Gatherings of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) do not normally attract much media attention, though they are studied by geopolitical think tanks, intelligence services and foreign ministries across the Western world. The current summit, however, in Uzbekistan, has drawn media coverage because it is the venue for the first meeting between Vladimir Putin and Chinese president Xi Jinping since Russia invaded Ukraine.

The SCO was established in 2001, on the initiative of China, in collaboration with Russia, as successor to the Shanghai Five, an earlier mutual security grouping of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Today the SCO has eight full members: China, Russia, India, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Iran has just signed a memorandum of obligations, as a prelude to being admitted to full membership next year.

The Heads of State Council, currently assembled in Samarkand, is the supreme governing body of the SCO, with India and Pakistan represented by their prime ministers, whose power equates to that of the heads of state of the other member nations. Considering its membership, it would broadly be fair to say that the majority of leaders of the SCO are not greatly addicted to the cliché “I disagree with what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it.”