The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) heads of state, the leaders of observer states and governments, international organization delegation heads pose for a group photograph in Tashkent on June 24, 2016 as part of the SCO Heads of State Council meeting.
Considering the 10-year-old experience of Iran’s observer status in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) since 2005, Iran has always been interested in being a permanent member. However, what went on in the three important meetings of National Coordinators (April 22, 2016), Foreign Ministers (May 24, 2016), and the SCO Summit (23, 24 June 2016) indicated the continuation of the past trend in implicit and explicit opposition to Iran’s request for full membership in the SCO. In this regard, the approach of two countries of Tajikistan and China towards Iran’s status conversion in this organization is of special importance.
While the relations between Iran and Tajikistan have always been one of the closest and most stable ones between Iran and the Central Asian countries, these warm relations have diminished over the past year on the issue of the Islamic Movement of Tajikistan. That’s why Tajikistan declared its opposition to Russia’s proposal to turn the issue of Iran’s status conversion before the plenary summit of heads. There has always been a controversy between Iran and the secular countries in Central Asia about different definitions and interpretations of Islamic parties and movements. In the current situation, it seems that the scope of this dispute from a country like Uzbekistan has reached Tajikistan and Tajiks are concerned about Iran’s opposition to the classification of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan as religious extremism in the region in the case of Iran’s status conversion in the SCO.
On the other hand, while other major powers of the organization such as the Russian Federation have talked about the need for Iran’s status conversion, lack of China’s support has made the recent summit encounter more complications. Some reasons for this behavior of China are as follows:
1) The negative impact of Iran’s status conversion and adoption of a supportive stance by Iran towards the Islamic Movement of Tajikistan, as an immediate neighbor of China.
2) China’s widespread relations with the US.
3) China’s uncertainty about the political and economic processes after the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and Iran’s relations with the US, especially until the upcoming presidential elections in Iran and the US.
4) China’s possible dissatisfaction with close relations between Iran and India, especially the recent tripartite agreement between Iran, India, and Afghanistan on the development of Bandar Chabahar.
5) Iran’s unknown and ambiguous place on China’s Silk Road Project.
6) Traditional, conservative, and non-accelerated policy of China in the sphere of foreign policy.
Above-mentioned points are among the reasons and grounds for the lack of decisive and necessary support of China for Iran’s status conversion (from observer to permanent member) in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
Vali Kaleji, an expert at Iranian Center for Strategic Research, is the senior fellow at IRAS.