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An ‘axis’ NATO? Chinese Foreign Minister calls for Shanghai Cooperation Organisation to boost security cooperation

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi addressed the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s ministerial council meeting in Astana on Tuesday

Beijing’s Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, has used ministerial meetings between the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s member states to urge closer coordination, collaboration, and partnership on critical security issues, raising questions about the formation of a competing security bloc.

Beijing’s Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, has used ministerial meetings between the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s member states to urge closer coordination, collaboration, and partnership on critical security issues, raising questions about the formation of a competing security bloc.

As the Cold War began to really heat up, both the leading superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union set about building their own interconnected alliance networks or strategic blocs to expand the aggregated mass of their bloc.

Throughout the Cold War, the threat of mutually assured destruction extended beyond a direct nuclear exchange between the United States and Soviets and expanded to the fallout of a conventional confrontation between NATO and the Warsaw Pact should the worst come to pass.


Following the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union, it made sense in many ways for NATO to equally dissolve, however, we know that wasn’t to be the case, with the organisation playing central roles in responding to ethnic cleansing and conflict in the Balkans and even in Afghanistan following the September 11 attacks on the United States.

During the years immediately following the fall of the Soviet Union, many an analyst raised questions about the enduring operation of NATO, particularly in light of the “Peace Dividend” and “End of History” culture which began to permeate both the minds of policymakers and academics across the Western world.

While that phenomenon continued to evolve and dominate the Western world, revisionist, autocratic nations plotted their resurgence to the upper echelons of the global hierarchy, while using the post-Second World War system to their advantage.

Front and centre of this push are organisations like the BRICS – made up of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – and China’s own Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), first launched in 2001 as a mutual security, political, and economic cooperation bloc for much of central-Asia, the Middle East, and Russia.

As Beijing’s own economic, political and military strength has grown over the past three decades, the rising superpower’s ambitions and designs for the post-Second World War global order became more apparent, raising alarms in capitals across the Indo-Pacific.

A declaration on a ‘multipolar world’

When the “Shanghai Five” came together to establish the precursor organisation to the SCO in 1996, few envisaged that the collection of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan would evolve into the foundation of a continent spanning economic, political and security bloc, although in hindsight, the signing of a declaration on a “multipolar world” by former Russian President Boris Yeltsin and former Chinese President Jiang Zemin should have served as a wake-up call.

Alas, we know it didn’t really appear to raise any red flags, effectively ceding ground across the developing nations of Asia and the Middle East, under the guise of closer economic, political and security collaboration and partnership, becoming more formalised in 2000, where the early member states agreed to “oppose intervention in other countries’ internal affairs on the reason of ’humanitarianism’ and ’protecting human rights’, and support the efforts of one another in safeguarding the five countries’ national independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity, and social stability”.

This was an important step towards the “institutionalisation” of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation as it stands today, eventually paving the way for the formalisation of the SCO, opening the door expansion across the Asian landmass to eventually include India, Pakistan, and Iran as full members, with dialogue partners including Kuwait, Bahrain, Egypt, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia and observers from Belarus to Mongolia.

As the US became bogged down in wars of choice across the globe in response to the September 11 attack and the re-emergence of violent Islamic extremism, the member states of the SCO, mainly China and Russia, began plotting their own ascendency and the gradual weakening of the US-led post-World War II economic, political, and strategic order.

This shifting focus heralded a move from the “trade not aid” approach taken by China through initiatives like the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and organisations like the SCO and under the auspice of the broader collaboration between China, Russia, and Iran, providing mutually beneficial outcomes and opportunities for domestic economic stabilisation and growth.

An ambition the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation would figure strongly in, particularly when combined with the expansion of the BRICS multilateral trading organisation and initiatives like the BRI.

Enhanced focus on security collaboration

Bringing us to recent comments made by Beijing’s Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, at the SCO ministerial council meeting in Kazakhstan where in response to a number of recent terror attacks in SCO member states, Russia and Pakistan, have shown “there is still a long way to go in the fight against terrorism ... To that end, we must further strengthen the exchange of information, joint operations and personnel training”.

Going further, the Foreign Minister stressed Beijing’s emphasis on building and enhancing cooperation on security among the bloc’s members, saying, “China is ready to work with all parties to improve the organisation’s mechanism for addressing security threats and challenges, deepen exchanges and cooperation in strategy, defence, law enforcement, information and biosecurity, and lift the overall level of security in the region.”

Seemingly making a veiled but pointed swipe at the United States and its own partners, Minister Wang added, “We will take the future and destiny of our country and … will never allow external forces to turn the region into a geopolitical battleground” while remaining at least in some part, logically coherent in emphasising security cooperation and collaboration across Asia.

This comes following increased operations by the People’s Liberation Army in the South China Sea and surrounding Taiwan following the inauguration of new Taiwanese President Lai Ching-te earlier in the week and growing distraction by the United States as conflict in Europe and the Middle East continues to dominate the rhetoric, policy making, and capability of the US and many of its allies.

Final thoughts

If Australia is going to survive and thrive in this new era, Australia’s policymakers and the public are going to have to accept that while the world is increasingly becoming “multipolar”, the Indo-Pacific, in particular, is rapidly becoming the most hotly contested region in the world.

All of this is underpinned by the emerging economic, political, and strategic might of powers like China, India, Pakistan, Thailand, Vietnam, and the established and re-emerging capability of both South Korea and Japan in particular, are serving to create a hotbed of competition on our doorstep.

Recognising this array of challenges and opportunities, both the Australian public and its policymakers urgently need to look beyond the myopic lens that has traditionally dominated our diplomatic, strategic, and economic policymaking since Federation.

The most important question now becomes, when will we see a more detailed analysis and response to the challenges and opportunities facing Australia and when will we see both a narrative and strategy that better helps industry and the Australian public understand the challenges faced and opportunities we have presented before us?

As events continue to unfold throughout the region and China continues to throw its economic, political, and strategic weight around, can Australia afford to remain a secondary power, or does it need to embrace a larger, more independent role in an era of increasing great power competition?

Get involved with the discussion and let us know your thoughts on Australia’s future role and position in the Indo-Pacific region and what you would like to see from Australia’s political leaders in terms of partisan and bipartisan agenda setting in the comments section below, or get in touch at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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