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Participants of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit.

Reuters

From talk shop to regional bloc: What to make of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization

As the Shanghai Cooperation Organization met last week in Uzbekistan, observers braced for impact. Would China’s Xi Jinping meet India’s Narendra Modi? (No). Would Modi meet Pakistan’s PM Shehbaz Sharif? (Also, no). Would anybody put Vladimir Putin in his place? (Modi sort of did). Would China get real with Russia over Ukraine? (Not really, though Putin did emerge as the obvious junior partner to Xi in the huddle). Amid the fanfare and the photo-ops, these developments posed larger questions: Is the SCO relevant? Does it have ‘bloc potential?’ Is it a threat to the West?

The Big Brother club? Given the exception of India, the SCO is often thought of as a talking shop of autocratic regimes. But between its eight members – China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – it represents 3.1 billion people, spans most of Eurasia, and boasts a quarter of the world’s GDP, thanks to some of the world’s biggest energy reserves. Moreover, it’s still getting bigger. Iran just acceded as a full member; Belarus is hoping to be next; and Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Nepal, Maldives, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Turkey have also taken the first step towards membership by signing on as dialogue partners. The SCO is also expanding to the Middle East, as Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait, Qatar as well as Saudi Arabia have become partners.

What does the SCO really do?

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Ari Winkleman

What We’re Watching: US mulls China sanctions, Uzbek talks focus on ‘cooperation,’ US train strike averted

Will the US preemptively sanction China over Taiwan?

If you thought US-China ties couldn't get any icier, think again. Washington is reportedly mulling sanctions in a bid to deter Beijing from invading Taiwan — and nudging the EU to follow suit. No specifics yet, but the package would presumably target the Chinese military, which has upped the muscle-flexing ante near the self-ruled island since US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taipei in early August. Such a move would be similar to how the US and its allies warned Russia there would be a steep price to pay for invading Ukraine. Taiwan would welcome preemptive sanctions and has long called for the Americans and, more recently, the Europeans to do more to protect the island against Chinese aggression. But any sanctions would also rile Xi Jinping, who’s up for “reelection” next month and has vowed to reunite the island with the mainland before the 100th anniversary of the People's Republic in 2049 – by force, if necessary. While the White House has refused to comment, a sanctions plan could signal that US intelligence believes Xi might make a play for Taiwan sooner rather than later.

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