Middle East Interest in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Jess Diez
Managing Editor & Research Associate, Middle East Policy Council

September 20, 2022

On Wednesday, September 14, Iran signed a formal memorandum, expressing commitment to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a diplomatic and economic organization consisting of 8 member countries: India, Kazakhstan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. According to Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, this reflects a new phase of collaboration in economic, transit, and energy sectors, among others. Days later, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan relayed his interest in Turkey obtaining membership of the SCO as well, thus enhancing Western concerns of Middle East-Eurasian collaboration. 

Established in 2001, the SCO accounts for almost 44 percent of the world’s population and exports trillions of dollars every year, largely due to its inclusion of China, Russia, and India. This organization, according to Al Jazeera, was “formed by Beijing and Moscow as a counterweight to United States influence…last year, [in 2021,] the rapidly expanding SCO approved Iran’s application for accession, while the government in Tehran called on members to help it form a mechanism to avert sanctions imposed by the West over its disputed nuclear programme.”

Directly following Iran’s signing on Wednesday, SCO kicked off their 22nd Summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi was in attendance. Written in Iran Press, the Secretary General of the SCO “stressed that the regional position of the Islamic Republic of Iran as a powerful country with stability and security is essential for the organization. The spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran also called [the] President’s trip to Uzbekistan an important and lasting development in strengthening the regional convergence policy.”

SCO members have expressed enthusiasm over Iran’s signing and have begun seeking opportunities for cooperation, such as technological agreements. According to Tehran Times, “the Iranian Vice Presidency for Science and Technology and the Ministry of Innovative Development of Uzbekistan have signed an agreement to broaden cooperation in the field of technology…the two sides pledged to launch joint ventures for manufacturing technological and innovative products and pave the way for exporting Iranian knowledge-based products to Uzbekistan.”

Following Iran’s footsteps, President Tayyip Erdogan publicly announced interest in joining the SCO on Saturday, September 17. Relayed in Al Arabiya, Erdogan stated “‘Our relations with these countries will be moved to a much different position with this step.’ When asked if he meant membership of the SCO, he said, ‘Of course, that’s the target.’”

Ergodan, who also attended the summit, highlighted success with SCO’s members, showcasing a growing partnership with organization members. Explained in Al Mayadeen, “in the run-up to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization conference, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan described his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin as productive. ‘We held fruitful bilateral meetings on the summit’s sidelines, including with presidents of Azerbaijan, China, Mongolia, Uzbekistan, Russia, and Iran, and with prime ministers of Pakistan and India… We exchanged opinions on our bilateral relationships and on urgent global matters. I hope that our contacts and consultations will have good results’… Erdogan stated that he and Putin decided on Friday to keep putting food export agreements into effect ‘cautiously.’”

However, as the success of the SCO expands, various Western observers believe this summit and its direct effects will create a geopolitical shift in the international field, and see the SCO as a ‘meeting point for the West’s opponents.’ The Daily Sabah highlights the perspective of Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass: “this is a ‘dangerous decade’ due to the ‘sharp decline in world order.’ That development occurs at the intersection of old threats, such as great power competition, imperial ambitions, the fight over resources, and new issues like climate change, the pandemic, nuclear proliferation, at a time when the United States cannot deal with them. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization, in turn, brings together Russia, which Haass calls a ‘near-term problem,’ and China, a ‘medium and long-term challenge.’ Keeping in mind that many nations, which are not part of the Western alliance, have not joined the sanctions against Russia, it is possible to understand why Haass is so concerned about the rise of anti-Western world order. As the United States increasingly lacks the ability and will to fix the existing world order, it is a simple fact that the non-Western world remains on the rise. It is also obvious that India, the Gulf states and the Middle Eastern nations are coming to terms with that reality.”

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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