Chinese President Xi Jinping (3rd L), leaders of other Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) member states and prime ministers of India and Pakistan pose for a group photo during the 17th meeting of Council of Heads of State of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Astana, Kazakhstan, June 9, 2017. [Xinhua/Ma Zhancheng]
The China-proposed Belt and Road (B&R) Initiative is adding a vigorous economic dimension to the development of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) as the two international cooperation mechanisms overlap in an area critical to both -- the vast Eurasian inland.
B&R cooperation is aimed at building an infrastructure and trade network to improve the interconnectivity of Asia, Africa and Europe along and beyond the ancient Silk Road trade routes, of which the Eurasian landmass is a vital part.
The SCO members -- China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan -- are all stakeholders in the Eurasian region, and economic development in the area has become increasingly decisive in maintaining regional peace and stability, which is a major concern to the SCO.
Experts have pointed out that specific projects under the B&R Initiative and the existing economic cooperation structure of the SCO will complement each other and jointly bring more benefits to the Eurasian region.
The B&R Initiative generates a series of individual projects in the absence of an overall program, where the SCO can be complementary as "an institutionalized structure," noted Alexey Maslov, head of the Oriental Studies Department at National Research University Higher School of Economics, a leading Russian university.
He suggested integrating related B&R projects into the SCO's existing economic cooperation framework, believing that this would be useful to make the implementation of those projects more effective.
"I think that what is the most beneficial for the Belt and Road Initiative is making use of the existing structure, the SCO," he told Xinhua.
In his eyes, the free movement of goods, creation of joint ventures, construction of joint high-tech zones, elimination of non-tariff trade barriers, and building of a free trade area should be the major directions for SCO economic cooperation. Those priorities fall in line with the aspirations of B&R cooperation.
Among the various B&R cooperation projects, rail freight transportation stands out as one prominent sector. A railway linking China, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan that is being planned is expected to become part of the China-Europe rail transit system to bring more development opportunities to SCO member states.
For example, Manzhouli, a city in China's northeast that is one of the three departure ports for China-Europe freight trains now in operation, saw 1,036 freight trains -- 774 outbound and 262 inbound -- carry goods worth 3.6 billion U.S. dollars in 2016 alone, almost double the amount of the year before.
On Eurasian development, Evgeny Vinokurov, director of the Center for Integration Studies of the Eurasian Development Bank, said he believes bilateral free trade agreements should be the focus.
"I consider the conclusion of bilateral free trade agreements as a priority. For example, an agreement between the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) and China," he said.
China and the EEU, which groups Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia, have agreed to align the B&R Initiative with the development of the EEU, and talks are under way for them to establish a partnership for economic cooperation.
Dmitry Mezentsev, SCO secretary general between 2013 and 2015, noted that bilateral strategic partnerships and free trade areas are among the forms of cooperation for economies to support each other in order to stay competitive in the international markets in the era of globalization.
Given that, he described the pairing of the B&R Initiative and the EEU's development as "very significant and important," pointing out that the SCO will help facilitate the process.
As the economic agenda is growing increasingly important within the SCO, he said, "I, in fact, believe that many points of contact for the benefit of people's interests can and should be found."