Two summits: The west and the east

The wisdom of that observation was apparent when 2 big international meetings happened at the same time, last weekend

Start a scandal, and everyone will talk about you. Do business as usual, and you — luckily — will stay unnoticed.

The wisdom of that observation was apparent when two big international meetings happened at the same time, last weekend. Group of Seven (G-7) in Quebek, Canada, was bickering about the US President Donald Trump’s trade wars, to the point of exclusion of the US from the club. So, everybody was following that news and discussing it.

Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in Qingdao, China, went on smoothly, with eight nations signing 17 pre-arranged agreements. Nobody paid the slightest attention.

Granted, SCO is not pretending it rules the world, G-7 does. SCO is strictly a regional organisation, dealing with problems of Central Asia. It’s a Central Asian, consciously designed as such, if not simply copied from that assortment of South-East Asian nations. And, like Asean summits, the annual gatherings of SCO are just not very reportable, though useful.

But if we see a high-level event, attended by top leaders of Russia, India and China (all members of SCO), that surely merits some attention.

And by the way, the combined economies of G-7 today are less than the combined economies of SCO, if you calculate them in currencies’ purchasing power.

“Russia should be in this meeting,” Trump said before leaving for the G-7 summit. “Whether you like it or not, and it may not be politically correct, but we have a world to run…They should let Russia come back in.”

Something tells me that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin would not accept an invitation for the Canada summit even if there was one, having a world to run from Qingdao. Regional grouping SCO may be, it’s definitely changing the world.

First of all, there is Central Asia to manage as an area where nothing destructive happens, just development and integration into a united economic zone. So money flows in.

China, the No 1 investor, has provided concessional loans worth over US$22 billion (RM88 billion) and financial support for various types of training and exchanges. So, notes the Chinese media, while in 2001 trade volume between China and other SCO members remained at US$12.1 billion, from 2013 to 2017 China’s imported commodities from other member states reached US$340 billion, and nearly US$15 billion in direct investments from Chinese enterprises went to other SCO members.

And that’s just one country of eight, though definitely the biggest.

But then there is something else where SCO nations are blazing the trails. It’s a thing called an ability to find common ground.

You may think that all these SCO nations are naturally aligned. That’s absolutely not so. There was a real diplomatic thriller evolving on the eve of the Qingdao summit. Only a year ago you might have thought that India, having a border conflict with China, is leaning West. But then there came two unexpected visits by the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to China (Wuhan) and Russia (Sochi), all that on the eve of the same summit in Qingdao, where the same leaders were bound to meet anyway.

Said an analyst of The Pioneer in Delhi: “India needs Russia for strategic peace with China to ensure its geo-political rise. Surely, Putin cannot and will not push Xi (Jinping) too hard to desist from exploiting India’s military vulnerabilities, which are plenty. But, he is certainly the only world leader who can do the most in this regard…Putin’s Russia cannot be what the Soviet Union was to India during the Cold War; but, if harnessed well, it could be the stable bridge to China. What is more, Russia can help India become a major power, which is the other reason why India should firmly clasp Putin’s hands”.

And, in the end, they all smiled and joined hands for an official photo in Qingdao.

That story tells us that, first, there are no clubs where all the members think alike. And second, a good club is the one where the members know how to talk about their differences.

Look at the conflict evolving at the same time inside the G-7. That was not only about asking Russia back to the club, it was about trade wars unleashed by the US on the whole world. And, guess what, it ended in an unthinkable scandal.

Trump refused to sign the G-7 statement and left the summit before its conclusion.

Disagreements happen to everyone. Nations within the SCO have plenty of problems with each other and will always have them. But there have never been a case of someone leaving an SCO session and banging the door in the process. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why these nations have outclassed the G-7 in combined economic might.