The 22nd Meeting of Heads of State of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), hosted by the President of Uzbekistan, Mr. Shavkat Mirziyoyev, went down in history as a meeting that many actors watched carefully due to the increasing polarization trend in international relations.
The geopolitical rivalry, or in other words, the “new power struggle”, which started as a result of the withdrawal of the United States (US) from Afghanistan in 2021, entered a new phase with the Russia’s intervention in Ukraine on February 24, 2022 and Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi’s Taiwan. Moreover, it created a break in the increasingly tense geopolitical rivalry.
After these developments, discussions about the global order focused on geopolitical and geostrategic concepts, and the transition from unipolarity to multipolarity formed the core of the discussions. The main expectation for the SCO Samarkand Summit, which took place in such an environment, was that multipolarity should come to the fore and harsh messages should be sent against the West. However, aside from building new blocks, the most important development that came to the fore was the emphasis on the importance of Central Asia and the “Central Corridor”, which has been increasing in importance recently, has come to the fore in global trade. In this sense, the SCO is not new blocks; focused on building bridges of cooperation.
Even in the current crisis environment, the fact that the multi-vector and multi-dimensional policies of the Central Asian states came to the fore at the SCO Summit should be evaluated as a reflection of the task of “Bridge between the East and West” that geography imposes on Central Asian countries. This task, easily understood by anyone looking at the world map, is already at the center of many global strategies.
The opening policy, which was initiated by China in the 1980s and enabled it to move to the export-based economy model, was built on trade and energy security. Since the combination of China’s new economic policy with the advantage of cheap labor, global companies have shifted their production lines to China, taking into account the cost and feasibility. This situation caused the logistics and transportation chain to spread over a wider geography and created an important economic interaction between the East and the West. Considering the mentioned parameters, China has made infrastructure investments to create commercial routes on the route extending from the lands in the west, north and south to Europe.
These trade corridors, which started with the Belt-Road Project announced by President of China Xi Jinping during his visit to Kazakhstan in 2013, maintained their functionality for a long time and created an important trade volume between the West and the East. However, trade routes also change depending on the changing conjuncture, just like the importance/loss of importance of geopolitical centers. The Northern Corridor, which was closed due to the developments in Ukraine, and the Southern Corridor, which became insecure due to the developments in Afghanistan and the economic crises in the region, brought new lines to the agenda.
The fact that the war of the corridors has gradually turned into a geopolitical element to destabilize and disrupt the stability of the opposing front has made it essential for the security and stability parameter to come to the fore in the newly established routes. The initiation of the consolidation process between the East and West poles has increased the importance of the countries that keep an equal distance to the policies of the two sides and focus on social and economic development.
Undoubtedly, the emphasis on the importance of the “Middle Corridor” both in the last period and at the SCO Samarkand Summit is not seen as a coincidence and sheds light on the steps to be taken for the future. The Middle Corridor, which is not monopolized by any global actor, turns into a corridor of hope for the countries in the region, especially for China, which is dragged into a difficult commercial situation, and for the West, which is in a deadlock in terms of energy.
Recently, iconic and actual messages from both the West and China confirm the success of the Central Asian states’ policy based on “active neutrality” and “multidimensionality.” For example, Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Union (EU) Commission, who went to Azerbaijan to make diplomatic contacts on July 18, 2022, made the following statements that contain a very important clue about the future:
“The EU wants to work with Azerbaijan to establish links with Central Asia and beyond. That is why we follow with great interest the discussions and ideas on Trans-Caspian connections. We will deepen these discussions.”
On the one hand, Central Asia, which attracts the attention of the West; on the other hand, it is on the radar of China, the strongest actor of the opposing pole. As a matter of fact, the fact that Xi, who has not been out of the country for a long time, made his first trip abroad to Kazakhstan, where the Belt-Road Project was announced, and then went to Uzbekistan for the SCO Leaders’ Summit is a strong message. On the occasion of this message, Xi gave the message that the Belt-Road Project, which has been the focus of criticism recently, will be implemented in a Middle Corridor-centered manner.
Knowing well that China’s security comes from the security of its neighbors, another message sent through Kazakhstan was to the capitals, which have had problems with Astana recently. Because Kazakhstan is both the key to the Middle Corridor for China and stands out as an indispensable partner of energy security. The following statement made by Xi during his visit clearly revealed the importance Beijing attaches to Astana:
“No matter how the international conjuncture changes; we will continue to resolutely support Kazakhstan in preserving its independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity. We will firmly support your reforms carried out for the purpose of stability and development, and we will categorically oppose the intervention of any power in the internal affairs of your country.”
Xi’s visit to Kazakhstan and the contacts he made at the SCO Leaders’ Summit, proves Central Asia is not only the geopolitical aspect of the world; it also proves that it is a new attraction center in terms of economy. As a matter of fact, the Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan-China Railway Project signed between the parties at the summit and the 15-billion-dollar trade agreement signed between Uzbekistan and China and prioritizing energy and technology investments are the most concrete examples of this situation.
While the current conjuncture includes all the elements of great power competition; in an environment where security risks are increasing, the importance of corridors has increased more than ever before. For this reason, it is considered as the key to stability, security and development for countries, institutions and the private sector. Contrary to the general developments, the Central Asia-Caucasus-Europe line, through which the Central Corridor passes; it is gradually turning into stable geopolitics and comes to the fore with the solutions of the problems that are called unsolvable.
Undoubtedly, the win-win-centered foreign policies of the countries in the region are among the factors contributing to the rapidly developing Middle Corridor as the center of stability. Freight trains starting from China and going to Europe contribute to the export security of all partner countries; It will also act as a “Rail Shield” against destabilizing elements. As a result, it would not be wrong to say that Central Asia, which managed to attract the attention of both the East and the West in the economic, cultural and social fields, while the global power struggle intensified, has the only lands that hold the hopes of a new “peace synthesis” between the thesis-antithesis conflict.
 “Statement by President Von der Leyen with Azerbaijani President Aliyev” European Commission, https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/STATEMENT_22_4583, (Date of Accession: 24.09.2022).
 Paul Bartlett, “Xi Vows to Back Kazakh ‘Sovereignty’ in Central Asia Power Play”, Nikkei Asia, https://asia.nikkei.com/Politics/International-relations/Xi-vows-to-back-Kazakh-sovereignty-in-Central-Asia-power-play, (Date of Accession: 24.09.2022).
 “China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan Sign Document of Cooperation on Joint Railway Project: NDRC”, Global Times, https://www.globaltimes.cn/page/202209/1275979.shtml, (Date of Accession: 24.09.2022).
 “Uzbekistan Signs US$15 Billion Worth Of Agreements With China At SCO Summit”, Silk Road Briefing, https://www.silkroadbriefing.com/news/2022/09/18/uzbekistan-signs-us15-billion-worth-of-agreements-with-china-at-sco-summit/#:~:text=Uzbekistan%20Signs%20US%2415%20Billion%20Worth%20Of%20Agreements%20With%20China%20At%20SCO%20Summit,-Sep%2018%2C%202022&text=Uzbekistan%20and%20China%20signed%20agreements,on%20Thursday%20(September%2015). (Date of Accession: 26.09.2022).