Eradicating Separatism: China, Central Asia, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization

On June 15, 2001, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) declared its establishment in Shanghai during a summit meeting with its six autocratic members: China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Some wonder why six dictatorships would ever pursue international cooperation, a move that is considered more common for democracies.

In this paper, I answer the question by adopting a repeated stag hunt game to demonstrate the strategic thought behind the SCO's emergence. I argue that the SCO was a strategy to collaboratively suppress separatist groups that are detrimental to the political survival of autocrats. This argument is tested together with explanations that see the SCO as a platform to counter U.S. presence, satisfy China’s growing energy demand, promote trade relations and improve collective identity in the region. Quantitative evidence from 1992 to 2011 shows that the level of separatism has significantly reduced after the establishment of the SCO; China’s energy import and its collective identity with all the SCO members have also significantly improved. A qualitative review of the China-Central Asia relationship also give supports to the core argument. However, statistical analysis offers less support for the arguments of power politics and trade relations.

Keyword: China, Central Asia, Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Separatism, Game Theory, Repeated Stag Hunt Game

Author: Ian Tsung-yen Chen

Status: Working paper

History: This paper was presented at the Annual Meeting of Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago, 2009 and International Studies Association Annual Convention, New Orleans, 2010.

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