi Jinping put forward a convincing case for taking on Iran as a new member. If he gets his way, Afghanistan's observer status could also be turned into a permanent member status. However, the bigger a club is the more complicated it becomes since each individual member has its own interests. It's tough but at the moment there is no better way.
DW's Frank Sieren has lived in Beijing for over 20 years.