Brief introduction to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation

The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) is a permanent intergovernmental international organization creation of which was proclaimed on 15 June 2001 in Shanghai (China) by the Republic of Kazakhstan, the People's Republic of China, the Kyrgyz Republic, the Russian Federation, the Republic of Tajikistan and the Republic of Uzbekistan.

Prior to that, all the nations mentioned except Uzbekistan were members of the Shanghai Five mechanism, a political association based on the Agreement on Enhancing Trust in the Military Area on the Border (Shanghai, 1996), and the Agreement on Mutual Reduction of Armed Forces in the Border Area (Moscow, 1997). The two documents created a mechanism of mutual trust in the military area in the border regions, and helped to establish genuine partnership. After Uzbekistan joined the organisation in 2001, the Five turned into the Six and was renamed the SCO.

At present five countries (Afghanistan, India, Iran, Mongolia, and Pakistan) have observer-nation status, and three more countries (Belarus, Turkey and Sri Lanka), dialogue partner status.

Initially, the goals of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation were in the area of mutual inter-regional activities on countering terrorist acts, separatism and extremism in Central Asia. In June 2002, The Charter of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation was signed at the organisation's Summit in St. Petersburg, which went into effect on 19 September 2003. This is a core charter document stating the organisation's goals and principles, its structure and major activities. In addition, the SCO's plans on fighting the international drug mafia as a financial buttress of global terrorism were announced in 2006, while in 2008, it announced its active participation in normalising the situation in Afghanistan.

In parallel to this, the SCO's activities also acquired a wide economic dimension. In September 2003 heads of government of the SCO member states signed the Program of Multilateral Trade and Economic Cooperation, designed for 20 years. Its long-term goal is the creation of a free trade zone in the SCO space, while favourable conditions for trade and investment are to be promoted in the short-term perspective.

The main goals of the SCO are strengthening mutual confidence and good-neighbourly relations among the member countries; promoting effective cooperation in politics, trade and economy, science and technology, culture as well as education, energy, transportation, tourism, environmental protection and other fields; making joint efforts to maintain and ensure peace, security and stability in the region, moving towards the establishment of a new, democratic, just and rational political and economic international order.

Proceeding from the Spirit of Shanghai the SCO pursues its internal policy based on the principles of mutual trust, mutual benefit, equal rights, consultations, respect for the diversity of cultures and aspiration towards common development, its external policy is conducted in accordance with the principles of non-alignment, non-targeting anyone and openness.

The Heads of State Council (HSC) is the highest decision-making body in the SCO. It meets once every year to take decisions and give instructions on all important issues of SCO activity. The Heads of Government Council (HGC) meets once every year to discuss a strategy for multilateral cooperation and priority directions within the Organisation's framework, to solve some important and pressing issues of cooperation in economic and other areas as well as to adopt the Organization's annual budget. Besides sessions of the HSC and the HGC there are also mechanisms of meetings on the level of Speakers of Parliament, Secretaries of Security Councils, Foreign Ministers, Ministers of Defence, Emergency Relief, Economy, Transportation, Culture, Education, Healthcare, Heads of Law Enforcement Agencies, Supreme Courts and Courts of Arbitration, Prosecutors General.

The Council of National Coordinators of SCO Member States (CNC) is in charge of coordinating interaction within the SCO framework. The Organisation has two permanent bodies - the Secretariat in Beijing (China) and the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure in Tashkent. SCO Secretary-General and RATS Executive Committee Director are appointed by the HSC for a period of three years. Since January, 1 2013 these posts are held by Dmitry Mezentsev (Russia) and Zhang Xinfeng (China) respectively.

Russian and Chinese were adopted as the official working languages in the SCO.

The rotating presidency of the SCO member states is held in one year cycles. The chairing nation completes its year of presidency with a summit.

The SCO member states occupy a territory of around 30 million 189 thousand square kilometers, which makes up three fifths of the Eurasian continent, and have a population of 1.5 billion, which makes up a quarter of the planet's population.