In the recently concluded meeting of Council of Heads of States (CHS) 22nd Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, among several matters of International and regional substance Iran was a key figure of attention as the penultimate stride towards integration of Iran into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Iran and Belarus were the top contenders for SCO membership in the region over the past few years and be part of the eight permanent members. China, Russia, Pakistan, India, Kazakhstan are the notable members of SCO. An official Memorandum of obligations for Iranian Membership was signed in the Summit and Iranian President met with various Heads of States during the Summit.
The respective Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian expressed his remarks before the occasion through his social media outlets of Twitter and Instagram as followed “By signing the document for full membership of the SCO, now Iran has entered a new stage of various economic, commercial, transit and energy cooperation”. His remarks highlight the significance of full membership for the western sanction hit state.
Iranian President His Excellency Ebrahim Raisi stressed in his address at the Summit that the Membership of SCO can prove pivotal for Iran and the region. He mentioned that the cooperation between states “can greatly help on the path of economic development for Iran and the development of the region”
In the contemporary era, a “hybrid” world order persists. In this hybrid form of world order, a Multi-polar environment has been observed ever since the fall of the Soviet Union (the bipolar world order ended) and the turn of the Century especially post 9/11 attacks. A superpower such as The United States of America is en route to decline relative to China which has showcased booming growth even when a pandemic shook the whole world. The other world order we are witnessing is the rise of Multilateralism and Institutionalization. Several regional, and international blocs are excelling due to the evolving Geopolitical security situation and emergence of security dilemmas for states.
SCO is without a doubt one of the fastest growing blocs in the contemporary era which can be proved by the statement given by SCO Secretary-General Zhang Ming before the Summit “There is a saying here that there is a long queue outside the door of the SCO, and I think this metaphor is not exaggerated,” he gave this statement while expressing the expansion plans of the said organization. Speaking of expansion, The United Arab Emirates, Maldives, Bahrain, Myanmar, and Kuwait were officially declared new Dialogue Partners. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Qatar had already been granted the status of Dialogue partners in September 2021. The more diverse memberships in Shanghai Cooperation would ultimately provide an all-inclusive environment of cooperation among partner states and increase the credibility of the body.
China views SCO as a bloc where states can maximize their economic potential, while there’s a possibility that Russia is vocal about utilizing Military cooperation among states as well. A NATO of Asia may well be on the cards, even though a Regional Anti-Terrorism System (RATS) is principally in place to tackle threats including extremism, terrorism, and separatism.
WHAT IRANIAN MEMBERSHIP MEANS FOR IRAN, GEOGRAPHICAL PROXIMITY, AND BEYOND?
Iran is situated in a geopolitically contested arena the way to move forward for Tehran is through making allies and growing trade with its regional partners. The southeast of Iran bordering Pakistan can be utilized for transcontinental trade across Iran via Turkey and into Europe. But, the deadlock on the Iranian nuclear deal does not make it a viable option. Pakistan and Afghanistan can also benefit from Iranian petroleum and energy products. The Islamic Republic of Iran’s inclination toward China and Russia is because the West primarily the United States of America had brokered sanctions that have hit the Iranian economy, especially its currency and energy sector exports ascribable to disagreements on the Iranian Nuclear deal.
China-Iran relations have fortified as the Chinese have pledged to invest a whopping 400 billion dollars in Iran over the next 25 years. Indeed, the SCO membership would prove as a tool to ensure a smooth relationship between Tehran, Moscow, and Beijing over the years to come. Chinese demand for energy products such as oil and gas also makes Iran a key ally in the region. The anti-US sentiments of Iran serve as a cherry on top of the Chinese alliance. The economic prospects for Iran remain bright but the political front SCO membership establishes would do immensely for the Islamic Republic of Iran. Iran is also keen on developing closer ties with Russia which was exemplified by Iran abstaining on a United Nations Resolution vote condemning the Russian invasion in March. Ever since Trump pulled back from the Iranian Nuclear deal in 2018, Iran has faced political isolation at the hand of Western-led powers.
Iranian Supreme leader His Excellency Ali Khamenei and President Ebrahim Raisi have weighed in on a “Look to the East” approach on multiple occasions. This full membership would empower Iran with much-anticipated allies in the form of China and Russia. The growing economic fragility and Inflation rise have hurt the overall economic outlook. There is a popular discontent emerging within the Iranian masses due to the prevailing economic insecurity. But in the shape of SCO Iran is poised to build on a new venture free from economic exploitation and sanctions by the West on the Iranian Nuclear imbroglio.
Iran is potentially deemed as a pivotal piece of the jigsaw puzzle on the World Island. The chain of connectivity and a virtually integrated region is on the Horizon stretching from Russia to almost all of Central, South, and East Asia, and with more and more states interested to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, SCO is destined to flourish in domains of Socioeconomic cooperation, and security. Iran would be part of a new scope of Multilateral activity. Saudi Arabian addition as an observer state in the bloc would ultimately provide a platform to sort out issues with Iran through dialogue.
Moreover, Pakistan and Indian divergence on bilateral issues could be mediated by dialogue sponsored by either Iran, Russia, or China. In the case of Iran, the leadership in Tehran is optimistic about the possible opportunities for cooperation SCO membership would bring in all respective domains that would be a win-win for the region and Iran.