Since its foundation 20 years ago, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, a bloc founded by Russia and China, has faced questions over its purpose.
But the recent clashes by the Afghan government and the Taliban – which have escalated since the United States made what Moscow and Beijing described as the “irresponsible” decision to withdraw all troops this year – could prove to be a defining moment for the bloc.
The issue was high on the agenda at an SCO meeting in the Tajik capital Dushanbe on Wednesday, where Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi urged the “SCO to play a key role in achieving peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan”.
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He continued that he hoped the group would “find a path of regional cooperation that conforms to the trend of the times” and “plays a bigger role in regional and international affairs”.
Observers said Beijing was hoping to use the bloc to gain a foothold in Central Asia – part of its effort to counter US influence – and the situation in Afghanistan was a test case of how it could resolve regional conflict.
It started off in 2001 as the “Shanghai Five” of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan, a group initially set up to resolve border disputes.
It has since expanded to a eight-member club – with Uzbekistan, India and Pakistan – and aims to address security concerns in Eurasia, particularly what China describes as the “three evils” of terrorism, separatism and religious extremism.
Four countries – Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran, and Mongolia – hold observer status, while last month Egypt and Saudi Arabia became the bloc’s latest dialogue partners, joining Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Turkey.