In the wake of the Pakistan government's recent visit to China, it would be timely to consider the growing regional and global importance of China as Pakistan's key ally and its position within the increasingly powerful Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). Founded in 2001 to foster cooperation and combat terrorism, the SCO's members are China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, while Mongolia, Iran, Pakistan and India enjoy observer status. Over time the organisation has expanded its ambit to include joint military exercises with member countries and coordinated efforts to eradicate drug trafficking and organised crime. The SCO also promotes free trade and plans to build critical infrastructure such as roads and railways to link its members, stimulate commerce as well as streamline customs systems and tariffs. Last year the SCO established a club that unites energy-producing and energy-consuming states, transit countries and private companies to strengthen energy security and formulate energy strategies. This initiative assumes greater importance in light of the United States' continuing encroachment on the energy reserves of Central Asia and particularly its deepening military presence in Pakistan. Though the Middle East remains the centre of crude oil, war and instability underscore the perils of depending upon that region, bolstering interest in Pakistan and Central Asia's untapped energy potential. The SCO may have the ability to oppose the West's mendacious grab for the region's prized energy reserves. Therefore it rejected the United States' application for an observer status on the premise that the superpower shares no common borders with either China or Russia. In 2005, the SCO demonstrated its geopolitical clout when it called for a timetable for US forces to withdraw from the Central Asian bases that the Pentagon had used for operations in Afghanistan. The organisation is likely to emerge as a formidable counterweight to NATO and can play a powerful role in helping countries protect their highly coveted resources for the benefit of the local population. The world's centre of gravity is shifting to countries that reject the West's universal claims. We are living in a period where the dominance of the world's solo superpower is coming under threat; a period of unquestioned superiority is drawing to a close. The rise of China challenges Washington's long cherished assumption of international primacy: China's global assertiveness was recently demonstrated when Zhou Xiaochuan, governor of the People's Bank of China boldly proposed for the replacement of the dollar as the main global reserve currency. China presently holds US$2 trillion worth of foreign exchange reserves and it is by far the world's largest holder of US government debt. For too long Pakistan has been woefully subservient to Western interests. By joining hands with its eastern counterparts through the SCO, Pakistan has the potential to reinvent itself as a sovereign state beholden to no foreign power, deriving inspiration from China's model of progress through its process of reinvention and self-reliance. As Pakistan continues to demonstrate increasing capitulation to US interests, it would be beneficial to explore possibilities in enhancing the nation's already robust alliance with China. Pakistan has much to learn from China's example in improving living standards for its citizens. Rejecting the primacy of any single system, the Chinese have elegantly crafted their own form of economics by seamlessly blending free markets with Communism, insisting on modernisation squarely on its own terms. China's great leader, Deng Xiaoping has been credited with the grand achievement of lifting the largest number of people out of poverty in the shortest time ever in human history. Its dramatic economic transformation has been underlined by pragmatism and resolute political will as demonstrated by its succession of exemplary leadership. Never in history has a large economy grown as fast and for such a sustained period as China's since 1979. From 1978 to 2005 China's GDP increased from US$147.3 billion to US$2.235 trillion, representing an average annual growth rate of 9.6 percent. With its increasing economic clout, China presents a wealth of possibilities for Pakistan and the world. Pakistan and China are hugely different yet at the same time acutely similar: both possess a population made up of diverse ethnic groups and languages; while our cities experience boom, both our rural areas remain underdeveloped. The emergence of the SCO may play an invaluable role in helping countries like Pakistan protect and preserve their highly coveted resources, preventing Pakistan and other countries from becoming pawns in the escalating energy war. Through the SCO Pakistan has a chance to enhance its comprehensive strategic partnership with China to promote national and regional stability. At the very least, the SCO represents an acknowledgement of the need for the East to organise itself into a cohesive political and economic force. As the world's economy sinks deeper into recession, the chance for the region to unite itself through the SCO platform presents bright prospects amidst the looming spectres of terrorism and economic collapse. The writer is a freelance columnist