The framework of global engagement and the balance of power is seeing what might be called a ‘tectonic’ shift, succeeding what might once have been called the ‘Teutonic’ shift that shaped the post-colonial world we live in today. This is exemplified by the rise of Asian economic powers particularly China, which looks set to become the world’s leading power in the near future. This week China played host to the fourth summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) in Shanghai, a multilateral security and cooperation platform that aims to create regional structures to deal with threats specific to Asia. The summit was reportedly attended by representatives of 47 countries and observer organisations including 24 CICA members, seven permanent observer countries, a number of non-member participatory countries, and organisations like the UN and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The scope of the organisation makes it one of the most comprehensive and wide-ranging multilateral platforms in the world today, with member states from South East Asia, South Asia, Asia Minor, the Middle East and Central Asia. China and Russia are the organisation’s two heavyweights, and they also cooperate with the Central Asian Republics (CARs) in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), a security accord many see as a counter to western perspectives on security issues and western hegemony on the legitimate use of force.
High on the list of topics highlighted by Chinese President Xi Jinping was terrorism by fundamentalist Islamist militants, who now present security threats across the region, from southern Turkey to western China, where Uighur militants are a thorny problem for the Chinese government. An attack by militants that left 31 people dead in the west Chinese city of Urumqi yesterday highlights how sensitive the issue is. Regional militancy also threatens China’s vision of a ‘New Silk Road’, an economic corridor stretching to Europe, connected by rail, road, energy transfer infrastructure, and financial instruments, which could fundamentally shift the global balance of economic power. Building the infrastructure and creating the modalities for cooperation is essential for the vision to take shape.
Pakistan has a vital role to play in this. It is a trusted Chinese partner and forms the southern border of the security apparatus. Most importantly, Pakistan is a hub for Islamist militants, the region’s main security threat. Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain attended the conference and spoke eloquently about the need to restrict the fight against terrorism within a legal framework. This cannot be stressed enough unless one wants to see state terror replacing militant organisations. Central Asia is also confronted by militancy, and the creation of tools to deal with militancy through cooperation is high on the list for the CARs.
CICA also includes countries that have either been peripheral to US security interests, such as Azerbaijan, or been hounded and isolated by the US, such as Iran. This spirit of cooperation stems in part from a perceived retreat of the US and the west from the geo-politics of — primarily — Central Asia, but also other parts of the continent since the end of the Cold War. The US’s strategic ‘pivot’ to Asia that aims to contain Chinese influence using a string of allies on the Pacific rim is a belated realisation of the ground the US and its allies have lost over the last two decades.
However, the west’s arch nemesis, Russia, is also looking east after its annexation of Crimea has placed it in a stand-off with the west. Recently Russia finalised a $ 400 billion gas pipeline deal with China to help the Chinese overcome problems with pollution from coal-based electricity generation. As part of the SCO, Russia and China already have a stake in the CARs. These are interesting developments. As President Xi pointed out, CICA represents 67 percent of the world’s population and just one-third of its economic output. The west is unlikely to be happy about progress that threatens its economic hegemony or shifts the epicentres of global finance, but from the perspective of developing countries and particularly countries struggling with terrorism and poverty, the confidence CICA is showing could prove to be a game-changer for the world. *