SCO: U.S. promoting Indo-Pacific initiative to contain Russia and China, weaken ASEAN

Washington is pushing its Indo-Pacific agenda to isolate Russia, deter China and diminish the role of the ten-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

The above accusation was made by the Russian delegation to a meeting of foreign ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.

It further affirmed that efforts towards solidifying a polycentric (multipolar) world based on the role of the United Nations and existing international law was being challenged currently by the U.S. and its allies “to try to preserve their predominant position with the use of force.”

The delegation – no particular spokesperson is cited by TASS nor is mention made of a formal declaration or statement – condemns the U.S.’s aggressive promotion of a so-called rules-based international order not to supplement but supplant the UN and international law. In even stronger language, the Russian participants added that the West is “expanding the tools of pressure on the countries that pursue an independent foreign policy course, and ultimately legitimizing the West’s neocolonial policy.”

Everything quoted is perfectly accurate and the wonder is that it’s taken so long for representatives of a major government to make them. However, talk is cheap. The Russian government may want to recall that the UN it enshrines in such a sacrosanct manner is the UN – as currently constituted – that authorized the use of force from its creation, in Korea, and in more recent cases in Afghanistan and Libya. In December its General Assembly voted again to condemn Russia over “temporarily-occupied Crimea” (as it does each year) in a 63-17 vote. UN Security Resolution 1973 allowing NATO’s seven-and-a-half-month air war against Libya was passed when not only China and Russia, as permanent members, but also at the time its fellow BRIC members Brazil and India were on the Security Council. All four chose to abstain on the vote and give NATO free rein to conduct war on a third continent.

Similarly, only four months after the founding of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization by China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan in June of 2001, the U.S. and Britain invaded Afghanistan with NATO support under its Article 5 mutual military assistance clause. Half the SCO’s members at the time – China, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – border Afghanistan.

The SCO in no manner objected to the invasion or the subsequent assumption of command of the International Security Assistance Force by NATO, which at its peak had over 100,000 troops from more than 50 nations serving under it. SCO members voted for the nine Security Council resolutions authorizing NATO’s role in the war in and occupation of Afghanistan: Resolutions 1386, 1413, 1444, 1510, 1563, 1623, 1707, 1776 and 1833. China and Russia didn’t threaten to veto any of the above nor did they veto any other attempted resolutions on the subject.

Nor has the SCO at any point over the past 20 years – it now also includes India and Pakistan as members – offered to assist in the stabilization and economic reconstruction of Afghanistan. Talk is cheap.

That the organization, with ASEAN and other fellow regional groupings, would have to play a leadership role in the fostering of genuine global multipolarity is indisputable. That it hasn’t seriously attempted to do that is equally so.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations consists of member states Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. (Timor-Leste has not joined, probably because of Indonesian objections.)

Though ASEAN would be a natural ally of the SCO, the two organizations signed a memorandum of understanding in 2005 and ASEAN representatives attend SCO summits as guests, there are longstanding, lingering territorial disputes between several ASEAN members and China in the South China Sea. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam contest some of the Spratly Islands with China, and Vietnam is in a dispute with China over the Paracel Islands. China seized the latter from Vietnam in 1974 with seeming U.S. connivance. China invaded Vietnam in 1979 with open U.S. complicity.

The U.S. and its Western allies have exploited those conflicts to insert themselves in Southeast Asia. That effort was dramatically intensified during the tenure of President Barack Obama, self-identified as “America’s first Pacific president,” with his administration’s Asia-Pacific pivot.

When then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attended the ASEAN summit in Hanoi, Vietnam in 2010 she said: “The United States…has a national interest in freedom of navigation, open access to Asia’s maritime commons, and respect for international law in the South China Sea….The United States is a Pacific nation, and we are committed to being an active partner with ASEAN.”

There has been discussion for over a decade of creating a NATO-ASEAN cooperation format. ASEAN members Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand supplied troops for NATO’s war in Afghanistan.

Twenty years ago the SCO could have presented an alternative to NATO – and to war – in Afghanistan. With NATO and the U.S. abandoning Afghans to an uncertain fate after two decades of bombing and battles and drone strikes and breaking in its 50-nation global expeditionary army, the role of the SCO is indispensable. All countries bordering Afghanistan are SCO members except for Iran (which is an observer) and Turkmenistan.

The region and the world would be far better off if the SCO and its members would do more than talk.